It's hard to find a current generation series with more goodwill than Portal. Anything even tenuously connected to Valve's first-person puzzler will probably have good vibes extended to it. In the case of Quantum Conundrum, a game from Portal designer Kim Swift with some striking similarities, that goodwill has resulted in plenty of attention. And while it seems to have all the pieces in place, a hands-on with the PAX East 2012 demo only scratched the surface of what this concept can accomplish.
The puzzle element in this particular first-person title comes from various dimensions, each with its own physical properties. The Fluffy dimension turns everything light and plush, the Heavy dimension does just the opposite, and so on. It's an easy idea to grasp at its core, and that simplicity could make for a staggering amount of puzzle applications.
This demo showed off three of the dimensions: Fluffy, Heavy, and Slow-Mo. An introductory puzzle had me blocking a deadly laser by picking up a Fluffy safe, and then turning it into a Heavy safe. From there, I had to time the Heavy/Fluffy change to allow a laser to destroy some safes in a stack, but not others, in order to make a staircase. This was the most difficult part of the demo, but that was due to its precision timing, not figuring out what to do. Finally, the demo played with some Slow-Mo, as machines spit out furniture haphazardly and various "bubbles" of the slow-motion effect made them mountable as platforms.
BOOM video 12383
A look at the game provided a nice breadth of the dimensions, but it only provided the basics of each of them. I would have liked to see hints of more complex iterations for one or two dimensions, rather than the absolute basics of three. It's possible that developer Airtight Games didn't want to overwhelm the player, which is understandable. Still, this is a game that will live and breathe on brain-teasers. I'm confident that Swift and her team can pull it off, but I'd like to have seen more of it on display here.
The world is well-realized and funny, thanks in no small part to the sharp dialogue and delivery by John de Lancie. The spirit is more chipper and animated than the darkly humorous Portal, so I can imagine it being a good fit for younger players as well -- especially since the protagonist is 12 years old himself. I also noticed that the furniture looked large as a matter of perspective, which was a nice touch for seeing the world through the eyes of a kid.
In many ways, Quantum Conundrum feels like Portal's little brother. It's cuter, more colorful, relies on broader comedy, and judging by the demo, it may be a bit easier as well. This simple taste may have wanted to ease us in for more complex puzzles. If not, an easier, kid-friendly puzzle experience with this much personality can't hurt.