Quantum Conundrum review

By Matt Cabral, Jun 25, 2012 12:00pm PDT

By marketing their first-person puzzle-platformer Quantum Conundrum as Portal creator Kim Swift's next project, Square Enix risked placing the game in the cross-hairs of harsh comparison. Thankfully, Swift and her Airtight Games team dodged that bullet, crafting an experience that not only stands up to such critical analysis, but also holds its own among the genre's best efforts.

Equipped with a gadget that could be mistaken for a next-gen take on Nintendo's Power Glove, players assume the role of an adventurous boy trapped in his mad scientist uncle's whacky mansion. More whimsical than witty, QC forgoes Portal's whip-smart storytelling and sterile settings in favor of a more family-friendly approach. That's not to say it's a "kiddie" game by any stretch, but more an all-ages entry with plenty of Pixar-like appeal.

While its amusing dialog--provided by the nutty professor via intercom--and vibrant visuals have little trouble engaging the eyes and tickling the funny bone, it's QC's clever puzzles that will keep players engrossed until the credits roll. Utilizing the Inter-Dimensional Shift Device glove, players swap back and forth between a quartet of alternate realities; the Fluffy and Heavy dimensions turn environmental objects light and weighty, respectively, while Slow-motion and Anti-gravity dimensions work exactly as their names imply.

At the most basic level, these shifts work as advertised. In Fluffy mode, for example, picking up and chucking a chair is a breeze; in Heavy mode, however, vulnerable items like cardboard boxes become both heavier and indestructible. As expected, the ability to slow time and reverse gravity also comes in handy when tackling the title's physics-focused challenges. In addition to their integral role in altering physical properties, the four shifts also aesthetically change the world around them; neat visual touches, such as environmental items looking all soft and pillow-y in Fluffy mode, nicely complement the dimension-swapping action.

None of the glove's powers can be used simultaneously, but instead must be triggered individually at just the right moment to crack QC's imaginative brain-benders. The game does a fantastic job introducing each dimensional shift, presenting increasingly difficult puzzles that allow players to become proficient with the various mansion-manipulating mechanics. While early challenges within each dimension are obviously meant to teach the basics, they still feel more like organic on-the-job training sessions than hand-holding tutorials.

By the time players are called upon to solve a single puzzle using all four dimensions, they should feel as comfortable behind the Inter-Dimensional Shift Device as they do their iPhones. Good thing too, because some puzzles will force players to switch between the different dimensions in quick succession; turning a heavy chair into a toss-able piece of floating furniture, just before slowing time so it can be used as a moving platform, is just one way the powers can be played with.

Of course, this simple example barely scratches the surface of QC's fertile concept; its core dimension-shifting gameplay provides a seemingly endless selection of inventive challenges, all of which are extremely satisfying to solve. Additionally, even the most mind-melting puzzles are fair and logical, and will leave most wondering why they didn't solve them much sooner. All that said, a few brain twisters do rely a bit too heavily on precise platforming; the controls never approach the clunkiness we've experienced during certain first-person shooters' unforgivable jumping sections, but trial-and-error tedium does occasionally trump the fun. Thankfully, a generous checkpoint system should ensure most players don't frustratingly plant their controllers in the plaster.

Despite this single--albeit occasionally fun-halting--flaw, QC's inspired concept, superb pacing, sound mechanics, and Pixar-rivaling presentation should keep players' giddily engaged for a good 6-8 hours. Hidden collectibles and a number of performance trackers also guarantee completionists and leaderboard squatters alike will find plenty of incentive to replay previously conquered puzzles.

Quantum Conundrum doesn't quite reach the genre-defining quality of Valve's juggernaut, but at $15, it's a bargain-priced no-brainer for fans that enjoy taxing their minds as much as their thumbs.


This Quantum Conundrum review is based on a digital PC version of the game provided by the publisher

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