In recent years there has been one special aspect in several puzzle games that has especially amazed us, and that's the sense of revelation; the feeling of a discovery beyond the solution of a puzzle, the overcoming of a conundrum, or the arrival of a crucial point in a story. Something that intrigues us is how that manifestation in an interactive experience can be prepared, and when we feel that progressing in a game can be similar to an epiphany, we can't help but go to bed wide-eyed and think about it for days.
One of the best examples of this kind of approach is the masterpiece The Witness, but there's a more recent, simpler game, which has been flying under most people's radar and has many things in common. It's called Gorogoa, and it's a shame that it launched at the very end of last year, because it deserved plenty of attention from fans of the genre and beyond.
The work that Jason Roberts has been conceiving virtually on his own for a whole five-year period was launched on PC, iOS, and Android devices (where it feels especially comfortable due to the use of the touchscreen), but has also arrived on the Nintendo Switch in a hybrid adaptation that provides the best of both worlds. It has also landed on PS4 and Xbox One this year, and if you don't own Nintendo's machine rest assured it can also be enjoyed on the big-screen consoles.
Gorogoa is a puzzle, a fable, and a work of art, all at the same time, and it's quite uniquely and personally presented in these three ways.
As a puzzle offering, its gameplay is about manipulating up to four frames or panels that make up a square. Your goal often implies that two panels touch in one of their sides, so their edges disappear and they interact with each other. That means that to solve the puzzle, you must zoom in or out, drag and drop frames that leave behind shapes to be filled, or relocate the panels in one of the four positions to slide the canvas behind everything else. Roberts explained to us in the interview below that inspiration came not so much from comics, but more from dominoes or cards sliding on a mat.
There are more actions, and complexity grows naturally as you progress throughout the game (which lasts about three to four hours in total), introducing new moving elements, differences in scale and perception, or adding more and more layers. The video in this piece helps to give yourself a very clear idea of how this concept plays out, and even if it seems complicated to understand when told through words, the mechanics are simple and smooth in the end, and the task of trial and error gives way to a process of observation and scrutiny that's rather satisfying.
The narrative technique of Gorogoa - which is completely visual without any trace of text - takes the same risks as every game that looks to deliver these moments of personal revelation that we mentioned at the beginning of this review. It's confusing, of course, and interpretation is up to you in as many ways as you can imagine, but on the other hand as with anything vague this could seem empty, inexplicable or nonsense to many players. It's not all ambiguous though, as the game also has a clear structure, a common thread, and a divided theme.
After just a minute of gameplay, it's quite clear that Gorogoa is about the eternal search for God, divine contact, and for the meaning of life. But this concept and the associated elements -which here appear drawn with a sometimes defined, sometimes very free symbolism - can have dozens of different meanings for each and every player, which is where the emotional key to the whole thing might be.
The main character spends his entire life looking for answers, collecting in his bowl the five fruits that could lead him to the definitive understanding, or at least enough knowledge to feel complete and at peace. Each fruit is a colour, a topic, and a chapter, indicating the five parts of the game. The journey of the character through the panels, the ages, and the events of the world mark the progression of the tale, and with some of the possible revelations that have been prepared, many of you will identify with what's going on and connect on an emotional level. No matter how you personally understood that search at the beginning, this is the magic of Gorogoa.
The drawings are a mixture between the typical artwork style found in classic tales and geometrical styles, mandalas, and architecture, and they change according to the palettes and topics that every fruit dictates (we won't say here which ones). Roberts knows how to add contrast and tension to the story and the puzzles when needed, but sometimes it's difficult to tell which are the interactive elements (that's why you can see them pressing a button, and they may have changed with certain events), although it could be said that this blend is tied to the story's own goals.
These three main features of Gorogoa are indivisible and won't change their order or priority, as they work in a beautiful connection and grow together in both their expression and creativity, with the puzzles asking more of your brain. What's more is that, with fantasy entering the drama, and with illustrations reaching the climax towards the end, everything fits together snugly and moves along as you progress.
Jason Roberts spent five years hand-painting, designing, and programming Gorogoa, and despite its brevity, is one of the most unique puzzles and a special experience. And even if you don't get to have a moment of revelation during its most intentioned passages of play, any puzzle or art lover (or anyone who appreciates different ideas) should have it in their collection.