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Viewfinder

Viewfinder

Reality isn't what it seems with this striking puzzler.

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Every now and then an indie game crawls out the woodworks that you just can't help but be baffled by. For me, this summer, that game is none other than Sad Owl Studios' puzzle platformer, Viewfinder. This adorable game offers puzzles unlike anything I have ever seen before, as it plays with perspective in a truly confounding and mind-boggling manner, all while being simplistic and incredibly straightforward to understand at a core level. It's a balance that is incredibly difficult to manage, and now that Viewfinder is here, I can tell you that it achieves this and then some.

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The idea is to head into a bizarre simulation created by a group of geniuses in search of answers and technology that could help save the real world. Admittedly, the plot isn't really that compelling or important to the Viewfinder experience. It's there and told in a similar manner to Graceful Decay's Maquette, for example, there are audio files and post-its notes and other environmental features that drip-feed bits of the story to you and paint a picture of who these 'geniuses' were and what happened to see them grow apart. But the plot never gets in your way or makes you stop to appreciate what's going on in the same way that Maquette aggressively baked emotion into its environmental storytelling. No, you come to Viewfinder for the gameplay first and foremost.

Drawing another comparison to Maquette and how that puzzle game played with size and scale in a way that was really unique and fresh, Viewfinder offers a similar experience except with perspective in mind. Essentially, to complete the puzzles, you have to use photographs and images to create new traversable parts of a level. The catch, however, is that there are puzzles to solve within each level, and these will task you with finding batteries to power the teleporter to the next level, or with figuring out how to pass through blocked doors and fixed surfaces. It may seem simplistic to take a photograph of a bridge to literally bridge the gap between two platforms, but as the game progresses and you're introduced to a camera, photocopier, multiple realities, and so forth, the challenge gets exponentially trickier and really starts to do a number on your perception and logic.

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The puzzles are very straightforward in effect, but they will leave you scratching your head more often than not. Since Viewfinder doesn't have a hints system, you can get stuck easily on a puzzle as there's no way to skip a level, and you have to complete each level in a very linear manner to reach the next one. But, the solution to a puzzle is usually right in front of you, and you just have to shed the limits of logic to crack them, which can be a very challenging feat to overcome.

Viewfinder

Unlike some puzzle games that keep going on and on with relentless puzzles, Viewfinder is once again more similar to Maquette in that it's a more concise but well thought out experience. Each level is short but lovingly crafted with unique problems to boot. You never feel as though you are treading familiar ground, and thanks to the host of quirky Easter egg-like secrets and tricks, there's always a fun way to extend your time in each of the levels, including by finding collectibles unique to each of the chapters of the title.

Then there's the presentation, which is truly top-notch. Viewfinder has a very charming aesthetic to it, one that will see you often taking time to appreciate the beauty of a level before attempting to solve its puzzles. The music is relaxing and soothing, and the voice acting, when you discover the narrative files dotted around, is charismatic and lively and does bring life to each of the respective figures involved in the story.

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While it may seem a bit pessimistic to say, with such a confounding gameplay style, I was expecting to run into a few weird and wonderful bugs and issues while playing Viewfinder, things that occur as you implore your own unique solutions to a problem. But I never did. Viewfinder feels very polished and tight and that just makes the experience all the more special and immersive.

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Viewfinder is really unique and fresh. This is a truly fantastic puzzle game, one that stands out in a saturated genre and leaves the player with a sense of wonder and amazement after every level. I do still think the narrative lacks some weight, and that it could use some more compelling ways to tell a story beyond relying on discoverable audio files for the most part. But overall, it's hard not to be wowed by this game and the sorts of immersive puzzling that it offers. I can't wait to see how Sad Owl Studios shatters my perception of reality and logic in its future works.

09 Gamereactor UK
9 / 10
+
Puzzles are brilliant. Top-notch presentation. Quality performance. Simple yet packed with depth. Incredibly immersive.
-
Narrative falls a bit flat.
overall score
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Viewfinder

REVIEW. Written by Ben Lyons

Reality isn't what it seems with this striking puzzler.



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