Title: Quantum Conundrum
System(s): PC, PSN, XBLA
Release Date: June 21, 2012
Publisher (Developer): Airtight Games (Square Enix)
ESRB Rating: “E” for Comic Mischief
Pros: Satisfying puzzles, great humor, fair difficulty curb
Cons: Awkward platforming, very similar environments
Overall Score: One thumb up and one thumb sideways, 84/100, B, * * * out of 5
It’s difficult to not mention Portal when talking about Quantum Conundrum. The comparisons, however are in no way a detriment to the game. In relation to Portal, Quantum Conundrum has a very similar flow in terms of how the various puzzles work. It also is filled with those “aha” moments that only comes from starring at puzzles and constantly failing to solve them. If it sounds like you’ve already played this game before, I implore you to suspend that belief to an extent. Yes, this game is like a re-imagining of Portal, but is also unique enough to stand on its own.
Fun Without Portals
Let’s go over the basics first. You play as a little boy in Quantum Conundrum who happens to be the nephew of a brilliant scientist named Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. The game starts off innocently enough with the nephew visiting his uncle at his huge mansion /laboratory. Naturally something goes wrong, and Professor Fitz Quadwrangle finds himself trapped in an alternate dimension with no clear way of escape. It’s up to the nephew to undo the damage his uncle caused and eventually rescue him.
Surely a little boy wouldn’t normally be able to traverse a unnecessarily dangerous mansion by himself, but we’re playing with science in this situation. Assisting you on your adventure is the Inter-Dimensional Shift Device, or IDS for short. The IDS is a glove that shift the properties of dimensions at will. When the dimensions are shifted, certain objects in the environment become affected. These objects are usually safes, tables, couches, boxes and other things you can physically interact with. Throughout the game, you’ll have the ability to solve puzzles utilizing the Fluffy, Heavy, Reverse Gravity and Slow dimensions. Your character is not affected at all by the changes. However, you can only use one dimension at a time, and you need to find IDS batteries in order to use the dimensions.
Quantum Conundrum gradually teaches you how to utilize the dimensions in ways that will solve current and future puzzles. The difficulty doesn’t ramp up quickly. To me, it always felt that Quantum Conundrum gave me puzzles that I should have been able to solve at that time.
Let me give you an example of how a certain puzzle played out.
Problem: I entered an area armed with nothing but the Slow dimension. In one room was an IDS battery for the Fluffy dimension, a cardboard box and a blue laser. The other room housed two motion sensing lasers and a couch. Walking past the laser would instantly kill me, and I needed to transport the couch to the opposite side of the room in order to reach the next area. The solution to this puzzle was simple in hindsight, but I needed to have a stroke of genius to figure it out.
Solution: The first thing I had to do was pick up the IDS battery, slow down time and run past the lasers to install the battery. From there, I entered the Fluffy dimension, picked up the couch and through it towards the lasers. Now since the lasers were moving at the same speed as the couch, they would eventually destroy the couch unless I interpreted them. Therefore, I had to run past the lasers, pick up the cardboard box and block the blue laser that was powering the red lasers. The couch eventually made it across the room unscratched.
I know this seems like a lot of steps, but it all comes together very quickly once you figure it out. These are the kinds of moments that made Portal so fun. Every puzzle is simple from a mechanical perspective. You just have to know how to manipulate your surroundings just right.
There were also times when changing dimensions and staying within the confines of physics wasn’t enough. Quantum Conundrum sometimes turns into a precision platformer. This wouldn’t be all that bad if you had a better sense of where you are jumping. I had instances of underjumping and overjumping that took the wind right out of my sails.
One thing that takes some of the punch out of Quantum Conundrum are the environments. Every room you enter looks similar. Assets such as furniture and colors and reused over and over again. I couldn’t tell you how many safes I’ve come across in this game. The puzzles may be different, but the tools used to solve them rarely changes. After a while, an intense feeling of Deja Vu began to set in. Thankfully, the disembodied voice of Professor Quadwrangle is always there to provide hints or a humorous gesture. Without him, Quantum Conundrum would lose a significant chunk of its personality.
Quadwrangle is and isn’t Quantum Conundrum‘s version of GlaDOS. While he constantly makes you aware of his presence, Quadwrangle’s intentions are good. There is something slightly devious and reckless about guiding a little boy through obstacles that can literally kill him, but the mood never feels quite as dark as Portal.
Should Airtight Games choose to follow up Quantum Conundrum, I believe it can only get better. The puzzles are well done, and can only get more ingenious. I think the setting of the mansion had a lot of potential for variety, but was ultimately sacrificed for puzzle design. There’s no reason why we can’t have both.
You don’t need to play Portal to enjoy Quantum Conundrum. This game can stand on its own merits.