So cute, so simple, so… Regular. Quantum Conundrum isn’t a massive failure but there’s nothing that special about it. Don’t get me wrong. It can be fun to play. Maybe I wanted to be blown away by its signature art-style or its puzzle-platform challenges, but I was left slightly cold and numb from non-excitement by the second hour, when I know I shouldn’t be.
Let’s get some things out of the way first.
The biggest draw for this game is its head designer, Kim Swift of Portal fame. If you are interested in Quantum Conundrum for this very reason, you may also be disappointed because you’re too busy noticing that it’s in Portal’s big fat shadow. It’s a double-edged sword. Her style is so distinctive that you’d think there was a portrait of Cave Johnson hanging on one of the walls of your Uncle’s mansion while potato GLaDOS chills out in the corner of a laser-protected lounge. It’s a stone’s throw away from Valve-verse. Call it Valve-lite, even.
And that’s just only comparing the shade of lipstick they’re wearing (which is the same). It’s really hard not to compare. Really hard. As I’m writing this review, Portal keeps teasing my brain’s bits, and it will occasionally nag at you too while you’re playing, especially in the frustrating, time-consuming moments of puzzle-solving. In the words of my boyfriend, it’s “just like Portal but cute“.
You are a twelve year-old kid who has discovered that your uncle Professor Fitz Quadwrangle is stuck in another dimension because of a bad experiment, so with his disembodied presence made known to you with the mansion’s PA system, he guides you through different wings of the house to restart generators and eventually free him of his pocket dimension prison.
Like the Portal gun, you will find a glove that will be your sole tool to getting from point A to point B in a room. Once you have it, you can choose to switch dimensions and change the physical properties of your environment to open doors and get to the next level. I spent a lot of time in Fluffy’s purple carpets frolicking about and staring at buff pictures of Uncle Quadwrangle in a bunny suit. No, the kid-friendly, non-birthday kind. He’s not Chris Pontius.
The speed at which puzzles and new mechanics are introduced are fairly slow, so it’s very easy to pick up. But when the game ups the ante and your puzzles get more complex with timed dimension-hopping, it can get really frustrating when a bad sense of orientation gets in the way. My orientation or sense of movement isn’t as intuitive or accurate as I would have liked it to be. Spending nearly half an hour making a timed jump over a laser in alternating slow-time was a hair-tear away from a ragequit. You really don’t know where the hell your feet are going to land and many times I found myself actually looking downwards in-game when I made leaps to make sure that I was doing it right. Even when I jumped a split second earlier or later, it made no difference and I just ended up falling to my death. I’m guessing that this will probably be a huge problem towards the end of the game as problems are more advanced, but I’m crossing my fingers that it won’t be a game-breaker.
I can’t say that the story is all that gripping or interesting either. I’m throwing around the word “cute” a lot for this review because that’s what it is; plain white cotton undies with a cupcake silkscreen on the front. I don’t feel very much for myself or my uncle as characters, except maybe for IKE (short for Interdimensional Kinetic Entity) who remains an adorable enigma that I want to find out more about. That’s it. I don’t have any desire to really know what my uncle is about. Unless, you know, somewhere mid-game he mentions this other guy he used to work with that he built his mansion for, and he had some good times with his friend and the glove.
This isn’t to say that the game is bad. Looking at it from all angles, it stands well on its own and there are no major issues other than what I’ve covered earlier. Story and gameplay work function great together, and the level design is impressive. If you’ve thoroughly gone through two or three cycles of Portal content and maps, you could turn to Quantum Conundrum for a quick puzzle-platformer fix. But unfortunately, that’s what it’ll most likely be forever recognized as – Portal’s little brother. Could have been different if this was born first, huh?