It’s a safe bet to say that if you’re reading this, that chances are you know about the game Portal. The lead designer behind Portal: Kim Swift left Valve to join Airtight Games and became the director for Quantum Conundrum. Given the physics based puzzles and wacky lab setting; you could say that Quantum Conundrum bares similarities to Portal. But with some different design philosophies, in some ways it feels like Portal’s evil twin.
In Quantum Conundrum, you play as the silent nephew of a mad genius uncle who has turned his mansion into a giant laboratory. You arrive just as he was running an experiment on dimensional travel that went awry. With him now trapped in another dimension and the house on lock down, it’s up to you to restore power and save him.
The crazy technology for the day is dimension shifting. At the start you are given a glove that can alter the dimension of the area around you. Each area has a generator that can hold special batteries that the glove can interact with causing the dimensional shift. You start out with the ability to enter a “fluffy” dimension, where all objects are extra light and you’ll eventually get access to three other dimensions: extra heavy, slow mo and anti gravity.
Since you’re using the glove, you are the only thing immune to the dimensional shifts which becomes a major part of the puzzle solving. As you play, you’ll eventually gain access to all 4 dimensions, but only one can be active at a time.
One area that QC one-ups Portal is in the puzzle variety. As each new dimension is introduced, the puzzles are designed around different combinations and not just giving the player all the dimensions at once. Many puzzles feature collectibles that require extra thinking in order to get them. However while there is variety, the quality of the puzzles is another matter and that is due to the design philosophy of the game.
The main difference between Portal and QC is how the designers implement the pacing of the game. In Portal, the puzzle design was set to grow and the best puzzles appeared once all the mechanics are introduced: dual portals, physics. The player is given access to all the tools relatively early, and then the puzzle design is based on the full range. In Portal 2 when the gels are introduced, the player is given a few puzzles to get them up to speed with their fundamentals, and then is integrated with the portal mechanics.
In QC however, the pacing of the game is much slower. Each hall of the mansion/ set of puzzles are built around using the currently available dimensions. Instead of escalating to the point quickly where the player has and knows how to use all the dimensions, the game pads it out. Expect to do multiple variations on the same usage for each dimension.
The other affect the padding has is that the puzzle difficulty is all over the place. Since the puzzles for each hall run the gambit of using the available dimensions. You may find one puzzle very difficult and then the next one incredibly easy. This is made even more interesting by how QC was marketed to a younger audience. The graphics are cartoony and the game never reaches the same level of dark comedy as Portal did. But for all the lighthearted nature QC builds up, I don’t see the gameplay being designed for a younger audience.
Surprisingly enough, QC is both more complex and harder than Portal was. The reason is that QC’s puzzles rely a lot more on quick finger movement and player interaction. Even though you can only activate one dimension at a time, doesn’t mean that the puzzles only require one. You’ll find that many puzzles rely on the player quickly switching between multiple dimensions to accomplish a task.
For example: Going into the fluffy dimension to pick up a safe then throwing it and quickly switching to the heavy dimension to allow it to block a laser beam.
QC’s physics are floater than Portal and there are more platforming based puzzles. I had several cases where I died because I tried jumping after it appeared I was already over the edge of the object I was on, which without being able to view your feet happens often. The combination of platforming and the quick response time can cause the player to feel frustrated the worse way possible: They know the solution to the puzzle, but they aren’t quick enough or skilled in platforming to solve it.
Quantum Conundrum feels like the next step for action puzzle titles and the design is strong enough to stand on its own instead of being in the shadow of Portal. But make sure to get your first person platforming up to snuff before going in.