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PAX East 2012: Quantum Conundrum
by Andrew Testerman

Amid the usual greys, browns and cover mechanics of many modern games comes Quantum Conundrum, a first-person puzzle game of incredible whimsy and ingenious design.

Developed by Airtight Games and spearheaded by Kim Swift, the creative mind behind the original Portal, Quantum Conundrum is a pleasing mesh of reflexive first-person action and brain-prodding puzzle gameplay.

Players control a twelve-year-old boy who has gone to stay with his eccentric uncle, the inventor Professor Fitz Quadwrangle (what a name!). Unfortunately, the Professor Quadrangle has gone missing and it’s up to the player to find out what happened to him and bring him back.

This is easier said than done, though, because of the layout of Professor Quadrangle's house. It appears as though the good Professor got his home- and his work-life jumbled together, because his enormous mansion is brimming with strange inventions and other scientific obstructions, all of which enter into lockdown mode once the inventor uncle goes missing.

Kim Swift interview

Fortunately, players have access to Quadwrangle's best invention yet: the Interdimensional Shift Device, or I.S.D. for short. The I.S.D. grants access to new dimensions with various different abilities, each useful in progressing through the locked-down mansion. When in the Fluffy Dimension, for instance, all objects become ten times lighter and turn into adorable plushie versions of themselves, whilst in the Heavy Dimension objects become indestructible and weight significantly more than normal.

Early puzzles ask players to use only one dimension at a time, such making objects lighter and easier to transport in the Fluffy Dimension, or obstructing laser beams in the Heavy Dimension. Before long, though, the complexity begins to ramp up, and players are required to swap between more and more dimensions at a time to advance from room to room. One section I played required me to make an object light for transport, and then make it heavier in mid-throw in order to break a window.

Coincidentally, The Fluffy Dimension is also the name of our Senior Editor’s acoustic solo-project. His new album drops Tuesday next.

Quantum Conundrum's puzzles are intensely satisfying to solve. Like Portal, the early levels show just enough of the game's mechanics in action to clue players in on how to use them without spoiling the puzzles’ solutions outright, giving players an opportunity to figure out how to solve it themselves. This show-not-tell learning method allows players to actually feel smart upon completing each puzzle, rather than like they're simply going through the motions.

Graphically, Quantum Conundrum is a treat, mixing fine attention to detail with a silly, broad cartoon art style. Each environment is colourful and inviting, filled with little bits, bobs and in-jokes left strewn about. Objects in the Fluffy Dimension, for instance, are all stitched together and poof out in a jovial way, whereas objects in the Heavy Dimension develop a cruel-looking iron veneer. Even paintings on the walls of the mansion change based on which dimension they're in; in one painting I looked at, a Commander McBragg-type explorer and his tiger took on the appearance of a motorcycle gang when viewed in a certain dimension. Little Easter egg-gags like this will encourage players to snoop through each environment for hidden comic treats.

Quantum Conundrum was one of my favourite games I played at PAX East, and I absolutely cannot wait to see what the rest of the game has to offer. Look for Quantum Conundrum to hit Xbox Live Arcade, PlayStation Network and Windows PC this summer.

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- Andrew Testerman

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