Indie Game of the Week 150: GNOG

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Mento

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While we're still just about in the festive season, I figured I'd pick something Christmassy and what's more Christmas than (EG)GNOG? This diorama style point-and-click belongs to a certain subgenre evolved from the Windows 3.1/95 salad says of interactive screensavers and experimentation-based clickery. There are a number of Indie games doing this, and I think the intended age is probably several decades lower than my own, but I can't help but to be impressed with the level of intricacy involved with their design and the childlike glee of sliding levers across and pressing buttons to see what happens. It's the type of toy meant to keep a toddler amused for hours, sure, but there's also something universally appealing about feeling your way around a small puzzle box containing an unknown number of surprises.

So, with GNOG the idea is that you have a series of these interactive boxes all based around specific themes (space, frogs, deep sea diving, candy stores, apartment buildings), with a robotic face on one side and a backplate that - when removed - has a little scene inside including people and furniture. The goal of each box - there's nine total - is to figure out how to "activate" it, which usually involves solving all its puzzles and hitting a nose-like button on the front, at which point the box sings to you and does a little dance and you're brought back to the hub area with more boxes unlocked to check out. Each box won't take you more than ten to fifteen minutes total, in part because the puzzles are simple and in part because there's never a whole lot to interact with thus making it hard to get too lost, so it's not a lengthy game by any stretch. The controls boil down to simply the two main mouse buttons: left to activate whatever the cursor's pointing at (with maybe some dragging motions, which - like The Room series - works better with a touch control equivalent for Switch or iOS), and the right button to flip the box over from front to back (there's no elaborate camera controls to look at the box from every angle like there would be in, say, Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes).

One of my favorite puzzles was directing this stream of birdbarf to hatchlings to grow them up. The cutesy aesthetic had to do a lot of heavy lifting to make all this avian emesis look endearing.
One of my favorite puzzles was directing this stream of birdbarf to hatchlings to grow them up. The cutesy aesthetic had to do a lot of heavy lifting to make all this avian emesis look endearing.

As a kid of the early '90s who grew up with Mighty Max - the adventuresome "tough kids for boys" equivalent to the domestic Polly Pocket - this type of set-up already punches me square in the nostalgia plexus, but of course this being a video game there's a lot more the developers can do to on the periphery to make this little diorama feel even more alive: the NPCs move and emote, there's stuff moving around in the background, there's solid feedback for buttons and sliders with how things light up or make noises, many stages have mild musical components and the game has a "reactive" soundtrack of the sort that adds instrument tracks based on which elements of the level are presently "active," and several other sensory connections between the player and these boxes. The whole game's also couched in this cute, colorful, but simple aesthetic I lack the visual design savvy to accurately describe. Maybe like an animated Sesame Street skit if it was commissioned by IKEA? It definitely feels like something you'd use to introduce your kid to adventure games, and to mouse or touch controls specifically.

It's an appealing package and I liked some of the puzzles, but writing this review does feel like being in 7th grade and doing a book report on Clifford the Big Red Dog. It feels like a game that wasn't intended for me, and so writing subjectively about it as a gaming experience with the same amount of scrutiny as something way more complex like Subnautica or Return of the Obra Dinn (both released on Steam around the same time as GNOG) feels both incongruous and unnecessary. If you're a kid or an adult who likes toys, GNOG is some simple charming fun to wile away a couple of hours but not a whole lot more than that.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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#1  Edited By sneazzy95

I really enjoyed GNOG. It has graphics that go perfectly with its unusual atmosphere and interesting puzzles although a little too easy. Its very limited lifespan (1 to 2 hours) and its lack of replay-ability makes it a short but intense experience. I highly recommend it.

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