Indie Game of the Week 148: Gorogoa

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Before the December rush starts and I brute force my way through a stack of 2019 games for last minute GOTY entries, I wanted to take a brief break with something relaxing and contemplative. If Gorogoa is anything, it's unhurried; sometimes it pays to take things easy and look at the problem from a different angle. That's explicitly the crux of the game's puzzles too, as you work with perspectives and various layers of a scene in order to build a path to success.

Gorogoa is about a studious young boy who identifies a colorful dragon-like monster stomping through his town. He knows how to defeat it from his books - collect five special colored fruit into a bowl, which will repel the creature - but beyond picking out a bowl from his family's closet he's unsure how to proceed. That's where the player comes in, picking apart scenes by using a two-by-two grid to reconfigure layouts, or create additional layers that can be stacked on top of one another to create new gateways or new areas to explore. In addition to moving around geographically in the game's vaguely Middle Eastern setting, the player also moves forward through time, seeing the same young boy in various stages of his life, almost always on crutches or in a wheelchair. Evidently his battle will cost him dearly, though we're left to ponder how it will happen and if we're capable of stopping it in time. The five collectible items also provide the game's structure, as the quest for each one invariably becomes its own chapter in the story.

What the hell happened between the kid and that bird? Maybe I should stop poking it. Eventually. *Poke poke.*
What the hell happened between the kid and that bird? Maybe I should stop poking it. Eventually. *Poke poke.*

It's hard to describe the metaphysical brilliance of Gorogoa without seeing it in motion, and given the dialogue and text-free story it's working with it's a very visual game top to bottom (or left to right, as the case sometimes is). The destination is often evident enough, as is where the player must start as the young boy stands expectantly with a bowl ready for you to guide him. The journey, however, might take the player through one daydream, and then through a framed picture of a temple in the daydream, and then through a pattern on the wall of the temple in the picture in that daydream. Additional panels will break off into their own scenes, and you'll occasionally have obvious empty shapes that are meant to be placed on top other scenes to create a new composition. It's sort of like a game where you're charting a route through a Photoshop image, taking a path through each of the separated layers. Again, it's much easier to see the game in motion to understand what's going on, though even with that intuitive comprehension of what the game's doing the puzzles are rarely ever straightforward or simple.

As if to assuage the inevitable beanfreaking that these circuitous puzzle solutions might cause, the game is surprisingly chill given its themes of war and destruction. Even though you get a small window each into scene - by necessity, as they're each meant to take up only a quarter of the working area with up to three others - the player is able to at any time "blow up" the panel they're tapping on to see more of the detailed artwork or animations within. The Arabian/Indian/Middle-Eastern aesthetics come from a culture I'm not too familiar with (though I did just come from another game, Indivisible, that drew a lot of artistic inspiration from that part of the world also) but is rendered in beautiful detail here, and the surrealism of the game's mechanics are reflected well in the animations and art of these little scenes and windows.

This chapter took a while. Hard to say why, but you're looking at least ten different scenes here.
This chapter took a while. Hard to say why, but you're looking at least ten different scenes here.

The game's on the short side, which didn't surprise me given the clear amount of resources put into its presentation, but in that brief time makes you really turn those mental gears to make any headway - especially after the first couple of collectibles have been found. Though there's a limited number of scenes and hotspots to draw from in each chapter, there's an intimidating degree of convolution that starts to hurt your head after a while, albeit in an entirely positive way. It's sort of like collapsing after a full workout and discovering that the muscles that hurt the most were the ones you didn't even know you had. There's a mix of lateral thinking and spatial awareness utilized by Gorogoa's brainteasers that you rarely see in this or any other medium, and I'm struggling to recall a game that so expertly played with the malleable limits of reality in this fashion since 2013's non-Euclidean nightmare Antichamber. Just the sort of (legal) cerebral stimulant I was looking for as we start 2019's final descent into GOTY mania.

Rating: 5 out of 5.

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