A short and (mostly) sweet puzzle experience.
It’s hard to adequately describe with words the multi-layered dynamic which makes up Gorogoa, the new game from developer Jason Roberts and publisher Annapurna Interactive, but it would also be a disservice to Roberts’ efforts to simply label it as a digital puzzle and call it a day. Yes, the player must work through the game’s story by solving different puzzles, but the way in which those puzzles are structured helps Gorogoa to stand out from most other puzzle games, even if its obtuse presentation often ends up being its own worst enemy.
At first, Gorogoa’s gameplay layout seems incredibly simple, so much so that the player could be forgiven for assuming there won’t be much of a challenge to be found. The player is presented with four different square panels joined together in a 2×2 grid and soon moving images start appearing in those panels. A lone boy spots a fantastical-looking creature while gazing through a window, prompting him to embark on a quest to gather five different pieces of fruit as an offering to the creature. By manipulating the images that appear in each of the panels, the player can help guide the boy along and clear any obstacles in his way.
Gorogoa does a decent job of easing players in with early-game puzzles that can be solved with little effort. If the boy walks over to the edge of a panel and is unable to proceed, placing an appropriate image from another panel next to it will result in a seamless transition from the image in the original panel to the new image. Soon, the player is also experimenting with zooming in and out of images, manipulating objects in both the foreground and background to open up new possibilities. By the time the player claims the first of the five fruit they need, Gorogoa’s true potential starts to blossom, but that potential sadly doesn’t remain consistent throughout the entire experience.
It isn’t long before Gorogoa starts to throw some real brain-teasers the player’s way, and it is these late-game puzzles which true aficionados of the genre will likely appreciate the most. However, there’s one element of Gorogoa’s puzzles in particular that is likely to frustrate even dedicated puzzle fans: hidden image frames. Later in the game, there are times when the outer frame of an image has to be separated from the image it surrounds so that either the frame or the original image (or both) can be manipulated in new ways. However, there are also times where it isn’t entirely clear that one image is actually “framing” an entire other image, leaving the player perpetually stumped unless they happen to accidentally move the framing image with an errant cursor click.
Granted, there are also multiple occasions where a puzzle can legitimately stump the player, especially in the late game, but when you’re unable to solve a puzzle not because of some visible clue that you overlooked but because an unassuming image actually turned out to be a framing image, that just feels cheap. It also doesn’t help that Gorogoa’s rudimentary hint system (a system which will try to guide the player by highlighting interactable elements for each image) isn’t really that helpful, usually just leading the player in circles and failing to note whether or not one image is actually covering another. Obviously it would be silly for the hint system to simply spell out what the solution is, but if the player is forced to rely on pure guesswork despite the presence of a hint system, that’s a problem for sure.
Another element of Gorogoa which might not click with every player is its story. Jason Roberts is to be commended for attempting to tell a story entirely through an abstract visual medium (Gorogoa contains no spoken dialogue of any kind), but overall the execution of those efforts leaves something to be desired. The images that are displayed to the player can help them piece together what’s going on to a certain point, but since the player is also constantly trying to solve the next puzzle barring their progress, it’s hard to really appreciate what each image is trying to convey. A second playthrough could help those who want to really soak in the game’s narrative (since figuring out puzzle solutions would no longer be an issue), but even then it might just be a bit too vague and abstract for most people’s liking.
In all fairness, though, the abstract and unclear nature of Gorogoa’s story may be exactly what Roberts was going for. Without going into spoilers, the game’s ending is left in a fairly ambiguous state, allowing players to draw their own conclusions about the symbolism behind the boy’s journey. Those who prefer having a game’s story laid out to them in a clear and concise manner, though, likely won’t find much to like about Gorogoa’s narrative elements.
One final point of contention to bring up in regards to Gorogoa is its $14.99 price tag. If you’re even a mildly competent puzzle game player, you’ll likely finish all of Gorogoa in a sitting or two, so keep that in mind when considering whether it’s worth the price of entry. There are also some hidden achievements to earn as well, so there is a slight bit of replay value for completionists, but overall it’s hard to justify paying so much for a game which most casual players will likely only play for an hour or two tops.
Gorogoa gets high marks for its visual presentation and unique aesthetics, but its vague story combined with a handful of puzzles that feel more cheap than compelling drag the entire experience down somewhat. Still, even with its faults, Gorogoa is the sort of puzzle game itch that die-hard fans of the genre are always looking to scratch, though it might be best to wait until the game gets a discount to ensure you really felt like you got your money’s worth. It may be short and sometimes frustrating, but as a game that was developed entirely by a single person, Gorogoa certainly could have turned out a lot worse.