Like the very best puzzlers, Quantum Conundrum takes a handful of simple concepts, mashes them together, turns them inside out, and comes up with situations and solutions that makes your brain beg for mercy. Snap. Puzzle time.
From developer Airtight Games, and with Kim Swift - the co-creator of Portal - at the helm, Quantum Conundrum is one clever game. You’re the twelve-year-old nephew of Professor Quadwrangle. Visiting your uncle for the holidays, you find a mansion full of flying furniture, multiple dimensions, and a disembodied voice trying desperately to figure out what the hell went wrong. Before you know it, your uncle is directing you towards a gauntlet that lets you master the mansion’s four dimensions, and you start puzzling your way through the mind-bending madness.
And there is a lot of mind-bending going on. Within the mansion, there are four different physical states that can be activated. The first one is the fluffy dimension. When this is active, everything become ten times lighter (and fluffy). Everything, that is, except for you. So you can activate the fluffy dimension with your gauntlet, pick up a safe, and throw it at a window.
If it hits the window in its fluffy state, nothing happens; the trick is to switch off the fluffy dimension while the safe is in flight. The safe regains its mass - while maintaining its momentum - and smashes the window. That’s right, while a couple of hours playing this game might not get you a cameo on The Big Bang Theory, at the very least it’ll get you sounding like a high-school physics teacher.
There are the three other tricks hidden in your uncle’s glove. There’s the heavy dimension, where everything is ten times heavier, the slow dimension, where everything goes slow (duh), and the reverse gravity dimension. As you move through the mansion you may have access to one, some, or all of the dimensions, although only one can be activated at a time. And while the basic concept of each dimension shift is simple, the fun is in the creativeness and ingenuity of the level design.
And, level design is where the game is at its best. You’ll spend hours building bridges with fluffy furniture stuck to the walls with giant fans, or blocking lasers with super-dense cardboard boxes, riding safes into the air as you turn off the gravity, or walking over furniture frozen in the air. It’s hard to explain how smart Quantum Conundrum is without describing the levels, and spoiling the whole point of the game. Suffice to say every room you walk into is full of surprises, and I'll leave it at that.
While every level is a testament to the developers’ imagination, and a challenge to your powers of problem solving, the presentation doesn’t quite live up to the game’s IQ. Quantum Conundrum is a first person puzzler, but with many rooms involving a lot of moving platforms, the whole first person view gets frustrating. There are some situations in life, and especially in gaming, where being able to see your feet is really helpful. Also, the Professor’s continuous chatter sometimes leans more towards annoying, than helpful. Add to this rooms that all look the same and a story that tries to be whimsical and engaging, but falls a bit flat (although, having a twelve-year-old protagonist that you don’t see and never hear, hardly helps) and all you’re left with is a series of very good puzzles.
But, it is a very, very good series of puzzles. And, (I suppose we can’t avoid the elephant in the room any longer) if you’ve been looking for the smaller, cheaper, nephew to Professor Portal, without the co-op play, the polished presentation, or the laughs, Quantum Conundrum is it. It’s frustrating in that very good puzzler way and there are collectables and time challenges to get you returning for more. And, the game’s just so smart that every time you play your IQ will go up at least ten points, or you’ll have to go for a lie down in a dark room because your brain hurts.