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Quantum Conundrum Hands-On

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Square Enix recently held an event at the Game Developers Conference, giving journalists everywhere a chance to hobnob and try out some of their latest games – well, the ones that didn’t include the words “Tomb” or “Raider”, anyway.  Among them was the downloadable first-person strategy game Quantum Conundrum, the latest from Portal designer Kim Swift and her team at Airtight Games.  This was the first opportunity for us to go hands-on with the game, and we’re definitely liking it.

If you’ve never heard of this game before, here’s the scoop.  You’re a 12 year old kid stuck in the oversized mansion of a scientist named Professor Fitz Quadwrangle.  This guy has been busy inventing all sorts of stuff, like robotic drinking birds and machines that spit out safes, tables and other strange objects.  Well, an incident forces Fitz to vanish, and it’s up to you to figure out where he is.

The demo tells you how to play around with the game’s multiple dimensions, its hugest draw.  You have access to a special glove called the I.D.S. (Interdimensional Shift Device), which lets you conveniently move between dimensions.  The demo introduces three of the four that are available for use – the Fluffy Dimension, the Heavy Dimension and the Slow Dimension.  They’re about as bizarre as they sound.

The Fluffy Dimension makes everything all pink and light, so safes get turned into companion cube-like pillows that are easy to pick up.  The Heavy Dimension turns everything into iron objects, with common boxes becoming weight-laden iron slabs.  And the slow dimension stops everything to a crawling speed, perfect for getting through fans that would otherwise chop you to bits.

At first, you don’t have control of these dimensions, as switches are hit and you have to alternate between the dimension and the real world.  But soon, you’re given the I.D.S. and the option to play around.  You’ll need to use these dimensions to solve puzzles, such as turning a safe into a heavy enough object to manipulate a glass window (just a matter of hitting the button at the right time) or work your way around floating furniture, standing on them like platforms and eventually working up a vertical shaft.

You can see Swift’s design genius that went into Portal throughout Conundrum.  The puzzles are a bit taxing, but hardly impossible, and once you discover the solution, you feel a sense of gratitude and accomplishment.  Case in point – one puzzle drops a group of safes on you, with a laser starting to fry them once they hit the ground.  Your job with this puzzle is to alternate between the heavy and regular universe with utmost timing, so that the safes kind of form a climbable ladder to a higher platform, so you can grab the I.D.S.’ latest function and get through a wall of lasers.  Won’t spoil the rest, but it’s pretty innovative design.

Quantum Conundrum also features a charming presentation.  Along with the diabolical stage design, the shift between dimensions is quite effective in visuals, with each one pertaining a certain color style so you know which one you’re in.  It’s also funny to hear Fitz’s commentary throughout the game, as he pines for the return of keytars and other oddball statements.

The demo ended too soon for us, honestly, but Swift and her team at Airtight have a real winner with Conundrum, we feel.  It’s charming, ideal for all ages and good fun, at least from the puzzles we tackled.  Look for the finished game on Xbox Live and PlayStation Network this summer.

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Robert Workman
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