Here’s the radical truth: every time I scroll past Quantum Conundrum on my interminable list of PlayStation 3 games, most of which were acquired through PlayStation Plus, it scares the crap out of me. Not because it is from the horror genre, where jump scares and messed-up imagery reign queen, but because a song plays the fraction of a second you idle on its name. That song is this song, and, while catchy, it starts so suddenly that, depending on how high I have the volume on my TV, it’s like meditating in a quiet room unexpectedly rocked by a massive explosion. Or maybe I’m being dramatic and just whining about being scared easily. Either way, I want it gone sooner than later.
Again, this is not a horror game. It’s all about puzzles and using your noggin. You play as the non-speaking twelve-year-old nephew of the brilliant and peculiar Professor Fitz Quadwrangle. You’re sent to stay with Quadwrangle, who is unprepared for your arrival and deep in some experiment. Alas, the experiment goes sideways almost immediately, which causes Quadwrangle to become trapped in a pocket dimension. He has no memory of what went wrong before, but is somehow able to watch and communicate you. The results of the experiment leave portions of the Quadwrangle mansion stuck between four dimensions with alternate properties. It’s up to you to restart three separate power generators and bring back Quadwrangle safely.
Quantum Conundrum is a first-person puzzle game, much like Portal. That should come as even less of a surprise when you learn that it was designed by Kim Swift, the project lead on Portal. You’ll notice many more similarities between the two beasts: a wearable device to alter physics in a room, a silly yet omniscient narrator, and lots of buttons to push. By using Quadwrangle’s Interdimensional Shift Device, you can manipulate the objects around you by shifting any given room into one of four different physical “dimensions” at the press of a button. You must use these dimensions in varying ways to solve puzzles throughout the mansion and restore the power. There are four dimensions to mess with, though I only just got up to the third one: fluffy (makes things lighter), heavy (makes things heavier), slow motion (slows down objects in motion), and reverse gravity (self-explanatory). With these varying properties, pieces of furniture or safes become your best tools.
Puzzles aside, the writing is pretty funny. Every time you die, which seems to be most commonly from falling into an endless pit inside this mansion because videogames, you’ll see a darkly snarky death message about something you’ll never get to see now that you no longer exist among the living. There’s also a lot of books with punny titles to examine, as well as amusing paintings on every wall. I especially like the one of the dachshund that stretches across multiple paintings and walls. I do wish that Quadwrangle, as our constant narrator, offered more hints, especially after you spend enough time in a room and can’t figure out what to do next. I solved a couple puzzles already through sheer luck and tossing boxes/switching dimensions until everything lined up perfectly, but I know that technique won’t get me to the end.
At this point, I’ve only fixed the first of three generators in Quantum Conundrum, and I didn’t have to look up any puzzle solutions online. I consider that a great victory as I am–and I’m not afraid to admit this–not the greatest mind to ever walk this spinning planet. However, I do believe this is only because the puzzles start off slow and simple, and the more dimensions you gain access to, the more involved the solutions will become. Couple this with the sometimes wonky physics, like when a box you are carrying suddenly touches a sliver of the wall and freaks out, as well as the less-than-ideal platforming moments, and I’m worried that I won’t ever see Quadwrangle back in the real world. I’ll certainly continue to try, but this mansion might turn out to be more of a prison in disguise.