Puzzle games have a tough challenge with trying to be unique while balancing complexity, to ensure that players from a variety of backgrounds can enjoy the game, without its difficulty suffering. If you make it too easy, people complain. If you make it too hard, you scare off new players.Thinking about buying The Witness, for example, makes me clench tight enough to turn a lump of coal into a diamond.
In comes Samsara, a kiwi made puzzle game that has landed on the Xbox. The question is, does it manage to balance these things?Samsara tells the story of a young boy named Zee, who needs to get out of some puzzles. Oh, and there’s an upside down, shadow Zee who needs to get out of the puzzles too. That’s where the story ends. Fortunately, it’s a puzzle game, so the lack of narrative isn’t important.
What is important is the puzzles, and they are darn good.
Samsara is a simple concept. Zee finds himself stranded in a puzzle. You place boxes, and boxes with stairs in the puzzle, and set him off to see if he can get to his portal. The kicker is you can place boxes below the ground, in an upside-down world, and doing so also places a mirror box in the right way up world.
This may sound straightforward, and it is, but the variety kicks in with different box types. The standard box is subject to gravity but the steel boxes, when placed in the upside-down world, will create floating boxes in the right way up world. Then there are gem boxes which defies every law of physics when you place the box in the upside-down world, by placing a mirror box which then raises with the trajectory of the placed box as it falls. So, placing it somewhere so it will drop two places in the upside-down world, will raise it up four places in the normal world.The above is the gist of the puzzles, and thanks to the mirror world having a different looking puzzle, as well as Shadow Zee, there is a surprising amount of complexity across the 72 levels. Some teleporters, and vines which either appear or disappear on contact mixes it up a bit, but its simple mechanics make learning the game easy enough to feel smart in no time.
The real issue the game has is it doesn’t get overly complex. I am far from the best at puzzle games, but I rarely struggled through a puzzle. My first guess would generally get me within a couple of changes of the solution, which did make me feel smart. It’s not going to challenge the puzzle minded among us.
That’s not saying there aren’t some good challenges in there. The most stumping is when they cleverly use parts of a puzzle that look important, that can lead you awry. The puzzle design isn’t only fun but looks gorgeous too.The levels are split into nine groups, each with a fantastic aesthetic. The most striking is the final group which goes for a surrealist vibe, with creepy eyes watching you as you move objects around. Everything, including both Zee’s have been beautifully handcrafted that when paired up with a soft but great soundtrack, makes the whole experience relaxing.
Samsara isn’t a puzzle game I would recommend for the more ardent puzzle game fans, but instead aligns up better for us filthy casuals. Puzzles are challenging enough to make you think, but never feels out of reach. It’s a game that would be better lined up for a fun weekend jam, then a controller breaking experience.
Blair received a copy of Samsara for review.