Something that’s fairly unwise to do while (apparently-possibly-maybe) suffering from swine flu and its attendant raging fever: playing a puzzle-based videogame that cheerfully perverts physics in the name of mind-bending. The innocuously-named Boxgame is the latest from Sophie Houlden, the feather-ruffler behind the satirical Linear RPG, but this time around it’s very much its own game rather than commentary on someone else’s. I don’t quite understand it. But I do like it.
To grab a couple of lazy references (hey, gimme a break – I’ve got pigitis), it’s Portal meets Super Mario Galaxy. As the nameless stickman protagonist navigates the cuboid levels, they rotate smoothly but disorientatingly, flipping the viewpoint by 90 degrees. This happens both when he turns a corner, and when he drops off a ledge. What was previously at a right angle away from your feet immediately runs horizontally across the screen.
There’s fixed, hard logic to it – which is where the Portal reference comes in. It’s often a less forgiving take on those flippity-flip puzzles in the later stages of that game – but gut directional instinct, perseverence and a little luck tended, for me at least, to get me through to many level exits at least as much as did my geometric wits. It’s Escher: the puzzle game in some ways, but if Escher’s bewildering staircases had somehow led somewhere after all.
Later, there’s spikes and keys and switches, which mean giddy freefalling until you land at the right angle is no longer viable. The levels aren’t long, but the trickier ones will involve a fair few restarts and thus having to repeat a string of jumps and dodges. Still – good-looking, agreeably confusing, clever stuff that marks Houlden as another indie developer we’ll have to keep a close eye on. Meantime, she’s got a bunch of her earlier work cunningly hosted here.
Oh, Boxgame’s free and browser-based, but requires the Unity web player plugin to power its 3Dosity, so Linuxian folk may be left in the cold. Now, if you’ll excuse me, I’m going to go have a lie down and shiver uncontrollably for six to eight hours.