Have You Played… Cradle

Have You Played? is an endless stream of game retrospectives. One a day, every day of the year, perhaps for all time.

Have you played Cradle [official site]? I previewed Cradle but only just got around to playing the full game. So far I’m only part of the way through so I won’t be checking the comments for fear of spoilers but it’s already been so rewarding.

It’s a puzzle game set on the Mongolian steppe in a yurt. You’ve lost your memory but start to pick through the literature and paraphernalia of the yurt and the surrounding countryside, trying to work out who you were and why you’re here, out on the steppe with a cyborg woman who is also a flower vase for company.

I feel like it’s a game that won’t be for everyone and I’m anticipating that a lot of people bounced off it almost immediately. Some of the puzzles are awkward or finicky or solutions might be easily missed. It’s also more rewarding the more reading you’re willing to do and that will entirely depend on your frame of mind. I think it’s hit me at exactly the right moment. It’s wonky and flawed but easnest and beautiful and I love it so far.

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  1. A Gentleman and a Taffer says:

    Never heard of it, I must be honest. Interesting setting though. Any talk of Steppes reminds me of Pathologic so hoping there’s similar vibes.

  2. TheManintheHat says:

    I did! And I was loving it, until I got to the part with the cubes puzzle…I had read about it before hand and I knew it wasn’t great, but it really put me off to the point I left the game there and didn’t go back. I know (think) you can skip the puzzle after a few attempts or something like that, but it just broke the immersion the game had been building up to that point…

    Shame on me perhaps, I still think that puzzle was a very poor design choice, and I don’t think I’m the only one feeling that way.

    • Buggery says:

      To be fair, once you know what you’re doing you can completely cheese the puzzles and finish them in a couple of minutes at most.

      I learned this because the scripting broke and didn’t allow me to move forward in the game halfway through. In trying to fix it, I somehow lost all my saves. Came back to the game 4 months later and completed it in one go.

      Really, it’s a beautiful game. The environments are lush and the story is the kind of dreamlike, unclear, wafery thing that I wish existed far more often. To make up for that, it’s a buggy mess. Totally worth it for something different though.

    • manny says:

      Just use a gameguide for the puzzles, jeez

  3. calcifer says:

    I’ve waited for its release for years, bought it immediately on release and mostly enjoyed it. I’m still not sure if I actually understood the ending though.

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    Ben King says:

    Yeah, the cubes are a weird arcade-like addition to an otherwise wonderfully calm and eerie story. I found that I was completely perplexed regarding the story in the last act which takes a number of really unexpected turns as it advances. Doing some wikipedia-level research after completing it revealed some basic ties to Hindu mythology that I think might really give the game story some cultural context and explain some of the surprising turns, but I haven’t found any resources that back that up in a meaningful way.

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    Ben King says:

    Wonky, flawed and earnest seems like a really good description, but i feel like some of the things i think of as gameplay flaws felt more like throwbacks to older adventure games- the levels and item placement resetting after completing quest goals really threw me off at first, but I was grateful for it after largely demolishing the organization of the yurt while whipping up some breakfast. I felt like I was reading through a really fantastic speculative fiction novella as I progressed, and it was totally my cup of tea even if the final turns of the story left me feeling pretty culturally ignorant.

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    basilisk says:

    Very much a mixed bag, this one. It’s certainly very atmospheric, interestingly written and often quite striking, but the block puzzles (which account for probably half of the “gameplay”) are mostly annoying and feel like they come from an entirely different game. It also falls apart quite spectacularly towards the end in the oops-we-just-ran-out-of-money kind of way.

    It’s hard to recommend, but there’s some very good stuff in it.

  7. Eight Rooks says:

    I have not! I wanted to, but it was hearing what everyone said about those stupid cubes that made me decide to give it a miss. They’re silly and they shouldn’t be there. Shame. It does look – and sound – quite special.

    • Pan Vidla says:

      I hated the puzzles, but there is no need to be hysterical about it. They make up just about 10, maybe 15, minutes of gameplay, so it’s not a big deal. I’d bet there is plenty of games you loved that had longer shitty parts.

  8. forddent says:

    I think Cradle might be one of my absolute favorite games of the last year. The whole dreamy, plodding atmosphere is lovely (and the soundtrack is also superb, I think). It builds its world in a way that lets you approach it at face value or, if you prefer, dig into everything and realize what’s actually going on. The ending is a bit strange, but after doing some digging into it makes sense – it just assumes you are up on your Buddhism and Hinduism in the way that most games made in the West assume you are up on your Greek/Roman/Christian mythology.

    I found some pretty good analysis on the Steam forum of all things which kind of laid out a lot of the finer points of the game’s underpinning philosophy.

    The cube puzzles are pretty terrible, but I managed to get through them without too much fuss.

    Comparisons to Pathologic actually kind of fit, I think – it’s deeply spiritual and dreamlike and has bits that make you wonder why the hell you bothered playing (god the combat in Pathologic is a chore).

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      Ben King says:

      Yes, what forddent says about assumed knowledge of eastern mythology is spot on! I felt simultaneously hugely ignorant and slightly more worldly after playing it.

  9. daphne says:

    There isn’t much in Cradle, but what there is feels refreshingly different from everything else. I don’t mean it in the meta-gamey sense (and it isn’t), just that it’s a very strong statement by the earnest Ukrainian team behind it — the attention lavished on the backstory, as well as the chosen setting, clearly marks it as a dream project.

  10. Petethegoat says:

    It’s a really lovely game. As others have said, it’s quite short, and the block puzzles are bad (but if you’re really bad at doing them quickly like I was, you can intentionally lose as fast as possible a couple of times and then it lets you skip them).

    I think it’s probably still my favourite game of 2015. Just a beautiful series of moments. The ending is a little abrupt, but for me the ‘finale’ was definitely satisfying and honestly pretty thrilling.

    It will definitely be a touchstone for at least a few games in the future.

  11. April March says:

    I didn’t even know it was out! Sooooo… thanks for letting me know that!