I don’t consider myself an avid gamer. I play a few games every year, and there are a couple that I return to periodically. But most of the industry tends to pass me by in a blur. Partly that has to do with the types of games I gravitate to. I imprinted on games like Myst, Loom, and The 7th Guest as a kid, and while I’ve played and enjoyed other games—Portal is a perennial delight, I’ll often fire up Civ or Don’t Starve as a way to wind down at the end of the day, and recently I’ve been enjoying atmospheric quasi-platformers like Oxenfree or Night in the Woods—the type that I most often gravitate to is still “adventure/world-exploring games with a strong plot, beautiful animation, and challenging but not very difficult puzzles”. In that vein, I’ve recently enjoyed The Witness and Obduction, and I’m a big fan of the Czech studio Amanita Design, and particularly their games Machinarium and the Samorost series.
Which brings us to Gorogoa, a small but perfectly-formed game by artist and developer Jason Roberts. I’ve been hearing about this game for months, and when I saw that it was finally available for the Mac (Windows, mobile, and console versions were released previously) I snapped it up and played through last night (this is also my justification for writing it up on LGM, since my original plans for the evening were to do some work on the next PHotF entry). I really can’t recommend the game enough, even—especially—if you’re not a habitual gamer.
Gorogoa presents you with a grid of four panels, each of which depicts—in beautiful, hand-drawn animation—a different location in a nameless city. You can rearrange the panels, stack them over one another, and zoom in and out in them. The goal is to create interactions that will allow your character to move through the city and towards their goal. Some panels have cutouts that you can overlay over other panels to cause interactions. Others play games with perspective—you can zoom in on a mouse hole, for example, to make it big enough for your character to walk through.
I don’t want to say much more about the game mechanic, because discovering and working out how to solve the puzzles created with it is a big part of the fun of playing the game. A lot of games are praised for teaching players how to play them, but Gorogoa does this with remarkable elegance and skill. Figuring out how to play the game also puts you in the right frame of mind for its story, in which you help a young boy collect items for a religious mystery centered around a mythical creature (the gorogoa of the title).
As the player zooms in and out of frames, they also move through time, and between reality and mythology. The city in which the story is set experiences war, destruction, and regrowth. Other characters—old and young, whole and damaged—appear in some of the settings, many of them studying the same mythology and religious rituals as the main character. Some reviewers have assumed that these people are all versions of the original boy at different times in his life, but while that’s possible, I prefer to believe that they’re all different, and yet all bent on the same project—the search for meaning in a chaotic, sometimes dark world, even at the risk of injury, madness, or death. The depth of the game’s worldbuilding—both fantastic and naturalistic—is delightful in its own right, but also helps to explain the characters’ desire to impose order on it, which is reflected in the player’s puzzle-solving.
If I have one complaint, it is that the game is very short, no more than two or three hours of gameplay. And, as a story about the numinous, one can’t help but feeling a little let down when the ending dumps you back in the launch screen. You want to know more about the city, the characters, the monsters. Still, this feels like a game with a lot of replayability value, if only to enjoy its graphics, music, and atmosphere.
You can find more information about the game, including purchase options, at the official site.