It may be perfectly reasonable to compare Quantum Conundrum with Portal and its sequel, but it certainly stacks the deck against the downloadable puzzler. They both have their fair share of similarities, so it should come as no surprise that Kim Swift, one of the talented individuals that worked on Portal, has teamed with Airtight Games and created Quantum Conundrum. Being compared to a landmark title is never an easy thing, and this rival to Portal has its own set of problems as well.
Players find themselves cast as a prepubescent nephew dropped off to spend an evening with his eccentric inventor/scientist uncle Professor Quadwrangle. Arriving at the manor, it turns out the professor has mysteriously disappeared into a pocket dimension and can’t find his way out. It falls to the nephew to navigate the massive estate using an experimental glove capable of shifting various dimensions.
There are four dimension for players to wrap their heads around: fluffy, heavy, slow, and reverse gravity. Fluffy turns everything lightweight and is good for carrying heavier objects while the heavy dimension works on pressure-sensitive buttons. Slow merely acts slo-mo while reverse gravity makes everything stick to the ceiling. Between those four elements, Professor Quadwrangle’s nephew has to use each one in conjunction to open up the doorways leading to the next area just like Portal.
Things start out simple enough with only one dimension introduced at a time following brief tutorials on each. Players are eased into the usage of fluffy before tackling heavy and then using them both to solve a puzzle. As the game progresses, puzzles require the usage of all the dimensions at the player’s disposal. For instance, a puzzle may call for using reverse gravity to make a series of safes rise up and then switching to slow so there’s enough time to jump over each one to the next doorway while going to fluffy to carry one, then going back to normal and placing it on one of the plates.
This is what differentiates Quantum Conundrum from its spiritual predecessor. In Portal, the player only had two an entrance and exit portal in their arsenal. It was up to them to figure out the timing, angle, and momentum when it came to using them. Much like an equation, all the elements had to be in line otherwise the solution wasn’t going to work. Whereas here there are four distinct abilities that must be juggled at the same time to successfully navigate the levels. This makes the puzzles in Quantum Conundrum a multi-step process, rather than one long rat maze.
The problem with Quantum Conundrum is that the puzzles aren’t terribly difficult. Even when Professor Quadwrangle doesn’t outright tell the player what to do, it’s far too easy to figure out what must be done with the objects scattered around the environments. If there are plates, carry a heavy object over to it. If something’s going too fast, slow it down. So on and so forth, making the experience go by much faster than what it was probably intended. It’s the polar opposite of Portal which requires a good few minutes of thinking before risking any action.
Further differentiating itself, there’s a preoccupation with platforming. In a third-person perspective, this wouldn’t be much of a problem, but from a first-person viewpoint it make some of the jumps rather irksome when there’s no good indication of where your avatar’s feet are going to plant themselves. It’s these sections that ultimately slows pace down rather than the puzzles. They’re not impossible jumps by any stretch of the imagination, but if platforming from first-person is going to be a trend than any game that does it should make the protagonist’s feet at least somewhat visible.
As for Quantum Conundrum‘s aesthetics, the décor becomes repetitive very quickly. Rooms blur together with stacks of books, sets of tables and chairs that fail to separate one part of the manor from the other. Professor Quadwrangle himself isn’t particularly interesting either. The humor seems to be aimed at a younger audience which might make it excusable, but the tone and delivery of the lines are so profoundly off it’s hard not to notice. Quadwrangle will chime in with some non sequitur line of dialogue and then just leave the player hanging. It’s like somebody was telling a joke and then completely forgot what the punchline was in the middle of it.
Quantum Conundrum, if judged by its own merits, feels like an unexceptional puzzle game that’ll leave those craving an intellectual challenge wanting. It has some interesting ideas, but it can’t quite figure out what to do with them or how to create truly engaging puzzles. Too easy for older gamers, and a little over the heads of younger gamers, Quantum Conundrum finds itself in a sort of purgatory between the two, and like a younger brother it can’t help but live in the shadow of its older sibling’s success.