I can usually tell if I’m going to enjoy a puzzle game from the first ten minutes I spend playing it. Puzzle games follow a standard formula: introduce a simple concept and then drip-feed new mechanics into the game to up the challenge. However, you’re usually doing the same thing from beginning to end. If you don’t enjoy the fundamental mechanic, you probably won’t enjoy the game as it gets harder. I fell in love with Gorogoa from the moment I moved one drawing over another to create a doorway for the character to move to a new location. The puzzles get harder, but the way you solve them is always wonderful.
In Gorogoa, you move drawings around a two-by-two grid to help a young boy collect five pieces of fruit for a peace-offering to a dragon that invaded his town (at least, I think that’s what’s happening). While the drawings initially look like flat 2D images—albeit visually stunning ones—most of them end up having multiple layers. You can zoom out from a window to reveal more of the room you’re standing in or light a lantern by moving it over a star in the adjacent drawing. The drawings can also be lined up to open new paths or connect cogs to move objects into the desired location. I won’t spoil any more of the techniques. There aren’t that many, but they are all masterfully executed.
Gorogoa is the result of seven years dedication by developer Jason Roberts. He created the vivid watercolors and pencils, the wonderfully constructed puzzles, and the slightly ambiguous but still charming story. Screenshots don’t do Gorogoa justice. Watching separate drawings come together is magical, such as when a bird lands on a tree to shake loose an apple on the adjoining square which then falls into a bowl in the square below. I admire the talent required to create art as stunning as this; I can’t even comprehend the talent required to weave it all together in this way. Gorogoa deserves to be seen in motion, so I’ve embedded the Giant Bomb Quick Look below. It’s all early game footage so spoilers are minimal.
As you’d expect, the challenge increases steadily from the first piece of fruit to the last and even though I got stuck on a couple of puzzles, I nearly always enjoyed moving the drawings around to figure out the solution. I say “nearly” because about halfway through, there was a moment of frustration where I got stuck for a good twenty minutes or so. I knew what I had to do, but I couldn’t figure out how Gorogoa wanted me to do it. I had flashbacks to a time spent playing point and click adventure games in my teenage years complete with nightmares of staring at the screen for hours trying to figure out how to get past that goddamn goat.
The solution to one of Gorogoa‘s tricky puzzles eventually came about more by luck than skill as I moved squares around the screen until something new happened. Despite my ineptitude, the solution was still satisfying because I got to watch the animation unfold in a way that captivated me while also making me feel stupid for not figuring it out sooner.
Occasionally, my progress slowed while I focused on items that were three steps ahead of what I should have been doing, but that was rare. Gorogoa is linear and you’re limited in your options. You might get stuck occasionally, but you’ll always get there in the end. Environmental clues also point the way forward for some of the more abstract puzzles. I’m fairly sure Roberts doesn’t want you to get stuck. He wants you to think and progress through his incredible artwork at a steady pace. You’ll want to do the same.
The story was a touch more ambiguous than I’d have liked, however it had a soft and sleepy feel that calmed me down after tough puzzles. I’m not 100% certain I understood everything. Usually, that makes me want to hunt down theories online, but not this time. I’m happy with my version of events regardless of their accuracy.
Gorogoa is a short game. I’ve seen one review state a completion time of less than an hour however for most players, including myself, it’s more like 2-3 hours. It’s the perfect length. Any longer and the puzzles would become more mind-bending and obtuse and that’s not what Gorogoa is about. Roberts could have easily upped the difficulty by extending the size of the two by two grid. Instead, Roberts opted to keep things simple so that all gamers could enjoy the watching the magic unfold. I’m grateful for that.
I want to briefly discuss the pricing because it’s a touch odd. Gorogoa is available on PC, Switch, and iOS. On PC and Switch, it retails for $15, whereas on iOS it is only $5. I’m not sure why there’s such a huge difference between the iOS price and the PC/Switch price. For those of you with iOS devices, this is a no-brainer. Buy it, play it, love it. I personally have no regrets about spending $15 on Gorogoa for PC, but that is a tougher decision considering the price. It’s a short experience, but a fantastic one and up there with What Remains of Edith Finch for surprise indie hits of 2017.