After your first ten minutes with Quantum Conundrum chances are you’ll immediately pick up on a number of similarities with series Portal and for good reason since the game is actually designed by Kim Swift, one of the creators of the original Portal. However while the games offer the same first person based puzzling experience, Quantum doesn’t ever quite manage to reach the genius of Valve’s modern classic.
You play as a young nameless, voiceless nephew in search of his crazy scientist uncle, after he goes mysteriously missing in his own maze-like mansion. With only his voice to guide you (and often make fun of you) you’ll use the professor’s latest experiment called The Inter-Dimensional Shift Device (or IDS for short) to make your way through his twisted home travelling four different dimensions and solving puzzles in the process.
For anyone who’s played Portal or its sequel, Quantum Conundrum will feel instantly familiar in its layout. You’ll walk into a room, solving its puzzle or puzzles while more often than not utilizing items like traversable safes, launch pads and fans. Once you’ve figured out what you need to do, you’re moving on to the next room and tackling its new brainteasers and so on. Everything from the objects you use, to the professor’s voice commentating on your every move feels very Portal, but thankfully Quantum does have a unique trick up its sleeve, or rather four. Whereas Portal focused on using… well… portals, Quantum Conundrum requires you to take advantage of four very different dimensions, each with their own physical properties. You have the fluffy dimension which makes everything superlight, the heavy dimension which as you can imagine adds more weight to objects, the slow dimension which slows time to a tenth of its original speed and finally the reverse gravity dimension, causing everything not bolted to the ground to float to the ceiling.
The game manages to introduce each new ability without ever overwhelming you even at the moments where you’re required to manipulate multiple dimensions at once. A very early, very basic example had my progress hindered by a large pane of glass and a heavy safe by my side. After activating the fluffy dimension and essentially making the safe as heavy as a pillow, I picked it up and threw it at the glass quickly changing the dimension back to normal and reverting the safe back to its heavy state once more. With the glass smashed I could move on. Again this is an extremely simple example and later stages obviously grow in complexity and difficulty which may have you combining two or often three dimensions one after the other. I won’t lie, Quantum Conundrum did have me stumped a couple of times and while slightly frustrating, it was also rather rewarding at the same time to finally nail a lengthy conundrum (sorry I had to do it) I’d worked so hard to solve.
Once you’ve played through the game’s five or so hour story, there are a number of smaller extras you can tackle from beating set times on each stage, completing sections without dying, finding hidden extras and so on. Part of the fun of puzzle games like this however is in discovering a solution that first time making second or third playthroughs not nearly as appealing.
There a few more problems that also dampen the overall experience a little. While the game itself features plenty of quirky ideas; from the cute DOLLI devices to the fluffy dimension, the actual mansion itself feels lifeless and uninteresting with you finding yourself passing the same sort of staircases, bookcases or wooden decor constantly. This is a crazy, eccentric scientist, and judging by the look of his surroundings, you don’t quite get that impression. Much like the environment, the puzzles they house can also repeat too often. Many times you’ll find yourself leaping safes and using springboards in the same way it can all become a little too routine. Thankfully the game does offer a number of highlights such as the first time you watch launched furniture slowed to a standstill and used as a bridge. It’s these moments where Quantum Conundrum truly shine and what save it from becoming too much of a chore.
Another issue are the sometimes frustrating moments of platforming that as expected don’t lend themselves well to a first person viewpoint. Plus with such small surfaces to jump on such as safes or cardboard boxes, it often means one false slip results in instant death. Thankfully checkpoints are generously littered in each room meaning you won’t have to travel to far back should you fail. The professor while at times amusing can become a little annoying constantly talking in the background, a large chunk of it fairly uninteresting. Maybe I’m just spoiled after the awesome combo of GLaDOS and Wheatley in Portal 2.
While Quantum Conundrum is an excellent little puzzler that offers a rewarding sense of puzzle solving and experimentation, it falters in a few areas that prevent it from the being the perfect conundrum it could. Still at just over ten pounds, there are far worse ways to rack your brain and maybe get a laugh or two at the same time.