Let’s start off by getting absolutely all of the Portal comparisons out of the way. Kim Swift worked on Narbacular Drop, the title that got her team acquired by Valve and turned into Portal. Swift eventually left Valve and joined Airtight Games to make Quantum Conundrum. Both Quantum Conundrum and Portalare both first person puzzle/platformers that feature an unseen narrator and a wry sense of humor. They also both take place in an environment that only changes slightly over the course of the game and have only a few, repeated items strewn throughout.
Airtight Games, who you may remember from that game with jetpacks and Nolan North that somehow managed to make jetpacks and Nolan North not fun, a.k.a. Dark Void, teamed up with Square Enix to make this dimensionally diverse adventure. Since third-person action games didn’t seem to be their strong suit, maybe a first person puzzle/platformer fits their design sensibilities. As the young nephew of the highly eccentric Professor Quadwrangle (voiced by John De Lancie/Q from Star Trek: The Next Generation), you must journey through his insanely-constructed mansion and rescue him from the pocket dimension his latest experiment, the Interdimensional Shift Device (IDS), somehow stuck him in.
Using the IDS and the battery cores that power access to the various dimensions, you must traverse your way through the different wings of the mansion and restart the generators so you can find some way to reach Quadwrangle, who is instructing (well, mostly criticizing) you the entire time. Utilizing the fluffy, heavy, slow and reverse gravity dimensions to maneuver yourself, boxes, safes, chairs, tables and couches, power switches and open doors to reach the end. Most of the puzzles are genuinely clever as well. That trampoline not getting you high enough up? Put the safe into heavy dimension to add some extra weight to it, then the fluffy dimension to remove the gravity around it, then repeat to get that double bounce action.
Most of the time, everything clicks. The puzzles are intuitive and genuinely interesting. If I was stuck in a room, it was because I wasn’t thinking the possibilities with every dimension through. Unfortunately, those other times where I was stuck, everything completely fell apart. Half Life released in 1998 and marked the moment when everyone collectively realized that platforming in the first person is pretty terrible. Fourteen years later, Airtight Games decided that not only should you have to do first person platforming a ton in Quantum Conundrum, but make it timing based over pits of instant death or with super physics-y floating platforms that take luck to time right. While this only makes up a fraction of the game, it left such a terrible taste in my mouth that it is almost all I can think about in reference to the game.
Quadwrangle’s narration leaves a bit to be desired, along with the general tone of the game. His never-ending quips and puns, while charming, never seemed to land the humor they seemed to be trying for. I was almost always smiling (barring the plaforming), but I was never laughing. What did make me laugh were the “Things you will never experience” that pop up when you are die in one of the puzzle rooms. It sucks that I’ll never be able ride a dinosaur, but in a game where I play a small child and everything seems to want to be cute and charming, these reminders that you’ll never kiss a girl or drive a car because you stepped off a ledge wrong and were brutally killed stand out as being a little off message.
Quantum Conundrum is a game that utterly baffles me. There are elements that are charming, funny and genuinely clever, but then there’s about 10% of the game that is utterly frustrating. The worst thing a first person game can make you do is platform. The worst thing a puzzle game can do is show you the solution but make it so difficult that solving the puzzle requires just dumb luck. Quantum Conundrum does both. Even with how angry I became, I still am looking forward to the downloadable content packs, which says volumes about the quality of the other 90% of the game. I definitely recommend Quantum Conundrum…with some slight trepidation.