How would you describe a title like Gorogoa? Unique, certainly. Artistic, unquestionably. It’s a mash-up of interactive picture book storytelling, jigsaw puzzles, and scenes which stack like Russian dolls. If that isn’t enough to pique your interest, it’s supported by a sublime soundtrack and lovely animation. But Gorogoa is more of an experience than a game — though that shouldn’t put anyone off playing it.
After a huge dragon rampages through the streets of his city, a boy is compelled to placate it by gathering five different offerings. Each offering is a coloured fruit, scattered far and wide across his homeland. The journey he takes to locate each fruit spans miles and decades, his past and future combining to weave a poignant tale of devotion and despair.
From simple beginnings, you lay a path for the boy from one picture frame to another, dragging tiles to one of four places on a board and trying to match the illustrations so they make sense. If successful, a short animation plays and the boy continues his journey. Though that description may make Gorogoa sound simplistic, it’s anything but.
The drag-and-drop nature soon gives way to zoomable panels; otherwise static murals, friezes and book covers can be plunged into, revealing worlds of immense depth and beauty. An astronomer camped on a hill with a telescope gives way to a clock tower, and the clock face itself. A tiny opening in a wall hides a huge building behind it, if you dare to dive deeper. The scenes that you create by simply arranging the tiles in a particular order demonstrate an astonishing imagination from creator Jason Roberts, one which will often leave you with your jaw agape, wondering at their conception.
Not only do tiles interlink, but some of them can be separated and layered over others to create different objects, providing an even greater level of complexity. In one example, a crippled man climbs a staircase on a cliff, but the clouds in the background can be layered on top of cogs whose teeth mesh with the stairs, and rotate a series of other images that can be manipulated in turn. In another, the tracks on a train map double as ladders for a boy to climb, while the creation of a coin using a man’s profile and the image on a calendar is simply delightful.
Gorogoa is full of moments like these, and the boy’s experiences and the nightmares which haunt his later years are the central pillar of the game’s story, all told exquisitely and without a single spoken or written word. The puzzles are equally intricate, and every hand-drawn tile holds a clue to progression — be it a similar colour, shape or background design. A wander through a series of photographs is fascinating in its design, while a vignette told within a bunker as emergency sirens wail provides a remarkable opportunity for creating lamp light. Scattered papers and torn book pages offer metaphors for progress; a meteor storm hitting an observatory is mirrored by a piece of coal cracking a bell jar, and the end result is simply poetic.
Almost every puzzle makes sense in context, once you’ve tapped into the thinking behind the game. The amount of sticky notes that must have been used during the design phase could probably have covered a three-storey house. Effort and sweat can be seen in every frame of animation, as each puzzle dives three, four, five levels into a scene, before reversing course again so you can make sense of whatever new discovery you just stumbled upon. A couple of solutions were tricky to find towards the end, but that may have been because we weren’t expecting the mechanics to reintroduce earlier, more simplistic elements. If nothing else, you’ll be kept on your toes as you try to uncover new tiles. A hotspot locator is switched on by default to point you in the right direction, but you can always switch it off in the options for a purer experience.
There are so many lovely moments in the game that to elaborate any further would spoil the surprise completely. Words and images can only convey the experience so much — Gorogoa is a title which you need to immerse yourself in completely. The soundtrack by Joel Corelitz helps immensely, cementing the spiritual and mythological themes within. It’s a short game, clocking in at two hours or so, and like any puzzle game (though, you may struggle to find anything that compares even remotely to this) the replay value is minimal once you’ve worked everything out. Even so, you can always introduce a friend to it, and experience the delight of playing it through their eyes. While the overall storyline may prove to be a little too opaque for some, those who are happy to roll with the allegory will find Gorogoa to be a beautifully illustrated journey, and a marvel of game design.