As a youngling, a favorite toy of mine was the wire and bead maze. Shaped, colored wire functioned as an elaborate track for a series of cube and spheres made of wood that could be sent through loops, long drops, and corkscrews. It was a wonderful sensory activity that helped you forget that you were waiting in the doctor’s office to get a booster shot. There was no goal or method of winning the wire and bead maze, it was a simple and oddly mesmerizing thing. Playing GNOG, very much its own sensory puzzle game, felt similar to being totally captivated by a simple thing.
The “game” is made up of nine distinct puzzle boxes waiting to be poked, prodded, and shuffled around. Combining high levels of interactivity and no direction, I found that KO_OP’s game had the same delightful appeal of sensory toys. The player is expected to “solve” the puzzle box through experimentation and exploration, using its theme to guide their thought process. Each interactive button and handle functions as a trigger for something and it is up to you to stumble Myst-like towards the solution. You’re not left entirely out to dry as visual cues will gently push you in the right direction. Ultimately, the trick to solving each box is to find out the right order of things. Some of the earlier boxes offer distinct visual clues that make it pretty clear what needs to be done. Later boxes leave a lot of room for interpretation, though they had a tendency to be confusing. There were moments where I stumbled blindly into puzzle solutions without really knowing how I got there. I wasn’t going to argue with the game but I won’t lie, I felt a little cheated out of something.
GNOG comes with a rich and vibrant color palette. Each box and the space it occupies comes with its own special look that ties in with different themes like space, nature, candy, and a dance club. These disparate worlds have no relationship to each other and at best, they succeed in telling fun visual stories through the small created worlds inside each box. The whimsical containers remind me of the old transforming Micro Machine toy sets that opened up to reveal whole cities to drive the tiny cars through. Little cartoon-like people live in boxes that take the form of oversized stereos, tree stumps, and rocket ships. The look of GNOG has the same delightful weirdness that made Katamari Damacy and Noby Noby Boy so oddly appealing.
Everything about GNOG feels designed to soothe the soul. There’s no need to rush through each box, no ticking clocks to add any degree of player urgency. The soundtrack, both the music and ambient sound effects, is also quite lovely and will adjust itself to match the theme of the box you’re playing with. It can be played in standard mode, though it is also compatible with PlayStation VR, which is how I chose to play through it. Although it plays great in VR, this is another instance where I think it would have been more fun with the PlayStation Move, if only to give the process of twisting, turning, and pulling knobs a more tactile feel. One thing I thought was fun in VR mode was the ability to get really close to the inside of a box and look around, giving me an appreciation for all the bits and bobs packed into each diorama.
The charming oddity of GNOG makes for a fun and stress-free gaming experience. It's fitting that Double Fine published the title as it feels right at home with Schafer and company’s collection of unique downloadable games, like Stacked and The Cave. The added VR functionality is neat, but the game doesn’t use it enough to justify its purchase strictly as a VR game. As a side note, I added it to my list of games that I’d demonstrate when showing off VR primarily for its soothing and nausea-free experience. At $15, it is a predictably short game that doesn’t offer much replay value (beyond trophies), but the hour or two it took to get through all nine puzzle boxes was a delightful experience that I’m happy to recommend.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.