I’m not a big fan of modern games’ heavy focus on narrative. More often than not, obtrusive cutscenes are there just to draw attention away from a repetitive gameplay. But what happens if a game is stripped almost completely off the narrative? That leaves a mystery. In an indie puzzle adventure Golem, solving puzzles within a mysterious tower is its narrative device.
A young girl has been tasked to gather water for her village. A drought has tortured the land for ages and water is a rare commodity, only found in some random puddles around the tower. It houses a long-dormant machinery, the use of which has been forgotten for centuries. The girl finds wet sand and starts digging it, but instead of a water source, she unearths a glowing sphere. Its presence awakens something inside the tower. Determined, the girl braves herself and enters the structure, pushing the sphere with her.
Even though the sphere seems to be alive, it has no own will at first. It reacts to the girl and she can use its energy to solve the first mechanical puzzles blocking her path. The girl can climb up vines and plant walls, needed to get across floors to solve the mysteries ahead. When she happens onto a glowing pool, she decides to throw the sphere into it by instinct. Transformed, the sphere gains little stubby legs, giving it limited mobility. The titular golem starts to gain its form.
The girl's actions are controlled by pointing and clicking with the mouse. The view can be panned with the arrow keys and zoomed in and out with the mouse wheel to get a better picture of current surroundings and puzzles waiting to be solved. Usually, opening a path forward requires gaining access to several levers to move parts of the structure. In some levels, the puzzles span across different sides of the tower. For example, in one level you need to activate a giant boiler by directing beams of light into it. The beams must be routed from one reflector to another, through the tower and along its four facades.
As the golem evolves by every other level, so does the puzzles. First, the girl just pushes the sphere to activate energy platforms and doors. When the golem has gained its little legs, it can be commanded to move and follow the girl, enabling puzzles involving two characters at different places. After the golem gains its dog form, its mobility is hugely increased and it can jump across gaps as ordered by the girl. Still, it can’t move up and down floors unless there are elevators or staircases. By the golem’s gorilla form, it can carry girl and swing from a handle to another like any good ape. Without spoiling too much, the final form is both comforting and eerie, and opens up physical puzzles, like moving stone slabs by telekinesis to make passages across gaps for the girl.
Each golem’s evolution phase poses initial head-scratching when it comes to solving puzzles. Outside the very beginning, there are no tutorials to run you through the puzzle mechanics. Luckily, there’s no trial and error as such, as it’s impossible to die in the game or run into dead ends. No matter how tangled a situation you have wound up yourself in seems to be, it’s always possible to unravel it. The game has no auto save, which is actually for the better. Manual saves at appropriate spots can often save from frustration. Some puzzle ensembles appear so impossible at first that you rack your brains until they let out steam and you curse under your breath. Whenever that happens, it’s best to load a previous save to clear the train of thought and try again with a fresh point of view.
The point and click interface gets the job done but direct controls over the girl would have sped things up and saved from continuous misclicks that easily occur when you’re, say, near a lever and try to grab it. Golem demands for a console version that could be played from comforts of a sofa instead of being hunched over a keyboard in the dim-lit PC corner, as the game is rich in its the beautiful spirit. The evocative Middle-Eastern landscaping and understated art design would certainly benefit from a big TV screen. The animation is easily up to the standards of animated feature films. Though often miniscule against the tower architecture, the girl and later also the golem are heartily enlivened. The sound design is minimal, with only a delicate piano tune popping up whenever puzzles are close to their solutions.
Longbow Games believes that solving puzzles is satisfying in itself without any other rewards than making progress. And it really works. The gameplay is such addictive that my time away from the game was filled with anxiety to get back into it and solve the big riddle of the tower. The game didn’t need any words to tell its little tale spanning ten levels. Sometimes, though, it felt like there were too many levers to solve the puzzles with, but during the last two levels you actually miss them. The emphasis shifted to new physical puzzles which made the last act of the game a bit too easy and more straightforward compared to what was experienced before. Nevertheless, Golem is a great find for any puzzle game fan out there.
Video game nerd & artist. I've been playing computer and video games since the early 80's so I dare say I have some perspective to them. When I'm not playing, I'm usually at my art board.