Developer: Ko-op Mode
Publisher: Double Fine Productions
Release Date: May 2, 2017
Playing GNOG is like finding a lost magical toy made for space alien super babies. It is a collection of wondrous dioramas, a series of playful jukeboxes, a feast for the eyes and ears and mind that leaves you wanting more.
GNOG presents nine colorful monster faces floating in space for you to explore and solve. All of the individually themed heads are beautifully designed puzzles. By turning each intricate gnoggin’ about, pulling levers, sliding panels, twisting knobs, poking buttons, and having fun, you eventually unlock a joyous song to celebrate the individual cranium’s completion. The experience is very enjoyable, rather short, and densely packed with child-like wonder.
GNOG was envisioned by artist Samuel Boucher, who was inspired by real life toys and whose compelling art style looks as if Katamari Damacy had a baby with a hyper-colored super robot. He built GNOG in collaboration with the creativity-focused gaming collective, KO_OP, a company whose mission is to “create visually arresting, avant garde games.” And it’s been presented by the titans of awesomely weird and wonderful games, Double Fine, who, with legendary games like Day of the Tentacle and Broken Age, have brought to light some of the most brave and creative games of all time. All aspects of GNOG’s proud DNA are on full display in this toy store of the mind.
GNOG has some things in common with iOs’s The Room series, in that you are exploring magical boxes that make things happen. But where The Room feels like a sinister clockmaker has created each tableau, GNOG feels like a trans-dimensional space deity has created its way-out fun boxes.
GNOG is visually unlike anything else. Its bold neon colors and intricate designs merge into a series of stunning psychedelic dioramas. The resulting elements are deftly executed with unifying aesthetics that succeed by coming just to the edge of overwhelming you. Each puzzle head is bursting with detail and color, but nearly everything you find is part of the puzzle, or at least there to intentionally amuse you. Simply put, the game is gorgeous, and worth playing just to see.
The exceptional presentation extends to a user interface that mimics the notion of discovering toys. Each puzzle is presented in a package to be unwrapped. You find an intriguing box inside, complete with a little tab that you can hang on an imaginary outer space toy store rack. But your new toy still needs to be opened, and when you’re ready, there’s even a little flap to be flipped open for each box. Details have not been spared, and every moment of the experience is as delightful as it is attractive.
Very little is explained to you in GNOG, and very little needs to be. It is as if a strange toy has been put in your hands to play with and explore, and it works. A colorful cursor shows you what you can interact with, and more often than not you intuitively know how to twist, turn, slide, or click a certain switch or button or creature in order to garner a result.
In general, there is a front-facing main ‘monster face’ that can be flipped to the back with the L or R trigger. Loosely, the puzzles exist in three phases – some level of interaction with the face, some methodology for opening up the back, and some manner of poking and prodding with its interior in order to make stuff go. In some cases you have to follow a few pictographic clues that are cleverly strewn about, but in general you can successfully feel your way around with pure play. This model shifts a bit and becomes slightly more complicated as you progress, adding a few extra heads or steps with later boxes, but for the most part it all works quite well.
Each puzzle has its own guiding aesthetic and problem-solving theme, and they are all fantastic. In one box, you occupy a monster-y spaceship that you need to fix by fiddling about with its guidance and occupants. In another there is a many-faced candy store that requires some upgrades in order to distribute its confections to its eager customers. In every instance there are guiding principles of color, form, and puzzle-solving strategy that sing together in tandem.
As each puzzle moves forward, the lovely soundtrack by Marksye does, too. Musical tracks subtly build as you discover new aspects of the heads, as if the songs are in a state of evolution that grow alongside your discoveries. When you finish a level, the song and head burst forth together, a glorious celebration of your accomplishment and a feast for the senses.
GNOG toes the tricky line of keeping its puzzles very welcoming and intuitive while not becoming boring, and this works almost all of the time. Inevitably, I had a few occasions where my wide-eyed wonder was interrupted with blips of frustration, and I can imagine that the same will occur for others in varied spots. I found a few of the moments where turning knobs in 360 degrees could be a touch unforgiving, and in one rare puzzle toward the end I stumbled through via blind luck. But in general, the friendly difficulty curve is most welcoming and a joy to take in and let guide you. None of the puzzles are going to make you feel like a Captain Master Puzzle Solver, but they don’t need to, that isn’t really the point here. They’re fun to play, and they’re fun to navigate.
Aside from the few mechanical snags, the only other real complaint to muster against GNOG is that I want more of it. It’s short. In this instance, wanting more is praise, but it’s worth noting for gamers considering the purchase and weighing time against value. The whole experience of the nine puzzles can be completed in just a few hours. There are some hidden achievements, and the simple joy of re-visiting something as beautiful as GNOG, but the replay value, at least traditionally speaking, is not high. That said, the level of quality, polish, loving detail, and excellent design more than make up for GNOG’s brevity in my book. Quality over quantity is on full display here, just go in with reasonable expectations to enjoy the excellence that’s been presented, or save your money for other long-form interactive endeavors if that is your gaming priority.
GNOG is a wonderful accomplishment, an interactive work of art unlike anything else, a really cool set of bizarre and captivating toys. Boucher and KO_OP have created a virtual world that feels as if it was painstakingly hand-crafted for your enjoyment. When the space ship lands and the babies come out, they’re in for a treat, GNOG is ready for them with one of the most creative toys ever crafted.
GNOG is available for both PSVR as well as a standard reality build, and I played it in so-called standard reality. Because the game already feels as if it is transporting you to another world, I can only imagine that VR would be even better, and other esteemed reviewers have affirmed this.
GNOG is available on the PS4 now and comes to Steam and iOs later this year.
GNOG was reviewed using a PS4 code provided by KO_OP.