In a dark, empty room there is a cube on a small table. Moncage puts players straight into the action with a few quick hints on how to manipulate this multifaceted object. It asks you to connect similar objects on the different levels of the box by rotating the cube and looking at things from unique perspectives. The challenge seems simple at first. As the game progresses, however, the puzzles become more complex and the seemingly disjointed scenes reflected on the sides of the cube begin to weave into a narrative. I just wish this narrative had more substance.
Each side of the six-sided cube by Moncage shows its own vignette – like a window into different surroundings. Objects in one scene align with objects in another when the player rotates the cube into perspective. My first goal in Moncage is to open a suitcase on one side. Inside is a teddy bear, a toy truck and various children’s toys. The minimalist aesthetic showcases the shape of each object, but not the fine details that set a dreamy tone that compliments the surreal gameplay. The sleek appearance is also critical in enabling the optical illusions players need to put things together and move forward through the experience.
Since there is nothing left to do in the first panel, I turn the box to the left and find a broken dump truck in front of a factory. Since the trucks are the same color and lines in both panels, I can Rotate the cube so that the front half of the children’s toy in the first scene is aligned with the back half of the vehicle on the other side of the cube. That does the trick, and the newly repaired truck drives down the street.
Even if this initial solution isn’t difficult, I still feel successful. Moncage replicates this feeling over and over again in new and imaginative ways, making it a truly rewarding puzzle game. For example, in my favorite area, I have to go from one side of the cube to the next and fit together quickly Benches, water containers, tanks and more into a Rube Goldberg machine so that a tiny object can scroll through any vignette without stopping. Stringing it all up and timing it all was enjoyable, much like defeating a giant boss from an action game.
However, some answers are not apparent. Like many puzzle games, facing some small onesl detail occasionally hit my head against the wall. For example, I was able to determine on one level that a radio antenna would fit a power pole perfectly, but for a long time I didn’t know that I had to light a scene so that the objects were the same color before they could match. Fortunately, there is a creative, effective, and robust notification system in place. You can press a button at any time during the game to light up important objects. The guide is subtle and feels more like a nudge in the right direction than a straightforward path to resolution. If that’s not enough, the next few clues provide written clues, and once you’ve blown those, the game features a short video clip showing the puzzle solved. This was very helpful in situations where I had the right idea but wasn’t precise enough to register the solution. I find this notification system very appealing. It effectively combats the frustrations of typical puzzle games, but asking for help doesn’t feel like defeat.
As I progress through the game, I discover that what initially looked like random, incoherent tableaus was actually part of a larger, overarching story. I usually find this type of storytelling intriguing, but Moncage’s narration did not get my attention. Overall, the story is too nebulous to be effective. It doesn’t help that much of the narrative is told through photos carefully hidden in the game, which means that players can easily overlook key elements of the plot. There are undoubtedly moody moments – several pictures are dedicated on the subject’s war experiences, both good and bad. One picture, for example, captures a fun trip to the fair that was seemingly tarnished by the veteran’s traumatic reaction to the fireworks. There are also some interesting moments when the images allow me to understand something new about a place I visited as part of an earlier puzzle, especially at the end. I left the game, however, wishing I knew a little more about the underlining story and not having to piece together the ambiguous events myself.
Moncage is a smart puzzle game, and its perspective-based puzzles broadened my imagination as each scene blended beautifully into the next. The narrative could have hit harder and at times I felt like I had to line things up perfectly for the game to accept the correct answer, but the title of Optillusion is a challenge worth taking up.