Critical Play: Gorogoa

Gorogoa, created by Jason Roberts and published by Annapurna Interactive

Introduction

Gorogoa is a beautifully designed, hand-drawn, single-player puzzle game created by Jason Roberts. It is available on many platforms, but I played the iOS version. The narrative follows a young boy’s journey and encounter with a strange monster, a dialogue-less story which unfolds as the player progresses through the scenes. The gameplay revolves around interacting with a 2x2 grid of images (there are no other “clutter” features like inventory, settings, etc.), and the player’s objective is to manipulate these panels in order to create new scenes, find the colored fruit, and advance the player through the game.

According to the iOS app store, this game is intended for players ages 4+. Given that the puzzles and expected player actions don’t require significant mental effort by the player, I would agree that this game could be played by young children. However, I don’t think Gorogoa’s full potential as a puzzle game would be realized or meaningfully appreciated by such a young audience, given that much of the delight a player experiences stems from the illusions and perceptual shifts induced by the level transitions, and there are a few instances in which the player does have to strategically rearrange the panels. In my experience playing, I noticed that I actually felt quite relaxed and soothed by the game, so I would also argue that Gorogoa might not be intended for gamers who like fast-paced action and intense, urgency-inducing types of challenges.

Mechanics and Dynamics

  • Dragging and moving tiles: rearranging tiles in the 2x2 grid is one of the key player actions. Because this action isn’t very challenging in itself (i.e. not dexterity-based), the skill elements mostly come from the player’s ability to visually deduce which pieces should be placed next to each other and strategically rearrange them, in order to create a coherent scene that might unlock a new area in the chapter. Here, we can see that the game design leverages novelty and trickiness in perspective in order to encourage player exploration. There are also some trial-and-error elements to this — at least when I played, there were a few instances where I had the general idea for how the scene should be constructed, but I had to try multiple approaches that involved moving the tiles in a different order.
  • Zooming in on images: for most of the images, the player is able to zoom in to examine certain areas in closer detail. Sometimes, this is related to solving the puzzle, and the player must use zoom to center on a key object that is part of the puzzle’s solution. Other times, zooming serves as more of an aesthetic-focused mechanic that allows the player to learn more about the game’s narrative and to more meaningfully appreciate the artistic effort that went into creating this game.
  • Manipulating objects within images: for many of the scenes, the player is able and expected to manipulate objects depicted in the images. In these instances, the direct player interaction is a mechanic that engages with causality elements of puzzles in order to present an additional challenge for players (e.g. turning a gear in order to make something else happen) — it is through these “tricks” that Gorogoa is able to present novelty in its gameplay, despite offering limited player actions.

Fun Intended

  • Sensation is the primary type of fun intended. The visuals and music in this game create a sensory experience that is just so. good. Jason Roberts’ hand-drawn art and creativity in animating his puzzle solutions are what elevate Gorogoa above other traditional puzzle games, which is why I argue that sensation, rather than challenge, is the primary type of fun intended.
  • Challenge is the secondary type of fun intended. If you strip away all the beautiful visual design and sound effects, at its core, Gorogoa is a puzzle game. The player must strategically manipulate the images and change their perspective in order to see how the distinct images (i.e. puzzle pieces) fit together. Though there are visual clues, there aren’t any explicit hints in the game, which can make solving the puzzles more challenging. However, it’s a total moment of delight when the pieces click — the scene animates and provides visual feedback that confirms the player solved the puzzle.
  • Narrative might be a tertiary type of fun intended. However, I’m only really bringing this up because I read up on the backstory of the game after I played — I personally found myself more enthralled with solving the visual puzzles in the gameplay, so I wasn’t thinking that much about the narrative or reasoning as to why we needed to help the boy obtain his fruit. In hindsight though, the narrative is impressively woven into the gameplay, despite the game having no dialogue — as the player zooms in/out and explores the different panels, and through the game’s visual animations that also serve as feedback for the player, the story is revealed.

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stanford econ and hci

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Rose Li

Rose Li

stanford econ and hci

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