Life’s good when you’re a time-travelling paradox block.
You’d think by now we’d have seen it all with puzzlers. Be it physics, portal guns or just some good old-fashioned logic, if you can name a puzzle concept then it’s ground that’s already been trodden a hundred times before. However, thanks to his clever use and subversion of seemingly traditional mechanics, along with some minimalist flair, developer Bryan Gale manages to make Induction shine in a crowded genre.
Induction’s most immediately intriguing feature is, as you can see from the pictures you scrolled down to look at before reading the actual review, its art style. Strikingly minimalist and making use of a pleasant mix of both warm and cool colours, Induction is a gleaming gem in the visuals department. This theme of minimalism extends to its soundtrack, composed by Tim Shiel (which can be sampled and purchased here), and the soft plink of the game’s cubic protagonist as it moves about the world. This all comes together to provide a calm, soothing environment in which to play; and it’s a good job too, as things can become rather heated later on.
The game begins with the player finding themselves dropped into a world of fiendishly designed floating platforms and cubes that need to reach a specific end goal. You’re given no particular reason for this, so unless you wish to spend hours doing your own world building, it’s best just not to question it. The first level is a simple matter of ascending some steps to reach the goal at the top of one of the aforementioned floating platforms. Other mechanics are soon introduced such as pushing cylinders into specific positions or standing in place to activate bridges leading to the end goal, and you’d be forgiven for thinking that this all sounds rather uncomplicated.
That is, until the game’s standout mechanic is introduced. With a tap of the space bar, any movements you’ve made will be retraced by a past version of your cube, leaving you free to move about while your past self makes itself useful activating bridges, pushing cylinders and so on. While starting off in a relatively simple fashion, this mechanic gradually becomes more and more complicated to the point of having to time movements before creating your ‘time clone’ in order to ensure both versions of your cube work in tandem with one another to reach the end goal.
It’s important to bear in mind that your past self must be able to fully retrace the steps (or rolls, or… whatever a cube does) you went through before hitting space (see where it starts to get complicated?), adding an extra layer of difficulty on top of simply reaching the end. This, mercifully, doesn’t become much of an issue until later on in the game, and things are made a touch more convenient with the aid of the ability to rewind and speed up time, meaning there’s no need to completely retrace your steps after every small mistake (though doing so is indeed possible with a tap of the ‘R’ key).
As such, the game has a rather well-placed difficulty curve; while you’ll breeze through the first set of levels, you’ll soon find yourself agonising over what initially seems like a relatively simple puzzle, projecting all manner of calculations as to how to reach the end of each level. While there are no particular difficulty spikes, however, the game can prove to be rather frustrating when you feel you’ve exhausted all possibilities. Though it is of course natural to become stumped from time to time when playing puzzle games, getting stuck on that one seemingly impossible level often manages to be more demoralising than an interesting challenge.
We noted in our preview that the game could perhaps do with a hint system, and it is indeed something that could prove very useful to some (but not necessarily all) players. That said, the feeling of outsmarting the toughest levels the game has to offer is akin to besting some of the mightiest foes you’ll come across in a FromSoftware game, offering a great deal of satisfaction, so it’s ultimately worth sticking with a level long enough to see it through.
An example of one such level (without giving too much away) was one which seemed impossible until I realised you could land on top of barrels and have them pushed by your past self (provided you plan far enough ahead), allowing you to coast along toward the end of the level. Completing this level felt incredibly rewarding and, lo and behold, served to introduce me to a mechanic that would later become essential to progression in later levels. It’s worth noting that the game largely introduces these mechanics to you wordlessly (bar initially drawing your attention to the controls), which not only works well alongside its overall minimalist theme but also does a good job of making the player feel all the more clever for more or less providing their own tutorial.
Induction is a game that will make you feel smart, then make you feel like an idiot, only to then make you feel like an absolute genius, before immediately knocking you off that pedestal. Available on The Humble Store, Steam and Itch.io for a bargain price considering the number of levels on offer, Induction is a game well worth picking up if you’re looking to flex that grey matter, for as much as the game will (intentionally) frustrate you, it ultimately proves itself an awarding experience that will have you coming back to show those cubes who’s boss.