Ruya has been on my radar since the hypnotic puzzler showcased at EGX earlier this year; flaunting lovely, simplistic art with gentle animations and a relaxingly meditative soundtrack, it quickly took a spot on my “games-I’ve-gotta-keep-an-eye-on-no-really-add-it-on-twitter” list.
A new take on the classic connect-the-dots puzzle mechanic, Ruya gently blends its art, music, and style to create a smooth, uplifting game which doubles as a pseudo-meditative aid — additionally so for headphone users with its relaxing use of binaural audio.
I’m not usually keen on mobile games, nor am I generally drawn to puzzle games, so it was a strange contradiction to find myself excited to find a quiet, cosy corner in a nearby coffee shop, put on my headphones and immerse myself in its meditative worlds.
The game opens up with a cute little animation setting out a minimalist story: Ruya finds love with a woman who looks just like her, they adopt a bunch of children and are generally happy. The woman then leaves Ruya, causing her to spiral into both depression and fear as a result of doubts about being able to care for her children. The game itself is when Ruya slips into deep meditation to escape her depression and find acceptance, which is mirrored by the meditative-come-psychedelic music and sound effects. The story is meant primarily as an undercurrent for the game; there isn’t any sort of story progression as you play aside from the occasional memory bubble about blankets and cats, and its main purpose for the player is to explain why you’re decorating a floating woman’s antlers with flowers made by sacrificing sleeping cyclops heads to different coloured mystical children, but it still permeates the game and manifests itself in subtle ways.
As mentioned previously, the puzzle-solving gameplay is a twist on the classic connect-three puzzle mechanic: the play area is comprised of a grid filled with various pastel-coloured heads, and each “turn” can be completed by tracing out the shape dictated by the game. These can be three in a line, at a specific angle, or in any manner of shapes — with them getting more complex the further you advance. Your progress is divided up into eight beautifully surreal dreamscapes ranging from snow to desert, each with their own ambience and increasingly challenging puzzles.
The first few levels ease you into the basic mechanics of the game, explaining them with simple “do-as-I-do” visual prompts, and each new mechanic thereafter is introduced with a level specifically designed to show how to tackle it, then leaves you to it.
The design decision to explain the game and its mechanics in this way will quickly allow you to decide on whether you’ll stick with the game or not, at times its teaching is so discreet that it feels like you are having to fail to learn, which is an odd concept in a puzzle game.
However, explaining the game in this dry, mechanical sense will help you — the prospective player — decide if the gameplay suits your tastes, but I feel it does Ruya a huge disservice. Ruya’s main draw and charm is the experience it provides: combining its lovely pastel hues, adorable art, and beautiful music to create something more than just another puzzle game you can pick off the App Store and play for five minutes on the bus ride after work. Every frame of the game is a stand-alone piece of art, be it Ruya’s adorably happy face after finishing a level, the falling snow on the mountainous vista, the flowers that gradually adorn Ruya’s antlers during a level all serve to create an immersive and relaxing atmosphere.
It isn’t all happiness, however — speaking with Bradley Smith who directed the art on the game — the larger themes of depression, loss and fleeting happiness permeate throughout the game, based on his own experiences of these feelings: “A lot of the visuals kind of spewed out of me after the loss of my Nan and observing how my mother handled the grief. The dreams that you unlock in Ruya are pulled from real experiences from her. Or how my girlfriend would brush her hair. Or how my sister would cuddle our dog. The intro sequence uses a lot of metaphor about my Nan’s life”.
These are communicated through the visual aspects of the game: The cold, vast and empty snow plains, and the dark and moody environment’s colour palette which starkly contrasts with the colourful flowers; which perhaps signify happy memories or feelings of worthiness after making the children of the level happy. Ruya’s happiness after each level is short-lived and fleeting, with her shaking loose the collected flowers to be scattered to the frozen landscape, before returning to her sombre meditation.
It is this deep well of meaning, the careful attention to detail, aesthetics, and atmosphere which make Ruya stand out from the crowd. It is why despite not normally being a fan of mobile puzzle games, I absolutely recommend Ruya; you can see and feel how much love, pain, and dedication went into creating every facet of the game. From its mesmerising ambience, beautiful soundtrack, lovely art, to its excellent animations, Ruya is a beautifully crafted puzzle game which has truly captured my heart; and I sincerely hope you spare the asking price of half a cup of coffee so it can delight yours too.
Information about Ruya
Release: 2nd November 2017
Platforms: iOS, Android
Price: £0.99 / $0.99 / €0.99
Developer: Miracle Tea Studios