A popular toy among discerning infants and toddlers is the activity center. It comes in thousands of iterations, but the basic goal is to give children a series of entertaining and noisy switches and levers. Kids fiddle with them endlessly, engaged just by the ability to interact with something. Gnog, in many ways, feels like the grown-up version of this toy. I don’t mean that to be dismissive; it scratches the same pleasant itches of those activity centers, but requires a little more brain power, and offers more rewarding conclusions for your interactions.
Gnog is made up of nine puzzle boxes, each one distinct in its visuals, music, story, and solutions. They are all built on the basic premise of playing with the assorted buttons, dials, and switches contained within. Looking into these boxes, taking note of assorted patterns and clues, and watching the solutions come together from your interactions is rewarding. The solutions typically require you to pay attention to clues in the environment dictating the appropriate positions of switches, or figuring in what order certain buttons should be pushed, but some get more complicated and involve routing electricity, or positioning a laser in just the right position. Pressing a button and sliding over a switch might be a simple interaction, but it’s fun when that switch opens up new sections of the box that let you to tackle the next part of the puzzle.
Seeing the small stories that come together from your fiddling is a pleasure. In one box, you must repair a damaged spaceship hurtling through space. In another, you must feed a series of baby birds to make them grow up. None of these stories offer profound resolutions or surprise twists, but I appreciated them as rewards for arriving at solutions and was always eager to see them to the end.
One of Gnog’s greatest strengths is its audio and visual direction. Each box has a sharp, clean look and Marskye’s soundtrack expertly stays out of the way while you’re solving puzzles, only to explode into the forefront when it’s time to see your work come together. Animation is limited, mostly relating to the way interactive objects move, but it’s clear a lot of care has been taken to make even those simple movements enjoyable to watch.
Gnog is a simple puzzle game that never pushes the player too hard. Opening each box to rotate its wheels, push its buttons, and solve its puzzles is relaxing. It surprised me with its charm and made me eager to pursue each new box as I unlocked them. Putting together solutions and watching the resulting animations and musical numbers simply made me happy.
Gnog can be played in VR, but it doesn’t dramatically change the
experience. In normal play, you rotate the boxes using the right control
stick, but in VR you can lean in to get a better look at them. The
biggest benefit of playing in VR is it makes the game’s excellent
soundtrack much more engrossing. Overall, though, PSVR felt like a
welcome bonus, as opposed to a necessary way to play.