PC (reviewed), Xbox 360, PS3
Airtight Games/Square Enix
It was around the time I was riding a flying couch in super slow-motion over a pit filled with toxic yellow goo while grabbing a battery in mid-air and flinging it into a contraption across the room that I stopped caring about Quantum Conundrum being a thoroughly unabashed imitator of Portal.
Because it was then I realized that yes, even though this is a game by one of the original designers of the runaway hit Portal, and even though it's a first-person puzzle game set in a series of self-contained chambers lorded over by a goading, unseen voice, the similarities don't matter. Quantum Conundrum is thoroughly great in its own right.
And as I transmuted my flying sofa into solid metal in order to couch-surf it through a set of frickin' laser beams and thus escape the room, I was laughing from the sheer absurd fun of it all.
Quantum Conundrum takes place in a maniacal mansion belonging to slightly mad professor Fitz Quadwrangle (voiced by John de Lancie, best known as Star Trek's omnipotent, sarcastic Q.) As Quadwrangle's 12-year-old nephew, your goal is to navigate the massive mansion's maze of increasingly complex chambers, manipulating the laws of physics in order to bypass gaps, traps and other obstacles.
Through use of the Interdimensional Shift Device, the junior Quadwrangle can make objects in the game world very light or very dense, reverse the direction of gravity and slow time down to a crawl. These dimension-altering abilities are salted in slowly and in different combinations, and the way the game's creators have devised puzzles around them is brilliant.
Sound sort of familiar? It should, because the game is the brainchild of Portal co-creator Kim Swift. Like the original Portal, Quantum Conundrum was built by a small, young team, and it's available first for the PC (you can find it now on the Steam download service for $13.49 US), coming later this summer to Xbox Live and the PlayStation Network.
The game's lo-fi cartoon visuals are in sync with the light, bright and slightly silly spirit. De Lancie's Prof. Quadwrangle is crotchety but never menacing -- GLaDOS he ain't, nor is he meant to be -- and you'll spend a lot of time chucking around fluffy safes, hopping on robots' heads and snatching batteries from a green imp named Ike.
I did find myself wishing for a little more meat to Quantum Conundrum's story or a little more zest in its writing, and some of the puzzle mechanics do get repeated a bit. Still, it's a cute, smart game that challenges your brain and your thumbs. There's no cake, but it's pretty sweet.
It may lack the edge and backstory of a Portal, but in the relatively new genre of physics-bending puzzle-platformer games, Quantum Conundrum is fluffy yet fulfilling.