Gorogoa (2017) - Can't Stop the Movies
Can't Stop the Movies

Gorogoa (2017)

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A popular analogy for proponents of Intelligent Design is one of the watchmaker.  It's an argument from design, basically stating that the physical laws of the universe lend credibility to the presence of a deity overseeing the construction of our existence.  I thought of it often in Gorogoa's later sections as the lucid dream of the opening frames gave way to a path of steady construction complete with "tick tock" sounds of footsteps and labor.  The curtain came off, and Gorogoa's world revealed itself as a carefully designed labyrinth.  With the curtain pulled, so too did the magic fall.

But the magic never disappeared, not completely, and Gorogoa's successes - particularly in the immersive joy of my first hour playing it - should be one model of evocative design.  The premise is tantalizing in its brevity, opening with the title followed by a single page of blank space and a square illustration of a modest city.  The architecture places it nowhere in particular, with domed roofs standing alongside canopy peaks and triangular points, all hinting at a shared dream space instead of favoring one style over another.

Designer Jason Roberts, who also drew all the art for Gorogoa, uses a series of semi-mystical symbols to draw a road map through the dream.  I couldn't go anywhere I wished, but that didn't matter thanks to the wonderful framing.  Roberts pulls the camera in and out, recalling the double-dolly visuals Spike Lee often uses in his films, never cutting away from the world and always presenting it as part of one long trek.  This is exceptionally impressive considering Gorogoa splits into four separate panels, each able to carry a frame of vision.

Gorogoa has the power of poetry for so long.  The music, composed by Joel Corelitz, never imposes on the long swishes into and out of the panels as I clicked through to wonderful impossibilities.  I transplanted a garden to the city, created exits away from the isolation of those buildings through bricked off entryways, and visited a handful of lonely people through their dreams.  Plot matters less than tone, and though Gorogoa shares no literal translation it seems to be in reference to the vast creature that recalls the mythical gorgon.  It's fitting that Gorogoa freezes when the creature is on the move, seen in fractions, like the world is in awe and must pay respect when the creature makes an appearance.

Where Gorogoa falters is in its transition from construction to illustration.  I was completely in its power when I was summoning dreamscapes to escape to as the world seemed wider than the limited number of clickable surfaces allowed.  Gorogoa eventually drifts into mechanisms, and at first they're a nice extension of the environment as the rattle of nearby explosions can be used to free a moth from its prison.  But Gorogoa settles into full mechanical exploration, starting with a clock and compass, before entering the endgame with a guide post aided journey through multiple photos.

At this point, all I was doing was finding which physical action would act as a cog to turn the world as I needed it to.  I was searching for paths in the strongly defined tapestries or stone architecture.  The world didn't feel as large anymore and, while the number of clickable surfaces and places to travel to increased, the additional complexity brought me out of my reverie and into a state of rote puzzle solving.  What started as a magical trip through dreams ended as a superior puzzle fitting of the Professor Layton franchise, clicking through an elaborate musical clock to find my way to the end.When the payoff comes and the fruits of knowledge assemble into a bright cornucopia I was more impressed than in awe.  The magic of a universe that contained multitudes of possibilities condensed into just another mechanism.  Gorogoa is a beautiful, often haunting, and enthralling mechanism - but another mechanism all the same.

Revealing the cogs of Gorogoa diminishes its magic because the presence of a designer changes the question of, "How is this world possible?" to "What motives spurred this world's creation?"  I'm more interested in experience than explanation, and as impressive as the carefully laid tracks of hand drawn beauty are, I wanted the mystery to remain.  Gorogoa is ultimately a disappointment, but is so unique in its stumble that I left with a bit of magic left over on my hands and in my heart, hoping other games might learn to fail as wonderfully as Gorogoa does.

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Posted by Andrew

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