In a dim, empty room, on a table, lies a cube. Moncage dumps players straight into the action with a few quick notes on how to manipulate this versatile object. It gives you the task of connecting similar objects on the different faces of the box by rotating the cube and seeing things from unique perspectives. At first, the challenge seems simple. However, as the game progresses, puzzles become more sophisticated and the seemingly disconnected scenes reflected on the sides of the cube begin to weave into a story. I only wish that story had more substance.
Each side of Moncage’s hexagonal cube shows a clear vignette – like a window to different environments. Objects in one scene align with objects from another as the player rotates the cube to the correct perspective. My first goal in Moncage is to open a briefcase that displays on one side. Inside is a teddy bear, toy truck and various children’s toys. The minimalist aesthetic presents the shape of each object, but not the fine details, setting a dreamy tone that compliments the surreal gameplay. The simplistic look is also crucial to getting the optical illusions players need to piece things together and progress through the experience.
With nothing left to do in the first panel, I turn the box to the left to find a broken dump truck that has come to a stop in front of a factory. Since the trucks in both panels have the same color and lines, I rotate the cube so that the front half of the child’s toy in the first scene aligns with the back half of the vehicle on the other side of the cube. That does the trick, and the newly repaired truck drives down the road.
Although this first solution is not difficult, it gives me a feeling of satisfaction. Moncage replicates this feeling over and over in new and imaginative ways, making it a truly rewarding puzzle game. For example, in my favorite part, I have to move from one side of the cube to the other, quickly fitting together pieces of benches, water containers, tanks and more in a Rube Goldberg machine to roll a small object through each vignette without stopping. Putting it all together and getting the timing right was satisfying in a spirit akin to beating a giant boss from an action game.
However, some answers are not clear. Like many puzzle games, with a view of some smallI detail let me bang my head against the wall every now and then. For example, on one level, I could see a radio antenna matched a utility pole perfectly, but for a while I didn’t realize that I had to light up one scene to make the objects the same color before they could match. Fortunately, there is a creative, effective and robust hint system. At any point during the game, you can press a button to make important objects glow. The guidance is subtle and feels more like a push in the right direction than a direct line to the solution. If that’s not enough, the following hints provide written clues, and once you’ve gone through them, the game offers a short video clip showing the solution to the puzzle. This was very useful in situations where I had the right idea, but wasn’t precise enough to register the solution. I find this hint system very attractive. It effectively combats the frustrations of typical puzzle games, but doesn’t make asking for help feel like a defeat.
As I progress through the game, I notice that what initially seemed like random, unrelated tableaus were in fact bits and pieces taken from a larger, overarching story. Normally these kinds of stories fascinate me, but Moncage’s story didn’t grab my attention. Overall, the story is too vague to have any impact. It doesn’t help that much of the story is told through pictures carefully hidden in the game, meaning players can easily miss important plot elements. There are undoubtedly suggestive moments – several photos are dedicated to the subject’s wartime experiences, both good and bad. For example, one image shows a fun trip to the carnival, seemingly marred by the veteran’s traumatic reaction to fireworks. There are also some interesting moments where the photos allow me to understand something new about a location I visited as part of a previous puzzle, especially towards the end. However, I walked away from the game and wished I knew a little more about the underlining story and didn’t have to put together the ambiguous events myself.
Moncage is an intelligent puzzle game and the perspective-based riddles captured my imagination as each scene flowed into the next beautifully. The story could have hit harder and at times it felt like I had to match things up perfectly for the game to accept the right answer, but the title of Optilusion is a challenge worth taking on.