Game: Waking Violet
System: Nintendo Switch
Developer: Marco Mastropaolo
Price: $ 6.99/€ 6.99/£ 5.99
Release Date: June 29 on Switch e-shop and Steam
(July 3 on PlayStation 4 and PlayStation Vita)
Overall Feeling: I like it!
(Review Code generously provided by Mauro at MixedBag)
It’s not every day that I come across such an inventive little puzzler as Waking Violet. I was lucky enough to be obtain an early review code for the game last week, and I wasted no time, jumping right into it. Mind you, I knew very little about it beforehand, save for the brief but intriguing trailer I watched.
It’s described as a classic 2D top-down puzzle game, featuring enchanting spells and a time-rewind mechanic. You play as young Violet, a shy teen with a strong desire to grow up and make her own decisions. (A theme that many an adolescent can relate to very well!) She goes to bed upset, and gets trapped inside a dream that she is unable to wake up from. Violet must make her way through the strange world she finds herself in, solving each puzzle across 42 levels.
The game opens with a super brief scene of the title character fuming in her bedroom after an apparent dust-up with her parents. She’s over their rules and expectations and just wants to be her own person, for once. (Parents can surely relate to the frustration of raising a teen. You want to protect and guide while still giving them room to evolve. It’s often an unsolvable riddle!) Pretty soon, Violet is fast asleep and locked in her puzzling dreamscape.
No Rest in a Nightmare
Immediately, you’re in a set of rooms that is your first puzzle. A title of sorts appears on-screen that relates to the specific section. The camera pans around on its own to you show you different points of the layout. This happens with each new stage you enter. You’re now on the move! The floors you navigate are all grid-like layouts, with different configurations of rooms, and features. Your goal in each is to solve the puzzle to unlock the purple portal that takes you to the next stage.
Violet herself is a rather small, stocky being in this realm and she shuffles along very slowly. Though she’s dressed in what you could call a Tanooki-esque suit, she certainly can’t fly. She can’t even run. It’s more of a brisk waddle, but it gets the job done. This gameplay is all about mind over matter, not speed or might. And make no mistake, your gray matter & wits will be put to the test!
Choose Your Moves Carefully
In each section, you’re tasked with moving around blocks that are scattered across the rooms. They may be impeding your path, or you need them to corner an enemy in place, or placed as a barrier so you don’t get zapped from a shock-ray. Sometimes there are waterways (rivers) in the rooms with no way to get across them. You can use a block to bridge the gap by pushing it into the water. It then becomes part of the pathway. Blocks or wooden chests, etc. can only be pushed. Your character can’t pull or lift. This is where you must really think to figure out the best solution.
You might have to move a block into a certain space first, so that you’re not left without an option. If a block gets pushed up against a wall, you can now only push it down from the top or push it up from underneath; you can’t pull it away from the wall. And your character always needs to be lined up properly with the block in order for it to move. If you try pushing off-center or from a corner, it won’t go.
Blocks, Switches, and Rewinding Time
Often, blocks are for moving onto switches that activate certain things in the area. One type of switch may only need to stepped on once to trigger its corresponding object. Others have to be kept covered by a block, or Violet herself. You may have a group of switches that all need to be covered. In some rooms, there are gates that have to be lowered via switches before you can reach the rooms beyond. The trick is figuring out how you’re going to get that block from point A to point B or have enough blocks for all targets.
Don’t worry, though, if you get stuck or did things in the wrong “order.” This is where that nifty time-rewind mechanic comes in! It’s a great, welcome feature, being able to have a limitless do-over, on command. No repeated going back to the menu screen time & again to restart. If you go wrong (get hit by a monster or laser, or fall into waterholes), simply press and hold the “L” button and watch yourself reverse in time before your eyes. You may want to hold it just a moment in order to reverse one step, or hold it down for awhile to backtrack over a succession of movements.
So in effect, there’s no actual dying in this game. A misstep will result in getting a small “Game Over” bubble on-screen, but it vanishes with a quick tap of “L” – and you’re in place again. The time-rewind action blurs the scene like double-vision as you see Violet doing her reversal thing. I thought it would get old or hard on the eyes after awhile, but it hasn’t been a problem. The effect lends well to the “nightmare” theme.
Trapped in a Maze of the Mind
As expected, the puzzles get more challenging as you progress through the game. A few times, I felt I was truly stuck. With no online guide available, it was up to me alone to solve it. Somehow, I managed to get through each time (eventually). You can pull up a sub-menu by pressing the “+” button, to access a hint. There are only a mere 3 hints total and I didn’t see a way to get more. The hints themselves aren’t much help, anyway. They are fairly vague and I didn’t gain anything by using them.
Throughout your adventure, you’ll encounter many obstacles. There are orbs that shoot out laser beams at you. You can’t zip past these beams, only block them from emitting. If a beam strikes you, you’re toast. But rewind and that’s quickly remedied. There are also yellow-green orbs that shoot out bright balls of energy. These work with “partner” orbs of the same type, and you need to pass the energy between them. That means stepping on a switch and also getting out the way of the energy ball. Getting them all activated in time will open the portal to get you out of that room.
Occasionally monsters come after you, or inhibit your path. You don’t fight them or even touch them. You can only find a way around them. The monsters are inert at first, and “activate” once you touch these alarm clocks that set them in motion. If they’re chasers, they’ll just track you down instantly. So you have to trap them with a block first. If they’re pacers, they move back & forth in a set pattern. You then have to figure how to get past them. You can’t avoid dealing with the monsters, because the same alarm clocks that trigger them also open up your escape portal.
Magic and the Mystery of the Alchemist
Pretty early on in the game, Violet will come across her first clue as to what (or who) is keeping her in this dream world. It’s a diary page on scroll paper, apparently written by an alchemist. The mystery man is detailing his experiments with a potion of some kind, and its ever-changing effects on him. He finds that he is able to wield magic. (There’s no dialogue in Waking Violet, and these diary entries are virtually the only texts you see in the game.) With each entry page you find, you suddenly acquire a new magic spell! Apparently the fates of you & the alchemist are inexplicably intertwined.
Your first magical ability allows you to shoot a fireball. You have to collect mana bottles in order to use magic, though, and each “spell” requires a certain amount of mana. This is indicated by a gear-like meter on the lower-right corner of the screen. Mana is found in the rooms that require magic to be used. The fireballs, which use 25 mana units, can be shot at a pesky block that you want out of the way. This may free up another block you need to push to a specific spot.
The further you progress, the more diary pages you find and the more abilities you gain. One level may require you to be in multiple places at once – and this is where the cloning spell comes to your aid! You can literally copy yourself and switch between your clones to carry out tasks. This takes 200 units of mana. You must study the rooms to decide how to get at those bottles and in what order you do which action. There’s also a spell that allows you to briefly walk across water. This triggers a countdown clock that gives you just seconds to get to the opposite side. And there’s a spell that hurls frost across the room and turns an enemy into an ice block. This is handy for obvious reasons!
When I started Waking Violet, I wondered if it would get repetitive. It’s all about manipulating the objects in each section to open up your exit, which then leads to more of the same. But the puzzles are so well done, and there’s enough variation, that it keeps you engaged. In fact, it’s quite an ingenious little game, well worth the price. It’s accompanied by moody downtempo tunes that match the atmosphere. The hand-drawn graphics are unique and quite lovely. And I’m impressed with how certain effects look when unleashed – like the freezing blast spell. I’m a longtime Professor Layton fan and gravitate toward games like that, with investigations and plenty of story & dialogue. So, this doesn’t check all the boxes for me in a puzzle game. But it seems well-suited to the Switch and perfect for short bursts of gameplay. I didn’t finish it yet, so I don’t know what becomes of Violet, though I’m certain I will soon. 🙂