With what we've seen of late 2012 and 2013's big-name videogames signalling a clear intent to be more gore-filled than an equipment malfunction in an abattoir, Quantum Conundrum's cheerful arrival is a timely one.
From one of the co-creators of the rightfully revered first-person puzzler Portal, this too involves figuring out physics-based challenges inside an elaborate maze of machines, traps and light-beams while an unseen narrator provides a steady stream of quips. It'd be lovely to review Quantum Conundrum without so much as mentioning Valve's famous game, but there are simply too many (presumably entirely conscious) similarities for that to be possible.
QC's central gimmick isn't a gun that can create metaphysical doorways between two remote points, however - instead, it ups the ante to four 'dimensions' which you can switch into to affect the physical properties of the crates, tablets, dodecahedron-shaped power supplies and numerous overstuffed sofas that populate the mad scientist's sprawling mansion you're laterally-thinking your way through.
The core two powers for the first half of this short but bargain-priced game are to make objects heavy or lighter. Crates and furniture in the 'fluffy' dimension can be picked up and repositioned to create new pathways, as well as capable of being flung across the level by trampolines or pinned against walls by high-speed fans. Heavy dimension stuff is immune to such flinging, and also can withstand being scoured by laserbeams.
Later, slow-motion and gravity inversion join the fray, and it's the former that's arguably the backbone of the game. QC levels are cavalcades of furniture flinging across deadly pools of 'science-juice' from robotic mouths, with the exit always tantalising visible but forever just out of reach unless you can crack the exact sequence of time/weight/gravity that opens up a flawless path to it.
Therein lies one of Quantum Conundrum's two main... well, perhaps not failings, but certainly elements that threaten to disrupt the experimentation and violence-free eureka moments it's founded upon. Given just how much it revels in surrealistic oddness, it's inflexible about its puzzle solutions - routes to the exit have to be just so, and attempts to shortcut by standing a bit of handy railing or jumping from a clearly man-sized box are undone by quiet cheats such as making certain objects intangible or forcing you off them.
Fair enough, it wants to impress with the flow and cleverness of its solutions, but there's such a thrill to feeling you've created your own path through the level. Instead, you're forever required to work out exactly what the game was thinking, and a clutch of inadvertent red herrings can over-compicate that.
On top of that, there's an ongoing escalation into dependence on jumping puzzles, with the logic element backgrounded in favour of time and precision of your flexes. It seems such a shame to have constructed so many ideas, and without any resort to the violence that infects the vast majority of videogames, but so often use them simply as a backdrop for whether you're able to press Space/A in a timely fashion. It's a game that in cartoon tone and pacifist nature seems to desire a non-hardcore audience, but the precision it demands means many less adept gamers will bounce right off it.
It does have some beautiful puzzles, where the flow and balance of the dimensions and the level's unpredictable but utterly logical reactions to them clearly stems from razor-sharp and highly inventive minds, but the reliance on jumping from the tunnel-vision of a first-person perspective, and resultant death and reloading until you pull it off, can sap the joy of it all.
Also again QC is the narration. John De Lancie, better known as Star Trek's trickster god Q, voices the disgruntled mad professor you're trying to rescue from the chaotic malfunctions of his own inventions, with you playing his silent, unseen nephew. He's not uncharismatic, but he sounds like he's reading straight from autocue and thus make a bit of a pig's ear of what should be zippy, witty dialogue.
It doesn't help that the wafer-thin plot goes nowhere, but the real trouble is just how huge a role the narrator plays - the only voice you hear, your only point of human connection to the game, but half the time you just want to keep shtum. It's hard not to wish that the game had put more time and resources into exploring its own ideas and less into providing a constant commentary from a celebrity of sorts.