I don’t talk or think about synesthesia nearly enough. While artists like Pharrell Williams often refer to the phenomenon of “seeing sounds,” the idea of manipulating the senses is something we may not even notice in our everyday lives. But with a VR helmet strapped onto our heads in the company of an experience that’s specifically built for it, you really can’t miss it.
GNOG is a stylish puzzle game that’s built for VR—but will technically work without it—that puts you in front of a constant stream of puzzle boxes. Think Saw but a little cuter and a lot less deadly, and you’ll have a basic rundown of what this one is all about. It’s a genius idea really, as you can swap perspectives easily with a button press and investigate nearly every facet of each box in your quest to solve them.
Said boxes usually involve a cursory task, like saving a butterfly from a frog, feeding anthropomorphic mice and regular old rats, or helping an attendant at a candy store. This is probably my favorite aspect of GNOG, as the boxes feel less like gimmicks and more like thematic self-contained storylines. While it’s not necessarily overt to the point where you can write an article’s worth of lore on them there is a sense of belonging to an actual world as you tackle each box.
The soundtrack, which is composed by Marskye, is an essential part to GNOG and the experience surrounding the gameplay. A lot of its tunes are hard wired into the puzzles, and listening to them and altering them when you have the option will further draw you into each tiny universe. Not every box is strictly themed around music, but when they are, they’re magical. Take PURP-L, a level themed around a boom box. While it’s required to compose three specific tunes to complete the core task and move on to the next stage, you can mess around and create your own music while the environment dances around you. All the while incredibly cute characters are going about their business, and the boxes are typically characters themselves. The entire game just feels so alive, it’s hard to describe on paper.
It sounds pretty whimsical and foolproof right? Well there are some provisos attached if you can even get past the idea of buying a VR headset to get the full experience. For one, I would have liked to have more control over the game’s puzzles—the Oculus Touch controls would have been a perfect way to draw me in more if I was able to actually press the various buttons and sliders myself.
You have a limited amount of access by way of a clumsy cursor, which players can move around with the left analog stick, interacting with objects with the “X” button. It’s an easy setup that works, but it’s tedious when you need to rapidly move around larger areas and cover tons of ground. Pacing is more of a problem later on when boxes have multiple states or a vertical tint to them. It’s also odd that you can’t operate aspects of the box while you’re using the right analog stick to manipulate the camera. It’s just clunky all around. Having played a myriad of games with the touch and physically engaged in most of the actions required of players in GNOG—rather than just use a cursor—it already feels like a step backwards for the tech. With a game so centered on the senses of sight and sound I eagerly await the day touch is added in.
GNOG doesn’t need to be played in VR, but I highly recommend doing so, or at least putting headphones on while you do it. It’s part synthesizer, part modern art, part game—and the latter aspect is probably its weakest pillar. With just a handful of puzzles it’ll also be over in no time, so it’s best if you just take your time and take in all of the sights and sounds while you can.