At first glance, GNOG, the latest game from the Double Fine Presents series, is a quirky puzzle game filled with vibrant sounds, colors, and an overwhelmingly charming style. Once you start playing though, it becomes an immersive and contemplative experience that stands an easy contender for one of the best games available on PSVR.
Created by Ko_Op, GNOG revolves around a series of mechanical heads that open up to reveal various situational and object-based puzzles. Each level is distinct, taking you to magical feeling worlds tightly contained in the space directly in front of you. To solve puzzles, you twist knobs and shift levers, you spin the robo head and figure out how to feed baby birds, fix a spaceship, and escort a robber through a house. Simply put, you fiddle around and see what happens.
There’s not a moment during GNOG that you’re not fiddling with things. Playing the game feels immediately nostalgic, whisking you back to a child’s play room with the toys scattered on the floor in front of you, a whole unfledged world at your fingertips. It’s not a direct or specific nostalgia, but one that centers on the feeling of childlike wonderment, and it feels immediately comforting.
Each step of a puzzle also opens up a new object or step to interact with, eventually culminating in the level head opening up and singing a song. The songs at the end are by far some of the most rewarding moments I can remember experiencing in a game. The animations swirl hypnotically and Marskye’s soundtrack as the song opens is nothing if not magical. It’s a jubilant send off that leaves you captivated and happy.
GNOG’s gameplay mechanics are simple but work very well. The actual objects are controlled by moving a colorful circle around the screen with the joystick, hovering over items and interacting with them. It’s simple but never feels dumbed down as you often do many things outside of pressing in buttons. It’s nice to imagine motion controls within this situation but the PlayStation Move wands wouldn’t be the ideal candidates without more tactile response.
While most puzzle games can feel frustrating when you get hung up on the trickier sections, GNOG rarely does. You always feel like everything you need is right in front of you, and as long as you keep fiddling, you know you’ll figure out how to solve the puzzle. Even when you do get stymied, the colorful visuals and breathtaking soundtrack are more than enough to keep you happy as you search for a solution.
All of the game’s elements work well to form an immersive and meditative experience. Few games come close to feeling this pleasant. The music itself is beautiful, organic and odd, often using syrupy synths, manipulated vocals, and a collection of bells and chimes reminiscent of early childhood toys. It’s simultaneously futuristic and nostalgic in the best way possible, which fits perfectly with the game’s ethos. Once the music is paired with the fetching colors and characters of the world of GNOG, the outside world melts away. It’s possible to play this game without the VR headset, but that’s doing yourself a huge disservice as this is one of the only VR games that can so successfully take you outside of yourself once the VR helmet is on.
The only possible downside of GNOG is it’s length. The game consists of 9 levels and takes about 2-3 hours to complete. Beating the game was definitely a bittersweet feeling at having to leave GNOG behind and go back to the real world. You can replay the stages but some of the wonderment is definitely lost once you know how to solve the puzzles. That’s not to say the following a stressful day by sitting in a pond and listening to some frog songs isn’t an ideal way to spend your evening, but rather beating GNOG is a bit like growing up. You’ve explored, discovered, learned and conquered, but you can’t go back and experience it exactly the way you remember.
If you have a PSVR setup at your home, GNOG is an absolute don’t miss. It’s a stunning and immersive experience, and it’s an experience that you can also easily share with your friends and family. As a TV based puzzler too, it’s pretty darn good, just a little less worth the $20 price tag on it.