In March, PlayStation 5 players were given a free indie puzzle game developed by Graceful Decay and published by Annapurna Interactive. I decided to sink in some time into Maquette because it seemed to have unique puzzle mechanics with a light narrative experience. While it definitely excelled in puzzle gameplay, it fell a bit short narratively…
Maquette‘s core puzzle mechanic is there’s a diorama in the middle of each level that is an exact replica of the map surrounding you. You use this diorama to modify and progress in the outer world. You travel back and forth in between the diorama and the mirrored world surrounding you, while manipulating the size of objects in efforts to find a good fit to proceed.
For example, you’ll see a locked door that requires a key but you need to make the key smaller to fit. To do this you go into the diorama, drop the key, and pick it up in the outside world at a smaller size, so you can fit it into the key hole. Then you may need to use that same key as a bridge to get across a gap, so you keep dropping it in the outside world and picking it up in the diorama, rinse and repeat, until it’s big enough to fill the gap as a bridge.
While this may sound like a simple mechanic, Maquette uses it in increasingly complex ways as you progress. Every time I thought I had it all figured out, the game managed to change up the objective, where I needed to be more observant of my environment before manipulating the size of objects to find the right fit. I often felt satisfied when figuring out a puzzle I was stuck on.
Not only was the puzzle solving fulfilling but it was cool and trippy manipulating an object within the diorama and see it bigger whilst maneuvering in the outside world. What really helped this effect is the whimsical environment often consisting of bright colors with settings like a carnival, a beach, or gardens.
It wasn’t all colorful and butterflies though, as the story takes a darker turn and the environment reflects that. The colors become dull as the story takes this turn. The story is essentially from the perspective of a guy named Michael and his romantic relationship with a girl named Kenzie. Their story is told in a story book format as there’s text in the environment, some light dialogue, and cutesy little paintings on the walls.
You never see their faces but the tone is clear through the use of color in the environment. While I appreciated the artistic direction of this story telling through the environment, the narrative didn’t resonate with me at all. It’s not very deep and it didn’t need to be, but I didn’t feel connected to either character or their story. Therefore, I wouldn’t recommend this game if you’re looking for a compelling narrative.
What also helped this game besides the art direction, complex puzzles, and tonal environments is the nice mix of licensed music playing in the beginning of many levels. I enjoyed most of the songs but they didn’t supplement the emotion as much as the color palette did. However, there were some eerie ambient sounds I enjoyed when things descended into a darker path.
If you were lucky enough to get Maquette for free and you like puzzle games, it’s worth a try as it can be completed in 4 to 5 hours. There are way better puzzle games out there but I did think this one was enjoyable and unique. I wouldn’t expect a good narrative experience from this game as it’s story is very surface level and may warrant an eye roll or two. Though Maquette likely isn’t worth paying for, it’s worth trying it to see if it’s a good fit for you. 2.5/5 Bibles.