A Monster’s Expedition: Final Words

I’ve reached the end of the expedition, the point where the monster gets on a boat to go home and the credits roll, but I clearly haven’t solved all the puzzles. There are still islands that I can see but not reach. This game will probably last me a while, but unless it does something really unexpected, this is going to be my last post about it.

Overall, I’m really impressed by how pleasant it is, how it goes above and beyond to make sure your experience is a good one, even when you’re stuck and frustrated. Take the music. Lots of puzzle games play soothing ambient music in the background — so much so that I’ve joked about “Abstract Puzzle Game with Soothing Ambient Music” as a distinct genre. A Monster’s Expedition has gentle ambient chords, but then it adds musical sounds on top of it that reflect your actions: a few notes on a piano or guitar when you push a log, a little tap on a cymbal whenever you undo a turn. I half-suspect that there are hints encoded in this, that you get more pleasing notes when you’re on the right track.

The undo functionality is particularly sweet. Normal movement is animated, and can lag slightly behind your keypresses, but undo is instant, even when you’re in the middle of a lengthy raft trip. It took me a while to notice this, because other games have trained me to not expect to be able to undo in the middle of what is effectively a cutscene. But what really impresses me is the reset functionality. Consider the problem of what it means to be able to reset a puzzle in a game built entirely in a single coherent space. Reset applies to just your current island, the extents of which are a little vague, because you can be on a log in the water and still reset. But the islands aren’t self-contained. If you manage to roll a log across a raft onto a different island, what happens then? The answer is that when you reset an island, all logs originating there teleport back to their initial positions, no matter where they are in the world. That’s more state-tracking than I expected.

I suspect that some of the puzzles I haven’t solved yet exploit this. I’ve definitely solved a few puzzles by means of similar meta shenanigans, although I’m not sure if they were necessary or not.

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