It’s rare that truly new games get released anymore, whether digital or analog. Even most excellent games are reminiscent of something that came before. So, when something absolutely new arrives it takes some time to see genius for what it is. Gorogoa by Annapurna Interactive is one of those games.
Let’s begin with the gameplay. Gorogoa takes place in a square divided into 4 smaller squares. Advancement in the story is made through clicking through the animations in each square available and moving them around within the larger square. That seems pretty straight-forward, but new mechanics were appearing even late in the game with no warning and it was wonderful. The same basic set-up still remained, but occasionally, the orientation or placement of squares was of key importance to progression. Completing each of these tasks felt satisfying, as if I had uncovered something no one else had. With no tutorials or hints, the entire game is about this discovery.
Thankfully, for sanity’s sake, once you are completely done with an area, you move on, unable to go backwards. This prevents an infinite number of combinations that would drive anyone insane. Part of the joy in the discovery is knowing that you have a bit of a safety net and will never be able to stray too far from the next goal. This allows the player to be much more invested in the story and the art.
The story of Gorogoa is one of discovery through time and space, told with no words. A young boy seeks five elements that can appease or calm the great creature attacking his city. Over the 5 sections of the game we learn a bit more about the city, the boy, and the cycle of death and rebirth in this world. All of this is done with hand-pencilled drawings by designer Jason Roberts and not one single word.
Gorogoa is as close to a classic children’s story as gaming has ever seen. This is The Phantom Tollbooth or The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe. Roberts, with his 7 years of development and personal stake has delivered on of the finest gaming experiences I’ve ever had.
When the final puzzle locked into place and everything faded, replaced by only the single word GOROGOA, I was relieved and saddened. I didn’t want the game to be over. I wanted to explore more than the few hours of gametime offered. Happily for me, like the best books, Gorogoa took me back to the beginning, asking me to come explore its corridors and mazes again. I know that I’ll be heading back in, searching for more detail and even deeper meaning soon.