Samsara is one of those thrilling puzzle games that are similar to the likes of Samorost and Machinarium. However, after being released for over a year, it took samsara a while to captivate players in the mobile market. The game began receiving its recognition from the Nintendo switch and the windows release in 2018.
The reality, however, is an overly long puzzle game with some interesting ideas that never really seems to get going or add many variations. However, Samsara pitches itself as a mind-bending puzzle game where you solve a vast array of puzzles in a mirrored world.
The gameplay takes you to a strange world
In the game, you get to play as Zee, an adorable little boy who, while playing in a park finds a squirrel that he chooses to follow, and by doing so accidentally falls into a portal and finds himself in another world.
This new world consists of two halves, a normal, everyday scene and an upside-down realm that doesn’t always mirror the other half. Each of the seventy or so levels has the same objective – help Zee to navigate the space to exit out of the portal, and hopefully to help him find his way home again.
The game carries you into a variety of locations. You start in the park and travel via a suburban area to an amusement park and a beach. Each of the locations serves only as a background to the puzzle though and offers nothing by way of a solution other than as a gorgeous handcrafted space to work in.
Samsara offers tool rewarding challenges
In order to solve puzzles, you are given very limited tools that comprise a small number of shapes that have different properties as you progress. In the beginning, you have objects that are simply placed in the world either in the top-side or upside-down worlds that create platforms and steps for the boys to cross via. If you place an object in the upside-down, it will mirror in the top-side world, conversely, placing that same object in the real world will not reflect in the shadowy world.
Solving puzzles then becomes a mixture of experimenting by placing and rotating objects in each half of the world to find the best fit. Later levels follow the same principles, however, the objects take on different properties, for example, much of the late-game puzzles use objects seemingly forged from a substance like gold that when placed in the underside space will shift up in the over-world as if repulsed by a force like that of two magnets opposing each other.
Samsara offers many features but brings less playing time to players
Although Samsara isn’t a huge game, the sheer amount of puzzles you solve makes it feel like it slightly overstays its welcome, something we think is amplified a little by the lack of variety. Once you have completed all seventy-seven levels you can go back through them all, but this time inverting them. The solutions are more or less the same, of course, however, you make much more use of the reflection technique that the under-world offers you.
There isn’t much by way of a story to Zee, or rather nothing is made explicit. It’s clear that Zee has fallen through to an alternate reality, and in that other dimension is another boy who resembles a shadowy version of Zee, or perhaps he is Zee, but he has been fractured in some way.
As you progress further into the game you encounter levels where as well as guiding Zee to the portal you must also help his shadowy counterpart to his own portal as well. Each boy has a different, specific effect on the environment that in later levels you need to exploit so that their movements assist the other one to escape. It isn’t enough in these levels that our Zee escapes, his shadow must do also.
For all of our criticisms of Samsara, we did enjoy what we played. The world was a nice space to inhabit and we liked the duality of the two Zee’s and the challenges to get both of them through their respective portals.
We did feel a little fatigued towards the end as the puzzles don’t really vary that much other than adding in a little gravity bending properties, and teleport here and there. Samsara is a pleasant puzzle game, but it ultimately fails to provide any moment of real achievement at having solved something particularly mind-bending.
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Samsara is a pleasant puzzle game, but it ultimately fails to provide any moment of real achievement at having solved something particularly mind-bending.