Review by SSpectre
"Auditorium is indie gaming in a nutshell: a quick, slightly unpolished injection of style, originality, and intelligence."
+ Gameplay is unlike anything else out there
+ Surprisingly complex, fluid puzzles
+ Arresting visuals and audio
- Could have benefitted from additional modes
- Flexible design leads to a handful of broken puzzles
If you've been gaming for a while, you've likely seen a few forgettable puzzle games involving the manipulation of a light beam's colour and direction, and could be forgiven for thinking Auditorium is just a slightly musical variation on that template, as I did at first. It's not, to put it simply. In fact, Auditorium is about as original a creation as you can get without creating a whole new genre.
The goal is to place symbols on the screen to direct a stream of light particles into a series of containers, which, when the light is maintained over their position, will add an instrument to the background music, which will grow into a full song by the end of a puzzle. You're given five different symbols to accomplish this: arrows, which direct particles horizontally and vertically, orbits, which send them into a spiral, rabbits, which speed them up, shields, which deflect them in a variety of directions, and a not allowed sign, which will simply reverse their direction.
Two major things distinctly separate Auditorium from even its closest peers: aesthetics and flexibility. The particles almost never travel in straight lines; the symbols' influence has adjustable strength and area of effect, sending the particles into elegant parabolic curves that can be infinitely adjusted to fit a situation. Additionally, the large number of particles requires you to keep control of the entire stream, and the symbol effects can be combined, such as using a rabbit symbol to break particles free of an orbit.
Because of this flexibility, puzzles in Auditorium rarely have just one solution, and tended to hold my attention longer than an ordinary puzzler. Instead of being a test to find the one thread of logic the developers had in mind, these feel more like tests of actual puzzle-solving ability, where you're given a situation, some tools, and a question: how would you solve this?
This design philosophy does result in an occasional broken puzzle, though. I found I solved about 15% of the game using a fragmented mess of particles that just positioned themselves correctly out of pure luck, and a few puzzles gave me symbols I didn't even need to use. In addition, if you want to manipulate overlapping symbols, all you can do is hope the game is in a good mood, and will allow you to do so.
Despite this, the game is neither frustrating nor forgiving. There's a good balance of tutorial and brain-bending puzzles, and a constant barrage of new mechanics keep players from getting complacent, like areas that change the light's colour (and colour-specific containers to go along with them), or particle-teleporting wormholes. And the necessity of merging symbol effects makes it a surprisingly cerebral game that you could sink hours into.
Or at least, you could, if there was that much content in the game. At around 70 puzzles, its length isn't a dealbreaker, but you'll breeze through a good chunk of said puzzles, and probably be left wanting more. The game's mechanics are flexible enough that additional modes could have easily been included to really make the most of the material. At the very least, they seem tailor-made for a level editor.
On the aesthetic side of things, Auditorium shines. Literally. The dancing colours and minimal player presence on black background create a clean, striking look that really stands out, especially if you complete a level in the intended smooth fashion, rather than an accidental exploding rainbow. Importantly, the 15 songs you'll create over the course of the game are all enjoyable, soothing pieces, and a unique reward for finishing a puzzle. Although, if you're stuck, you'll probably get tired of hearing the same 12-measure instrumental part repeat over and over again.
What Auditorium lacks in polish and content it more than makes up for in its individuality and intelligence. It's a sublime, quietly beautiful game that's a perfect fit for anyone looking to mix up their gaming routine, if only for two or three sittings. And hey, if nothing else, it's really pretty.
Reviewer's Score: 7/10 | Originally Posted: 08/27/12, Updated 10/01/13
Game Release: Auditorium (US, 02/28/12)
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