GNOG (pronounced with a silent “g”) is a puzzle game developed by KO_OP Mode for PS4 with VR compatibility and is the latest addition to Double Fine Productions’ publishing library. The aim of the game is to solve a series of puzzles inside huge disembodied heads or “gnoggins” (again with a silent “g”) of monster-like beings.
From the main screen, GNOG explodes into a rainbow bursting array of colours and a tutorial level of sorts. Everything is conveyed without a single word of dialogue or line of text, forcing you to pick up the game through the old school method of trial and error; which is reminiscent of World 1-1 of Super Mario Bros on the NES. The tutorial teaches the player how to locate items that can be interacted with, such as switches, levers and wheels; and that the controller will vibrate when the on-screen cursor hovers over them. The tutorial also shows the player how to rotate the environment, as from the tutorial onwards the puzzles have multiple surfaces.
Once accustomed to the controls, you’re dropped into the game’s level select screen. To begin with, only the tutorial and the first level are available, with the next one unlocking upon completion of the inaugural level. Levels continue to open up after completing its predecessor. Each level is represented as a lunchbox-like package within a wrapped parcel, each having a unique and specific theme.
Each level has different colour schemes which are overly bright and almost headache inducing; GNOG certainly isn’t the type of game you’d want to play with a raging hangover. The in-game graphics are abstract; equal parts Eastern European animation, The Beatles’ Yellow Submarine and Pablo Picasso portrait. The faces of the monsters are as individual as the colour palettes, with the inside of their heads looking like a diorama. For the most part, everything is static, with animations triggering through solving smaller components of the level’s overall puzzle.
Solving one section of a conundrum may require you to shift perspective in order to solve the next one, then flip back to solve the next part. A proportion of the component puzzles require codes that need to be inputted; some are hidden in plain sight in the background of the environment, others require a little more work to uncover. It’s worth scouring every square inch of the screen, especially if you can interact with something. When a puzzle has been fully completed the monster (and the entire screen for that matter) burst into life, whereupon you’re sent back to the level select screen to start the next one. Be warned, should you switch off mid-puzzle, you’ll need to start that particular puzzle from scratch when you next fire up the game.
GNOG’s in-game music is a repetitive beat and does feel disproportionately loud. I found I had to turn my TV’s volume waaaaay down, as although the beat is intentionally monotonous to ensure that the player is left to concentrate on the game itself, I felt that I lost focus. Simple sound effects accompany interactive items, a squeak of a tap being turned or the click of a button. Upon completion of a puzzle the monster will bellow, which I assume is with delight along with their “happy dance”.
As I mentioned at the top of the review, GNOG is compatible with PlayStation VR. Slipping on the headset adds an extra depth to the environments, with everything rendered in 3D. The effects that look flat on a normal screen feel in your face and more intense, again it might be wise to avoid a night of boozing before experiencing GNOG in virtual reality. Other than this added sense of depth, there’s no difference in playing GNOG with or without PS VR headset, as the monster headset are front and centre, with nothing to see in the other 360° of vision other than a patterned background.
In Summary, GNOG is a fun, quirky puzzle game that will appeal to anyone with a penchant for solving riddles, as the difficulty level is just tough enough to hold one’s interest without being unreasonably hard. I do feel that due to the lack of tutorial or in-game hint system the game’s appeal will only be limited to experienced puzzle gamers, as a lot of lateral thinking is required at times.