Moncage is hard. It’s a puzzle game that looks like it will be a breeze. It gives off this chill, relaxing vibe, but in reality it can get really difficult and frustrating. It’s a good thing it includes a robust hint system. It’s an even better thing that its puzzles are great, mostly.
You see, this is one of those puzzle games that play with perspective. You have to look at the 5 sides of a cube (I know a cube has six of them; one is never seen, here) and try to piece together some similar images. Every side contains a different place, filled with detail, colour, and its own soundscape too. You look at the right side, you see a lighthouse. You look at the opposite one, a factory. Between them, a kid’s room. Every place is well-designed and has character and a lot of detail, while at the same time everything remains clear.
Now, what you have to do is this: you scan the vistas with your eyes to find things that look alike. A bicycle wheel can look like a gear. A bridge may remind you of a child’s toy. A compass of a mechanical contraption. When you do find similar items, you start trying to manipulate the space between them. If you turn the camera in the right way (as in: correct) you might make it appear as if the two items are one, starting to exist in one side of the cube and then going into the next. Aspects of one reality “bleed” into the next, and you create “bridges” that share two separate functions. Turn the bicycle wheel, the gear rotates and opens a door.
It’s not the most novel approach to puzzle solving, but here it’s done impeccably. Of course, you don’t just line up wheels and levers. Later on, around the half point of the roughly 3 hour experience, you will hit many walls. The sides of the cube contain more and more stuff, you can zoom out of some images thus creating two of them in one place, and a number of the puzzles is just too vague. You will not know what you’re supposed to be looking for and the busy areas you need to search will not make it any easier. It’s a bit like playing “Where’s Waldo” without knowing what Waldo looks like.
Even so, most puzzles can be solved when you get the hang of it, when you start thinking as the game wants you to. The few than are nigh-unsolvable can be overcome by using the hints that are available with a cooldown. You see, you can’t spam the clues to go further; you will have to try and solve the puzzles yourself. If hints aren’t enough for you, you can wait even further until a video becomes available and shows you the exact solution of a puzzle.
Excluding the really obtuse ones and some that require quick movement, the puzzles in Moncage are full of clever ideas and “a-ha” moments. When you do manage to find the right angle to create a connection between the different sides, you will feel a great satisfaction, a “puzzle rush”. The design is spot-on: mechanically, the game works as it should and visually it’s a delight. Here and there, the controls create some problems, making it hard to line up the desired items, even though you are sure you know how to do it. The sound effects are very interesting, because they shift depending on the side you put your focus on.
It’s a short puzzle game that’s sure to satisfy fans of the genre. The shortcomings are not a deal breaker and there are many interesting ideas here. What could use more work, is the narrative. Told through vague means, by image and symbolism, the story of Moncage is just too obscure to make any sense and to have any impact. It seems that the writers do want to tell a good, emotional story, but the way it unfolds doesn’t do it any justice. Most people will have zero understanding of the plot when they see the credits roll, and a choice that further hinders the narrative is the inclusion of missable collectibles that try to clear the story up.
Then again, Moncage is a game that can be played and enjoyed for the fantastic puzzles alone. You don’t have to follow the story threads, you can just have fun with the puzzles and look at all the beautiful art. It’s a difficult game, too vague at times, it doesn’t hold your hand and doesn’t even give you direction when it should, but it’s also a smart project, bursting with creativity.