With its widescreen ratio and touch capabilities it’s a wonder that the Vita hasn’t been swamped with mobile games ported over for the hungry gaming masses. While the appearance of mobile stalwarts such as New Star Soccer or Robot Unicorn Attack seem unlikely it’s refreshing to see that relevant new mobile releases appear to be making their way to the Vita, the latest of which is Fallen Tree Games’ Quell Memento. Following on from Fallen Tree’s earlier releases of Quell and Quell Reflect, Quell Memento continues with the trademarks of the mobile series, providing a series of relaxing sliding puzzles and hidden gems to melt away into.
In fact, probably the most unique feature of Quell Memento is how the game markets itself as a relaxing experience. Most puzzle games are purveyors of frustration, intentionally contorting the player until they reach that sweet, sweet moment of success. Through a combination of its aesthetics, gameplay and, most importantly, music Quell Memento instead manages to project a serene feeling of peacefulness. Even later in the game when you may be stuck trying to perfect a particularly deep level you’ll never feel like finding a wall to bash your head into as instead the game constantly reinforces that your failure is ok – chill out, listen to the music, try again. The New Age style soundtrack from Steven Cravis is so effective that you have to wonder how he hasn’t been snapped up by one of the larger fish to pen music for their strategy games.
Not only is the music great, but the puzzles themselves are absolute corkers. Through each level you control one (or more) blue orbs as they travel around the board completing tasks such as picking up pearls or turning all of the lights on a board blue. You can move your orb in any of the four cardinal directions, and as long as you aren’t restricted by a block wall you can roll off of any side of the puzzle and reappear on the opposite side. Various hazards appear to thwart your peaceful intentions and each additional chapter layers on more mechanics to keep adding to the devious feel of the puzzles. These additions to the basic sliding mechanics greatly enhance the game, with features such as movable spikes and ghost orbs (that follow a predetermined track over the board) ensuring that your interest and concentration is required throughout.
Even better, each one of the one hundred and forty-four levels has a hidden gem within it, ensuring that not only are you attempting to complete the level in the perfect amount of moves but that you are also hunting for this hidden object. In many cases getting this gem takes more effort than completing the level did, and some of them are hidden in quite devious places and require you to intentionally move objects around the board in a non-logical way, or even render the level uncompletable. There are also an additional twenty-four levels hidden, each with their own hidden timepiece object to find; these extra levels offer great replayability and transform the puzzles from one-shots to something you will return to. Each time you complete a level with a perfect number of moves you’ll receive a coin; you can use these to buy level solutions and to highlight where the level’s hidden gem is, although you’d be best off ignoring these if you want to retain any sense of challenge from Quell Memento.
Thankfully enough the developer hasn’t been lazy in the Vita specific controls either and instead offers you a range of inputs. While the control of choice will be simply swiping the touch screen in the direction you want your selected orb to travel you can also use either the D-pad or the left analogue stick to guide your orb. Within the options panel you can also choose to turn the rear touch pad on and use that, although be cautious lest you ruin a potentially perfect run with an accidental hand re-arrangement.
The puzzles are loosely tied into an overarching narrative by the presence of a voiceover track at the start of each of the nine chapters. Set in what looks to be an abandoned house your puzzle-solving ability helps an old man, the previous occupant, remember his past and come to terms with his life. This is reinforced by the presence of small sepia-style photos in some of the levels that you have to rub to reveal (think a less in-your-face version of Uncharted: Golden Abyss’ charcoal rubbings) as well as through clever use of the actual level and chapter titles themselves. While well-voiced and fairly intriguing there simply isn’t enough of this story for it to have any meaningful effect on you as you play your way through the puzzles; for instance, there is an insinuation around the mid-point that you aren’t helping someone remember but rather you are forcing them to, and as interesting and unique as this sounds the idea is never expanded past this introduction. Ultimately the story highlights one of the major differences between mobile and dedicated gaming development – on an iOS device flooded with low price-point puzzle games the presence of some story is a differentiator, something for the customer to hold onto. Over on the Vita this hint of a story just isn’t enough to captivate and instead frustrates in its paucity.
Other features also rankle; like many iOS natives Quell Memento comes with a helpful in-app purchase page. Here you have the chance to part with additional real money in exchange for either more coins or a key that lets you skip any level you want. I’ll say that again – a key that lets you skip any level you want. These kind of purchases might fly over on iOS where convenience and accessibility are the name of the game, but over on a dedicated handheld the concept of buying a game and then paying more not to play it just sticks in the craw. The coins themselves are hardly balanced either; while the number required to show a perfect route increases as you progress through the stages you’ll almost certainly have enough to buy the solutions of any level you want without resorting to buying more. Quite why anyone would buy a puzzle game and then demand (or pay!) for the game to walk them through any part which becomes vaguely challenging is beyond us.
All of this makes Quell Memento a difficult beast to judge. The puzzles themselves are superb, excellently supported by the soundtrack and provide a good amount of meat for the relatively low price. The story, on the rare occasions that it appears, works well and manages to feel different, although it doesn’t appear nearly enough nor captivate you like it should. Come for the puzzles, enjoy the odd bit of exposition and do all you can to ignore the ‘supporting’ mechanics then and you’ll probably have a great time – just try to keep a handle on your willpower and stop yourself from ruining the game yourself with all those easily accessible solutions.