Shiny Orbs and Wireframe
Golem tries to take what people loved about the simplicity of Monument Valley‘s puzzle solving and the visual splendor of games like Journey and ABZÛ, and mostly succeeds. But due to some unclear steps in puzzles and animation, it doesn’t really measure up.
The player controls a young girl from a far-off village experiencing a drought. The girl decides to investigate a nearby tower whose aqueducts once carried water generations ago. Her village has collected water from the caves beneath the tower but they long for the mill’s wheel to turn once more. However, she finds a glowing orb buried beneath a puddle and its mystical presence is immediately apparent. Hidden text and pictures on the walls start to glow a Tron-like blue and hint at a possible way to restart the mill, letting the girl’s village thrive. The sealed door to the tower opens at the presence of this orb as well, and the girl starts a perilous journey into the ancient tower. She soon figures out that this orb is sentient and gradually starts to take shape in the form of the titular Golem.
The gameplay loop is a series of puzzles spread across levels that become increasingly more difficult, as most puzzle games are. The game can be played entirely on a mouse and most solutions involve a simple click and drag along a track of movement. There’s no inventory so solutions don’t veer into the abstract. Rather the puzzles mostly feel like there’s no clear end goal or just what the breadth of what you can interact with is. The camera orients itself on the movement of the girl and zooms in severely whenever you click somewhere on the screen. This can get seriously annoying because most puzzles, even those early on, require you to look around the level using WASD. The levels are multi-leveled, and sometimes multi-sided, requiring a good attention to detail as to what leads to where. There are many times when you’ll be separated from the Golem and must solve a puzzle to open a door for the girl to proceed through the tower. Frustratingly, the player cannot control the Golem’s movement. You can only tell it to wait. There will be many puzzles where the player and Golem are on two separate levels. This means you typically have to climb stairs to have the Golem activate a switch under you, or open a door behind a wall you can’t reach.
This sounds relatively simple but there were multiple occasions where I tried to direct the Golem to one spot but they wouldn’t follow. I kept moving to one side hoping that this would trigger the Golem’s movement, but it was one spot in particular located in one spot on the platform I was on. This kind of interaction happened multiple times during my playthrough. Fighting against this game to solve a puzzle is something you’ll do often, and man does that suck.
Which is a shame, because there is some real beauty to this game’s aesthetic. The blocky geometry and overall design of the tower is really something. Water has this really viscous quality to it that impressively blends with this blocky look to everything from the writing on walls to the Golem itself. You won’t find many sharp edges to anything in this world. However, it can’t be understated enough that Golem’s music does the best job of conveying tone and giving a sense of place in this world. Short, yet reverbing chimes sound when you complete a part of a puzzle. You’ll also be treated to sweeping orchestral tones when you do complete a level or when the Golem receives another piece. There are some other light pieces of music that occur during cutscenes or at the start of a level, but frustratingly they don’t persist throughout the level while you are figuring out these puzzles.
All you have to listen to is the sounds of wind blowing and your own mind caving in on itself as you try to get the DAMN GOLEM TO MOVE OVER TO THE PLATFORM. IT’S RIGHT THERE, C’MON! More of this fantastic music would’ve really gone a long way to helping me overlook some of the game’s other problems. But if I’m being honest, this probably would only marginally improved the total package here.
It was a Rock MONstah
Golem is the most frustrating kind of game. It’s one you want to like but gets in its own way. But the unclear objectives and end-goals, the poor control of the Golem, and the under-use of its fantastic soundtrack hamper the experience as a whole and make you wish for something more. If you want a game with a fun rock monster companion, check out Shale in Dragon Age: Origins, otherwise approach with caution.
Final Verdict: 2.5/5
Available on: PC(Reviewed); Publisher: Longbow Games; Developer: Longbow Games; Players: 1 ; Released: May 29, 2018; MSRP: $14.99\
Full disclosure: This review is based on a PC review copy of Golem given to HeyPoorPlayer by the publisher.