Puzzle games have been a staple of the digital download market ever since Xbox Live Arcade landed on the original Xbox, steadily ticking along in the background as big budget platformers, racers and adventures hog the limelight. Naturally, it’s the quietly unassuming games like Auditorium HD that tend to ultimately offer the more innovative, unique experiences and as the quality of such titles steadily rises across the board it’s good to know that some developers are happy to still push the boundaries and not simply offer a safe, reliable franchise sequel or flashy but vacuous me-too shooter.
Not that Auditorium HD is entirely original, you’ll understand. Ostensibly an update of a free to play Flash game (and a further iPhone conversion) the PSN version, which launched on the US Store at $10, at least brings Move support to the table, even if it’s entirely playable with a Dual Shock controller. How the port was conceived (and will be perceived) is largely academic though, the 1080p visuals might be slightly rough in a couple of places but the overall experience is hugely relaxing, calming one when a comfy sofa and surround sound come into play.
Split into a sizable array of levels, Auditorium HD challenges the player to channel a ray of light (known as the ‘Flow’) into a series of boxes placed around the screen using a collection of ‘Controls’ that directly affect the Flow’s direction and speed. These boxes, or ‘containers’ start off white but can be hued in a number of colours, and as you play through the game you’ll quickly come across coloured circles that, as you’d expect, change the Flow to either pink, green or blue. Later on, the containers come in double and triple varieties, meaning that you’ll need to get multiple colours of Flow into each before the level is complete.
To assist in your goals the Controls, which start off as simple directional arrows, quickly evolve into more useful but cerebral tools, such as Repel, Attract and Deflect. Each Control can be moved anywhere on the screen and you can change the diameter of each too, which affects the strength of that Control’s particular power. Likewise, the game gradually introduces other elements, such as Portals and Black Holes – although there’re no instructions or guide in the game, you’re left to figure all this out for yourself, which is really part of the fun.
The other aspect of Auditorium is basking in the wonderful atmosphere that the game provides. The music, which builds in parts as you complete each container (and fades away if the Flow is redirected elsewhere) is classical bliss and the Flow itself, when spiraling around the screen in a rainbow of colours, can be rather entrancing. It’s the sense of consistency and the design control that’s key here though – there’s no interface to get in the way, no surprises to the game’s structure and everything is remarkably intuitive and slick. It’s clear that the developers have stuck to the scope of the conversion and not strayed an inch outside the line.
As the difficulty rises and the initial starter levels make way for complex puzzles that require considerable effort to complete Auditorium HD starts to really take hold, the player already fully versed in the game’s logic and mechanics and thus able to see each conclusion even if the process of getting to that stage isn’t always as easy to visualise. By sticking to a fixed set of laws (mainly inertia and direction) Auditorium manages to become deep and complex without ever being unfair or insurmountable, and surely that’s the key to a great puzzler.
- Beautiful music combined with memerising visuals create a warm atmosphere
- The difficulty curve is pitched perfectly
- Move control isn’t quite as fluid as you’d like
- It’s a little overpriced
- The production doesn’t feel totally slick
There are echoes of Flower here in Auditorium HD. Not visually, but on a superficial level at least certainly aurally, and even casting the sound design aside it’s the raw nature of the game that connects with the player in the same way as thatgamecompany’s wonderful 2009 title did. Auditorium HD is as pure a game as we’ve seen on the PlayStation Network: a beautiful, well measured game that’s confident in its own concept enough to play off a single idea throughout every level it offers. A little bit raw around the edges, but a wonderful game.