Fallen Tree Games tries a different approach with Quell, its melancholic new puzzler
Proving the old adage that it’s not what you do it’s the way that you do it, Quell stands out from the reams of similar lateral thinking puzzle games on the App Store through some distinctive presentation. Rather than retro minimalism (been there), hand-drawn “Doodle” (done that), or cutesy anime (bought the T-shirt), Fallen Tree Games has gone with something a little more sober and mature.
Quell‘s levels are presented to you like a series of faded landscape photographs, each representing (perhaps) an elderly person’s memories from long ago (1928 to 1945, to be precise). If that sounds a little precious or twee, well, that’s because it is. Just a bit. But it’s not rammed down your throat, and thankfully the feared melodramatic storyline never arrives.
There’s just an understated melancholic tone to the game that comes across as strangely refreshing amidst all the ninja cats and day-glo blocks we see every day on our iPhones. It’s enhanced in no small way by a very pretty score, which seems to magically sap you of the will to do anything but look out of the window and sigh wistfully.
It may be a little strange to launch straight into a discussion of a game’s presentation before addressing the mechanics of play, but that’s linked to my opening point. Quell is a very simple and far from original puzzle game, so the maudlin aesthetic is pretty much the main talking point.
That’s not to discredit the quality of the gameplay, though, which has been expertly designed. The aim is to move a water droplet around each abstract level, avoiding spikes and collecting pearls. There’s no time limit involved, but you’ll only get a perfect rating if you complete the level in the smallest possible number of moves.
Your droplet is set off in each of the four directions by swiping the screen accordingly, and it’ll keep going until it runs into a block. You must use these conditions to line the droplet up with the pearls, which – as you’d expect – are placed in increasingly devious locations. Before long, spikes, switches and teleporters come are introduced to the mix, helping and hindering you in equal measure.
While there’s little new here, it’s all been solidly realised. The level design is good, the controls are pleasingly responsive, and the lack of a time limit or strict terms for unlocking the next level – as well as a neat hint system – adds to the calming, zen-like atmosphere.
Indeed, the learning curve has been almost perfectly judged. You’ll make steady progress through each of the 70-odd levels, with precious few difficulty spikes to put you off. Oh, you’ll have to restart plenty of the levels, many of them multiple times, but it’s always an acceptable part of the puzzle-solving process.
Overall, Quell is a well constructed puzzler with a perfectly judged difficulty level. While it doesn’t play a particularly fresh or innovative game, its rather more “grown-up” approach makes the game far more memorable than it would otherwise have been in such an oversubscribed genre.