A minimalist puzzler that requires maximum patience
Perloo is the first game offering from design studio Perceptor, whose past work includes such creations as Crowdpilot, an app that allows you to crowdfund dates and other social interactions, and Your Name in Gum, a collaborative art site that provides exactly what it promises: your name in chewed up gum. With these and other playful, admittedly odd creations under their belt, it’s little surprise that Perloo is a mysterious, lofty, and conflicting experience that borders more on art project than pastime distraction.
As a game, Perloo is the epitome of the abstract puzzler. Its logical, geometric challenges are bookended by a live action narrative that provides no guidance or rules, but a serene, contemplative atmosphere. A man finds a black triangle buried in the desert as a voice ponders, “Where do we find ourselves?” and other poetic musings. Then you are suddenly starting at the title screen, the two “o”s of “Perloo” made of a black dot and white dot which drop off the word and are now floating alone in front of you. The game has begun.
This is the first of Perloo‘s eight separate puzzles, and as with every challenge in the game, you are given no direction or obvious goal. You might try to tap the dots at first, drag them—nothing happens. As your touch shakes the device and it moves slightly, you see the white dot also slide. You’ve learned something, and now you can begin to move forward.
Every interaction with Perloo progresses this way, and each puzzle forces you to start anew. Your first task on any puzzle is to figure out its mechanics: the white circle moves, but the next puzzle has multiple moving parts. Another features a partially vanishing grid of squares. Yet another contains two triangles, one of which rotates slowly to stimulus but appears to do little else. Nothing is obvious at first or even third glance, and deducing how the onscreen objects work creates the same furrowed brow warmth as an obtuse math puzzle or brain teaser.
Of course, figuring out how to solve each puzzle is only the first step: you still need to physically do so. Much like another recent abstract, guideless puzzler, simian.interface, Perloo relies heavily on the accelerometer to accomplish tasks. While some puzzles require little more than slight tilts, others will have you turning your iDevice upside down and over your head in an attempt to coerce shapes to do your bidding.
From mental solution to physical execution, Perloo is hard. Even with only eight puzzles, it’s a total brain—and at times body—workout that often exhausts more than it delights. The calm, contemplative environment developed at the beginning vanishes when you’re twisting and shaking in an attempt to make progress. There is a joy and a swollen sense of satisfaction in completing each puzzle, but that is quickly displaced when the next enigma appears before you. There’s also the possibility (and necessity) of completing a puzzle through luck: I still can’t explain how I finished the triangle puzzle. The first day I tried it, absolutely nothing happened. The second day, making the exact same motions ended in a solution.
That’s the danger of Perloo: with no menu, no hints, no level skips, and no sense of progress, it’s easy to feel lost, hopeless. Yes, it demands dedication and commitment to carry through, but this doesn’t make for a fun game. Its anti-game design also works against players in more specific instances: if you close out the app from the background, it will not save your progress. Without a level select menu, this means starting over entirely: a lesson I learned the hard way.
While Perloo‘s strengths do not always lie in the joy of actually playing, it’s not without merit. Its difficulty offers not only a high hurdle to jump but a challenge worth boasting about once passed. Its demanding accelerometer requirements force a unique approach to play that is unlike most other games, providing a full body and brain experience. And it is a beautifully designed piece of abstract art that you’re allowed to touch, with fluid level designs and responses that are a pleasure to experience. It may just be better off inside a frame than within your games folder.