Samsara Deluxe Review
Reviewed on Nintendo SwitchAlso available on Android, Apple Mac, Nintendo Switch, iPhone and Microsoft Xbox One
Samsara is a hand drawn puzzler which aims to challenge and delight players with eerie yet enchanting visuals and gravity-bending puzzles. The game encourages the player to use ingenuity to create safe passage for game’s protagonist, requiring the careful placement of blocks of various shapes and sizes. As with many puzzle games, Samsara’s stages often frustrate and lead to joyous epiphanies in equal measure. The game provides maximum enjoyment when mechanics learned throughout feel like tools to be wielded in whatever you deem necessary. Unfortunately, Samsara doesn’t always nail this feeling.
The game follows a small child named Zee, who finds themselves trapped in a set of strange realms after over-enthusiastically chasing a squirrel into a wormhole. Zee must tackle challenges on their own plane and on a reflected version which exists below, presenting its own challenges. As the game moves on, Zee traverses into more unusual settings. From realm to realm the ante is upped on mystifying visuals, invoking elements of the darker side of Alice in Wonderland. Later the dark reflection of Zee’s reality manifests itself in a shadow child who must be guided through the wondrous realms along with Zee.
The game’s introductory stages are paced well, teaching the player how the basic mechanics of the opposing realms work. Rules are primarily taught through play rather than any more traditional tutorial method and, for the most part, this is successful. The mechanics being taught through play allow the player to better understand the logic of Samsara and come up with solutions more naturally. Other elements are taught through trial and error, one failure and it will be clear how to avoid the same problem next time.
However, Samsara’s problems mount up when the blocks used to help Zee vary in their interaction with gravity and the rest of the world. When it comes to these varying blocks, as well as some other mechanics, the game fails to present much internal context for why these blocks behave the way they do. Wooden blocks behave differently to stone blocks, sparkling yellow blocks interact differently with gravity and other blocks. As the game has no overt narrative or dialogue, the reason for these blocks behaving how they do is unknown beyond it just being categorised as, well, magic. Magic is the likely explanation and it does fit with the setting but the lack of any kind of cue to highlight what each block does greatly interrupts the flow of the game. A game which often promotes complex thought in finding crafty solutions falls apart when requiring the player to rack their brain as to why one stone square hovers in the air whilst a wooden one falls to the floor. This disruption in flow feels like the game’s fatal flaw.
Aside from the gameplay, the visuals and atmosphere are somewhat lacking to. The art style is unmistakably eye-catching but due to the lack of context and depth surrounding the stylised visuals and abstract locations it, ultimately, feels quite hollow. This is matched by the underwhelming aural and visual stimuli. Upon the failure and completion of levels, there is little fanfare which often leaves a feeling of indifference when it comes to being motivated to venture further into the game.
Samsara is an enjoyable and entrancing puzzle game on a level-to-level basis. The simplicity of the base mechanics allow the player to dream up some mind-bending results. Conversely, the simplicity of some aspects are what let the game down. The lack of visual, audio and narrative gameplay cues stagnate the creativity which makes the game shine in its finest moments.