Quick tip - if you ever find yourself within the confines of a remote colony on the edges of deep space, always remember to keep your antivirus software up-to-date. Better yet, why not conveniently keep a couple of cloned hackers on ice just in case such a scenario were to unfold. You just never know when a swarm of parasitic nanobots may turn up on your doorstep to enslave the entire population.
This is the set-up for Imprint-X, a cerebral puzzler created by Swedish development duo Morgandag, known for their work on the throwback sci-fi adventure RymdResa. You take on the role of a freeze-dried hacker clone who must solve one hundred puzzles in order to unshackle the minds of the human colonists from the deadly clutches of alien nanobots known as the Wardens. It’s a frankly over-the-top plot that gives unnecessary background to a game that’s otherwise simple and elegant in its own right. In fact, beyond the game’s absurd narrative, Imprint-X actually makes for a rather soothing, engaging experience all on its own.
From the confines of a comfy chair and with nothing but the psychedelic backdrop of deep space for company, our hacking hero straps on a VR headset and delves into the minds of the Wardens’ victims. The nanobots have taken on a more mechanical form, using their individual and unique circuitry as a defense mechanism to keep unwanted intruders out. If the hacker is to dispel the programmed pests then she’ll have to decipher the riddles that each one poses in order to save her patients.
Each puzzle consists of a combination of buttons that, when pressed in sequence, will unlock the nanobot and remove it from its human host. As the game progress, these sequences grow in complexity, forcing you to memorise light-up patterns and putting your click reactions to the test along the way. Nanobots will go on to grow in stature, with each press of a button further revealing the intricate hardware that lies beneath their mechanical exterior, eventually transforming into sprawling mechanical nightmares that will put your reflexes, memory and brain power to the test.
In fact, aside from the left mouse button, Imprint-X requires you to use the most powerful tool at your disposal - your mind. The opening levels are simple, obvious affairs but as you proceed through the minds of eight patients in dire need of a lobotomy, you’ll find that the difficulty levels ramp up at a startling rate. There’s little in the way of tutorials or on-screen prompts to give you a helping hand. Instead, the game relies on the curiosity of the player as a form of trial-and-error that will eventually give you the necessary experience required to unravel the mystery of each Warden’s deadly innards.
Every unsuccessful click you perform will deplete your energy and if you fail to solve the puzzle, the nanobot will wake up and kick you out of the level. Thankfully, there are some handy power-ups such as health-replenishing hearts and additional time boosts that float across the screen from time to time. These can be stored and accessed at any time from the easy-to-access HUD at the bottom of the screen. Decoding successful strings will also reward you with some additional energy along the way, so there’s some comfort to be had when you finally discover the elusive missing piece of the puzzle.
For every puzzle you best, you’ll also be given a score out of four. There are a few factors in play that will impact your grade, such as solving the puzzle within an allotted time or fully unravelling the hidden secrets that lie within each nanobot. It’s a simple task at first but as the difficulty increases, you’ll soon find yourself returning to visit some of the game’s most frustrating levels in order to better your grade and disengage that devious device for good. And with a hundred puzzles to solve, you can definitely make the most out of the pocket change price.
While the puzzles themselves do their best to add variety and increase difficulty, you can’t help but feel like each one is a slight variation on the last. After all, there’s only so much variation that can be had from a game that advertises seven hundred buttons as a key feature. Now and again, the game will throw you a curve ball by introducing a new gameplay mechanic or upping the ante, but these moments are few and far between, often lost in the shadow of those particularly difficult puzzles that you spend hours agonising over. For anyone who finds that their patience wears thin at an alarming rate, you will quickly get turned off by some of the game’s more unforgiving levels.
However, the game does its best to help you keep your cool and while you can’t rely on hints or clues like other puzzle games, you can certainly find zen in the game’s fantastic retro soundtrack. Gentle and ambient, the 8-bit music works well with the game’s kaleidoscopic backdrop and cutesy pixel art to create a genuinely pacifying atmosphere that’s a welcome breath of fresh air from the usual high octane thrills and spills that most games are guilty of. It may not be the best looking game on the market, but without a doubt its art style and low tempo music are the biggest selling points of the game, no doubt attracting fans of the indie gaming scene on its nostalgia merit alone.
Overall, Imprint-X will satisfy that itch for anyone who craves a quirky puzzler. What it lacks in variety and moxie, it certainly makes up for with an impressive retro aesthetic and a soundtrack that deserves to be listened to outside the realms of your computer speakers. The story may be gratuitous, but skipping past it will soon reveal what the game is really all about. Like yoga for the mind, Imprint-X is a chilled-out brain workout that starts out with some gentle exercises and gradually pushes you further with each available puzzle.