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Review: Expand (PlayStation 4)By Renan At 06.10.2017 18:41

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In order to differentiate itself from other entries in the genre, Expand's main gimmicks are expansion and rotation. The main goal is to move a pink square through a labyrinthine maze, but movement causes the world to change around the square. Reaching the end isn't as simple as just moving from puzzle to puzzle, the world is constantly rotating and expanding. If the square moves left, for example, there's a good chance the world will be expanded towards the left, giving the illusion that the entire game is taking place on one screen.

To maintain this illusion, moving into certain areas will cause everything else to disappear into a black void. It doesn't take too long for new white traversable paths to appear, but now the layout's changed entirely without the need to directly change screens. Rotation typically comes into play with failure. If the pink square is crushed by moving black blocks or touches any red surfaces, then the puzzle will be reset. Respawning isn't as simple as going back to the beginning of the puzzle, however, as the screen will occasionally rotate upon death.

This rotation comes off disorientating at times, since it effectively changes the literal direction of every puzzle, but it's an interesting idea that makes respawning feel fresh. By rotating the screen, new ways of movement are encouraged, since the goal is now in a different direction altogether. As a result, some puzzles are actually made easier by the rotation.

With the rotation in mind, careful consideration needs to be given to the layout of each puzzle. It's easy to get confused with all the movement, which is why Expand hammers in the idea of being patient throughout the tutorial. It's important to take time with every puzzle and resist that urge to just rush through. Since any given death can lead to the screen shifting around, staying alive is critical once the rotation has landed in an optimal way.

Most puzzles are fairly simple enough to get through with enough clever thinking and gut instincts. If the pink square has to expand through an area with alternating red lines, figuring out their pattern makes getting through the expansion easy and relaxing. Since constant movement is encouraged, there's an almost stream of conscious atmosphere to the whole experience. Combined with a four-tone colour scheme and a meditative soundtrack, there's a degree of introspection that comes with traversing the maze.

Unfortunately, that introspective feeling is easily broken by the more frustrating puzzles. Most of the areas are balanced with smart thinking in mind, but there are some sections (Elude, in particular) that are quite demanding when it comes to reflexes. Because the pink square's hit box is so precise, it's very easy to catch the edge of a red line and fail. Rapid failure means rapid rotation, which ultimately leads to disorientation. Thankfully, there are only a key few frustrating puzzles, but they clash enough with the tone of the rest of the game to stand out as problematic.

Along with a few tedious puzzles, the main game is incredibly short and doesn't offer much in the way of replay value. Once it's over, it's over. It should be said that, despite this, it is worth playing through at least once, and the title is priced appropriately. Familiarity with the genre will lead to shorter play times, but a newcomer might find added longevity in learning the mechanics and acclimating to the design. Expand may be rough around the edges, but it's one puzzle worth being patient with.

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Final Score
Despite falling on the shorter side of indie titles, [i]Expand[/i] manages to stand out as a fascinating take on puzzles and mazes. By relying on a mix of patient gameplay and non-stop movement, each puzzle requires as much thought as it does technical skill. Not every puzzle is a hit, with a few standing out as little more than frustrating, but the majority of the experience is very well done thanks in large part to the colour scheme and soundtrack. [i]Expand[/i] would have certainly benefitted from a few more great puzzles to balance out the tedious ones, but it's an overall pleasant experience with a genuinely introspective atmosphere.



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