The PlayStation VR has so far enjoyed a healthy library of varied and creative experiences. It speaks to the talent of the multitude of developers worldwide, big and small, that the platform hasn’t (yet) become oversaturated with too many phoned-in VR shooters or other rote genres. One of my favourite genres that has had a chance to thrive on the PSVR though is the humble puzzle game, with some truly stand-out titles like Superhot, GNOG, and Statik. Games that use the VR space in ways that help the player to connect to the puzzles they’re solving in ways that ‘flat’ gaming can’t will always get my tick of approval.
Squishies, by developer Brainseed Factory, just doesn’t do it for me.
Don’t do kids, drugs
As a puzzle game, there are a lot of things that Squishies does right. For starters, it’s got some genuinely unique ideas; the game tasks players with guiding little ball-shaped animals (the titular Squishes) to specific locations on 3D diorama-style levels. Doing so requires the use of two ‘Alien Fish Friends’, weird piscine representations of the (mandatory) PlayStation Move controllers to suck in or blow out air to move the Squishies. Levels, of which there are 100 in total across different visual themes, feature all manner of traps and conundrums to be traversed or solved by interacting with the level through the Fish Friends. Things like holding levers or platforms in place or setting stuff on fire are common solutions, for example. There are collectibles and timers that add to an overall level score and even a full level editor that add some decent replay value, too. The use of the Move controllers throughout is fairly well handled and some of the later challenges definitely put them to creative use.
You don’t like our levels? Make your own damned levels!
As a VR game though, Squishies has some issues. Crucially, while each level is its own short, self-contained experience, they’re played from a viewpoint that requires constantly turning the entire level around or zooming in and out in order to see or interact with level elements. It’s an interesting way to interact with the world and feels pretty neat at the beginning, but after a ways into the game it starts to feel more like a chore, like you’re doing all the camera work that the game would normally do. Part of that feeling is also because the game looks so totally bland. Alarmingly basic geometry and textures, an ugly colour palette and very little in the way of animation give Squishies almost zero personality, which is a pretty big blow to a simple puzzle game like this, especially one in VR. It feels rough, unfinished and just not fun. Even the menus, which attempt to use VR/Move interactivity in unique ways, just come off as amateurish and clunky. Sound is no better, swinging wildly from non-existent to repetitive and annoying at any given moment.
I wish I could say that getting to play around with some of its more engaging and fun puzzles and scenarios made it worth pushing through Squishies otherwise bland and outright boring collection of levels, but I can’t. What small flashes of creativity are there are overshadowed by the completely flat presentation and level upon level of boring and repetitive exercises and camera busywork. Add to that the almost $40AUD price tag and VR puzzle fans can safely steer clear of this one.
Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro | Review code supplied by publisher