The puzzle genre has long been host to many unique and enjoyable games. A few of the most notable series are Samorost and Machinarium by Amanita Design, which use point-and-click control schemes to navigate around engaging worlds. Both series hold a place of reverence for many puzzle fans. Now, Amanita Design hopes to continue their string of puzzle hits with Creaks, a game that takes you into a subterranean fantasy world of odd beasts and strange surroundings.
At the start of Creaks, the unnamed main character is seen intently reading at his desk. Soon, vibrations shake his house intermittently until a piece of his wallpaper falls, revealing a hidden door. The main character investigates, finding a cave leading to a giant cavern. Inside the cavern, he is astounded to find a huge mansion filled with peculiar creatures and furniture that seems to watch him as he passes. The story of the mansion and its inhabitants start to unfold more with every fantastical room he ventures through.
The game features dialogue between characters, but it’s in a fictional language. Instead, the plot can be pieced together from the character interactions themselves, as well as by observing details in the environment, of which there are many. The plot itself is outstanding, being revealed gradually but always keeping you interested. The game does a fantastic job of engrossing the player in this fantasy setting lying right underneath the protagonist’s feet.
As a consequence of telling such a great story, it’s easy to ultimately want more after finishing the game. A bit of insight into how the inhabitants of the mansion came to live there or an expansion on the interesting lore told in the house’s paintings and decor would have been greatly appreciated. It feels like there are hints to these answers in the game’s setting, but nothing concrete is ever given.
Platforming and puzzles are the chief focus of gameplay in Creaks. Each room of the mansion is filled with ladders, walkways, buttons, and switches that you must utilize to continue your trek through the castle. Along your way, you will find enemies that won’t hesitate to kill you upon walking too close. Overall, the gameplay is well-balanced between providing occasional story scenes and progressively more complex puzzles to solve.
Creaks is broken up into individual rooms known as scenes. Each scene features a puzzle that needs to be solved in order to reach further. Every room will include at least one enemy to both complicate things and also play a crucial role in the puzzle’s solution. The mansion is enormous, so you should be ready to traverse many scenes before the game is done.
There are several different wings of the mansion, varying the style of scenes quite a bit. You can expect to see different enemy types, puzzle features, and decor as you progress to other sections. This variety always keeps gameplay exciting and really pulls you into the game’s setting. Every room has its own style and theme, and the puzzles are different enough to never feel stale.
Should you feel like revisiting any of the game’s scenes, you can access them from the Scenes menu of the game’s title screen. You also get a great view of the entire mansion, giving you an idea of where you’re at currently in your playthrough and how far you’ve come. Being able to replay certain sections is important in finding any paintings you may have missed while playing. It’s also a great way to experience any puzzles you particularly enjoyed.
Any given scene could have switches, buttons, and numerous other elements that need to be used to work through the puzzle. Often you will have to use enemies themselves to progress past the room, as they can be climbed on or moved around when under a light. The main thing that will help in solving puzzles when stumped is plain old trial and error. Experimenting with switches or taking different routes through a room will often illuminate how you should tackle each puzzle.
What sets Creaks apart from many puzzle games is its ability to take the same basic puzzle elements and enemy types and make novel puzzles out of them. There are many puzzles in the game, but every one of them is memorable in some way. All too often, puzzle games can’t find a way to make puzzles fresh into the later portions of the game, instead just ramping up difficulty to absurd heights. Creaks is able to keep puzzles unique with just the right difficulty to make you think things through without having a breakdown.
Various types of enemies populate the mansion. Each is based on a kind of furniture, which they will turn into if caught under a light. They each have a different style of behavior, with some actively pursuing you if you get too close and others moving in a set patrol pattern that you must avoid. Lights will impede their movements, an important detail in solving puzzles. Enemies also have different ways of interacting with each other should they cross paths, another thing that should be kept in mind while puzzling out how to progress in scenes. The way the behavior of each enemy type is used to solve puzzles is an exceptional detail, as it provides more importance to their inclusion in the game other than simply being there to get in your way. Instead, their presence is vital, which is not a common feature in puzzle games.
Throughout the mansion, you will find paintings hanging on the wall. These are the hidden collectible items of Creaks. While there is nothing unlocked by finding all of these paintings, viewing them helps enrich your understanding of the game’s world. Each painting is mechanical, requiring you to pull a string to watch parts of the painting move, giving the painting a bit of life. You will find many of these out in the open as you move through rooms, but several are in hidden rooms that are not easily found.
About a third of the paintings available to discover are actually interactive mini-games, requiring movement and button-pressing to “win” the scenario playing out in the painting. These are all fun and they provide a unique way of interacting with the art you find. The variety of the games is also great to see. For example, one has you doing tricks as a fish, while another stars a man looking for his cat in a labyrinth. This is a welcomed change to how collectibles usually feature in games.
There are numerous overarching storylines that each painting is a part of. As an example, one of the painting collections consists of art showing researchers doing different experiments. All paintings that are part of a collection are grouped together in the Paintings menu on the main title screen. Any missing paintings will be greyed-out. Going back and finding the ones you’re missing is made easier by clues next to each painting on the menu, which depict something in the environment that is located close to where the painting is.
What will attract many players to Creaks is its art style. All of the characters and backgrounds are hand-drawn, with multitudes of dark lines and tones contrasted with light colors, bringing to mind the work of Tim Burton. The environment is filled with small details all around, adding layers of life to every room you explore. The architecture of the mansion and its rooms is Victorian-inspired, with the paintings also drawing inspiration from the mechanical creations of the period. The art depicted in the paintings is also well-done. You can really see how much work went into the art of Creaks, and it does volumes for creating the stellar atmosphere of the game.
Creaks is composed by Hidden Orchestra, a multi-instrument artist who does a fantastic job at helping give the game’s setting even more vibrancy. Synthesizers, percussion, strings, and other instruments are used to provide various styles of music across the game’s many stages. Each track fits the look and feel of the room where it plays.
There is a deceptive complexity to the music in Creaks. The music is quite simple and atmospheric when you enter a new room, with minimal elements to the sound. As you complete parts of the puzzle, new sounds start to enter the music track, which is also a great way to know when you’re on the right track. Once you complete the last step of a puzzle, the track hits its stride and the full piece starts to play. This layering of the music into the gameplay itself is a superb method of conveying the game’s soundtrack.
The main thing that you may want to do after completing all the stages is going back and finding any paintings you missed. Most are out in the open, but the ones in hidden rooms are easy to miss unless you know to look for them. Checking the Paintings menu will help with hunting these down, as the clues by each painting give an idea of where to look. Outside of paintings, the only reason to immediately replay Creaks would be to play through any stages you particularly liked.
Creaks continues the legacy of great puzzle games from Amanita Design. The atmosphere, art style, music, and puzzles are all excellent. The plot is not told explicitly, but the gameplay and setting are so great that you are compelled to keep playing so you can uncover it. In addition, the use of enemies as both obstacle and puzzle element was a nice change from the norm. Those searching for a puzzle platformer that pulls you in and keeps you engaged are strongly recommended to pick up Creaks.
Final Rating: 9 out of 10.