Puzzles, a Steampunk aesthetic, and the game of Twister don’t necessarily go together like peanut butter and jelly, but Quokka Studios has somehow managed to combine all three into Panopticon, an iPad-only game that is as devilish in its required contortions as it is clever in its design.
The game delivers a loose, derivative narrative about a future world in which mankind has become reliant on a network of increasingly sentient machines. As we have learned by watching the Terminator movies, this laziness on our part always leads to death, destruction and enslavement. In Panopticon, you must save humanity by destroying the evil machines one by one. Of course, you do so in the only logical way possible: manipulating discs around obstacles into small, circular holes.
Really, though, the story is secondary. You’re here for the gameplay, which is both original and often highly frustrating. Panopticon cleverly employs true eight-tap multitouch, which allows you to manipulate the discs simultaneously around the sometimes maddening levels. To amp up the difficulty, you will encounter hindrances like spinning blades, electrified barriers, and hole positioning which requires you to perform nothing less than finger yoga.
Also, you can’t move discs individually, and all must be deposited in their respective receptacles at the same time. All of these mechanics make for a game with a steep difficulty curve.
Panopticon comes loaded with 100 levels. Even though they start off innocently enough, you will soon find yourself on your feet, trying to position your body and your fingers above the screen in such a way that you cause yourself the least bodily damage possible. We should note that it is almost impossible to play the game while sitting down. Indeed, we found that the best way to avoid muscle strain (we’re not kidding) was to lie the iPad flat and stand directly above it. Also, some levels seemed to require the ability to walk around the the device while manipulating our discs.
Flex those fingers!
In terms of difficulty, the levels became remarkably tricky more quickly than we might have expected (or liked). With the occasional break in pace to introduce a new mechanic or obstacle type, we found ourselves becoming frustrated fast, and not always in the right way. Plus, while many levels feature unique designs, obstacle placement, and orientation, others feel like rehashes.
That said, the sheer uniqueness of the game experience is difficult to resist. Panopticon engages not just the mind, but the whole body. We’re not saying that playing it gives you a work out, but doing so does require you to be engaged with your iPad in a way that other games do not. Even though we generally only had the stamina and presence of mind to play the game in short bursts, we definitely appreciated its innovation.
Panopticon will likely not appeal to every puzzle gamer out there, especially those who prefer a more sedentary gaming experience, but we think that its stylish, unique presentation and gameplay merit any curious puzzler’s consideration.