Amphora is a story driven drag and drop puzzle adventure made by indie developer Moondrop. It is available for PC and MAC, and with a 10% discount it is currently priced at $12.59 on Steam and Humble. It was released on November 12th 2014.
A quick search on Wikipedia will tell you that an amphora is "a type of container of a characteristic shape and size, descending from at least as early as the Neolithic Period." And as strange as it sounds, it is from one of these you get your powers when you as a bodiless haze, or maybe a spirit, manipulate your surroundings in what turns out to be a few hours of intense puzzle solving. The game evolves around the life of a young girl and tells a simple but charming story about love, war and growing up. Every part of her life is represented by a unique form of artistic expression based on shadow theater and mosaics. And it is the visuals that ends up being Amphora's strongest point. Deep effects mixed with simple and colorful backgrounds, designed to trigger your emotions accompanied with beautiful, expressive and well suited music turns this puzzle into a very different experience than any other puzzle game has been able to provide me with this far.
Amphora utilizes only a few central game mechanics. The familiar drag and drop technique is combined with a nifty feature that allows you to create strings to attach items to each other. Each mosaic image, or level if you will, have a few essential gadgets scattered about, and these are the ones you have to interact with in order to solve the problems unfolding on your screen. These physics-based puzzles are built on brilliant, simple ideas, centered around the strings and as you progress through the game, the strings evolve and change the way they work. It takes some trial and error to get used to them, sometimes they will bristle for no apparent reason but gravity and sometimes they fall to the ground before you can do anything sensible with them at all. But this is a crucial part of what makes Amphora different, just like you will find no text in this game, apart from in the pause menu. No narrator, no subtitles, no directions or descriptions. Instead the story is told through, both in broad terms and in the small sentimental details, the tasks you perform to get to the next level. You have nothing but beautiful music, stunning visuals and your mind to work with to figure out what needs to be done.
Due to the story elements and the physics, Amphora almost comes through as a polished demo of a cool concept. Not because the tasks are lightweight, they are not always, but because they are not complex enough. The game could easily have been extended in each of the individual scenes, and thereby grown into more of a complete experience. Some of the game's stages are near perfect in their simple pleasure, however, where thinking and actually solving a puzzle plays a more central role, it is all over far too quickly. The entire game can be solved in a few hours if you don't do what I did, and just sit there and enjoy some of the levels without really trying to solve them.
I love that this game never tells me what to do, but lets me dive into the story and gives me the opportunity to fully enjoy the pleasure it actually is to solve each task, although I miss as mentioned more width and complexity. Nevertheless, it should be said that the game's simple expression and the lack of super elaborate intelligence tests are some of the things that makes it unique and able to affect your emotions while playing. The game represents a step away from the the general direction most puzzles take, and should be commended for a fresh and unusual way to generate interest and convey their content. All in all, I would say that Amphora is a well made and enjoyable short puzzle, but first and foremost a really, really nice game that subtly does something to affect both your curiosity and your emotions.
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