A small anecdote—once upon a time, I was not well-versed in science fiction. That problem has since been alleviated, to my social life’s displeasure; back then, a friend introduced me to Firefly, which I devoured, but because I was ill-versed in the genre (and it was an outlier of the genre in the first place) my best elevator pitch for Firefly was referring to it as a “Star Wars Western.” When other friends went to watch it on my suggestion, they would always return feeling like I had misguided them. Sure, they enjoyed it based on its own merits, but it was not what they had sat down to watch, and that was largely because of my own ineptitude.
And then we have TwoMammoths’ debut game, Archaica: The Path of Light. Archaica is described on Steam as “a puzzle game with lasers and mirrors that enraptures gamers not only with finely designed levels, but also with an interesting story line.” Like my friends watching Firefly on my suggestion, I read this description and prepared myself for one sort of experience only to find something slightly different staring back at me from the other side of the screen.
It is certainly a puzzle game, no question about that. You manipulate beams of light through various mazes and obstacle courses to charge the matching crystals some distance away. Each mirror can be rotated at 45-degree intervals, allowing eight directions in total to play with. As the game advances, you are presented with different objects besides the base mirrors which must be used to further augment the laser’s path. Beam splitters, amplifiers, and teleporters are just some of the plethora of unique devices you end up manipulating, all with the ultimate goal of continuing along the titular path of light.
So far everything I’ve described makes Archaica indistinguishable from dozens of basic flash games that are just as dated as my Firefly reference. But this is no flash game. The graphics are gorgeous, making beautiful use of colors, textures, and lighting in a variety of fully 3D rendered locals. Your camera is locked in one direction, looking down at the map from on high, but you can still pan around the environment, appreciating the use of depth as towers and canyons shift beneath you. From an artistic standpoint, the levels truly are finely designed.
But the art is not the only polished aspect of this game. TwoMammoths’ website says, “The game consists of 42 levels (plus additional few secret levels) containing 65 puzzle boards divided into 6 thematic realms.” The realms in question are The Hills (tutorial area), Desert City, Islands, Crystal Mines, Jungle, and the Temple. Each area is tougher than the last and carries with it its own unique ascetic. For a game that is all about reflecting light to reach certain locations, the complexity of some of these levels is truly mind-blowing. There seems to only be one solution to each puzzle, and the effort that must have gone into making them all distinct and functional qualifies as a powerful mental exercise. Some of the more complicated puzzles were so difficult that I had to walk away, hoping fresh eyes would see what I was missing.
TwoMammoths also added side objectives into each level. There are keystones on some puzzle boards that you must ignite, and if you succeed in doing so with enough of them you unlock a secret level. Also, hidden throughout the maps are glowing “cells” (floating crystals) which power a device on each puzzle board that provides hints to where the various mirrors are supposed to go. They don’t tell you which device goes on what square, just that something should be there, so there can still be a lot of guesswork involved on the more complicated puzzles. And these cells run the gamut from sitting right out in the open to so well hidden that only a sliver of one peaks out from beneath an object, and only when the camera is perfectly angled. There are also hieroglyphics scattered throughout each map, and finding full sets unlock a tiny bit of information. Sometimes it is about a new device that is on the map, sometimes it is about the lore of the location. It is rarely more than two sentences either way, but collecting enough of them begins to paint a picture of what has been going on in this world.
But that’s where the description on Steam and the reality of the game begin to separate. Whoever wrote that there was an “interesting storyline” seems to have confused story with lore, and there is a big difference. The lore is equal parts vague and unimportant, talking about previous people who have walked the same path you walk now. It does help atmospherically, but only invests the player with some mild curiosity.
The story, as it stands, is that “The World faces destruction when the Fiery Sign appears in the sky. The Light Bearer sets off on the path of light, to bring salvation to his people,” or at least that is what the text box that pops up every time you start the game claims. You are the aforementioned Light Bearer. The path of light is the various puzzles you solve. You never meet any of the people you are trying to bring salvation to—which would add emotional significance to the challenges ahead—and you never see the Fiery Sign in the sky—which could have been a great device to add a sense of urgency to the task.
But no. There is no rising action, no climax, no emotional depths. There is no moment where everything changed. There is no story. What little exposition there is (which you have now read in near completion) feels like a thin layer of glue attempting to justify the gameplay, and it’s not working. The gameplay does not need justification. It’s a puzzle game, there is no reason to sell it as something more.
If they had not advertised the story, instead sticking to discussion of the gameplay mechanics and graphics, I probably would have shrugged my shoulders and enjoyed the game for what it was. But they pitched it to the public with the story as a central aspect, so I feel obligated to critique the story as such.
PUBLISHER – TwoMammoths | DEVELOPER – TwoMammoths | ESRB – N/A | PLATFORMS – PC
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Consider – Archaica: The Path of Light is the pinnacle of its particular brand of puzzle games. The graphics are beautiful, the mechanics are well thought out and intricately detailed, and there are plenty of side objectives to keep a player busy beyond the main puzzles. If you are looking for a puzzle game to sink your teeth into, this is a good choice. But if it was the promise of an “interesting story” that drew you to the game, you would do better looking elsewhere.