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The Impossible Stairs, by Mathbrush

3 of 3 people found the following review helpful:
Delightful puzzles, easy gameplay, and a touching ending, August 15, 2022

You are CJ, a young man standing outside of the family house surveying the damage from a storm when a mysterious woman throws a paper airplane at your feet. Printed on it is a list of chores. Some of the chores seem a downright impossible, possible only in another timeline. Fortunately for you, the stairs in your house are far from being ordinary stairs. They will allow you to visit and influence different decades of family history so you can fulfill every task on the chores list.

This game is an authorized sequel to The Impossible Bottle by Linus Åkesson and uses a slightly different (but as equally creative) gameplay mechanic. To keep it brief, The Impossible Bottle had the player manipulate the setting through the protagonist's toys. Adjusting toys, such as a dollhouse, adjusted the house in response and the things within it. The Impossible Stairs also focuses on influencing the setting through small but direct adjustments made by the player. However, the cause and effect in The Impossible Stairs is spread across a temporal range. In other words, what sets it apart from The Impossible Bottle is its use of time travel to structure the gameplay.

Gameplay
When I think of a time travel game, I often get the impression that it will be filled with a lot of technical puzzles (even though I have played time travel games that are not like that). But this game does not have time machines or puzzles required to move to different time periods. Not at all. Time travel is as simple as walking up and down a set of stairs, and this concept is well-implemented. Each level is interspaced with 20 years, the earliest starting in 1961, then 1981, 2001, 2021, and 2041. The floorplan is the same along with most objects and characters. But the differences are there, and the player uses them to adjust parameters that change the timeline. This is then used to produce the circumstances needed to complete the chores.

For instance, the game begins in 2001. A hurricane has occurred, and a large tree had smashed the garage. The garage is (Spoiler - click to show) where Ada, CJ's cousin, works on her projects. In the timeline established at the start of the game, Ada left home because she was devastated that the accident destroyed her work. But if you go back to 1961 and ensure that the tree was never planted close to the house the garage will be intact in the future. Suddenly Ada will be in the 2001 garage and onwards.

The player also gets a nudge from the game when an action influences the timeline with notifications such as, "Your Grandma's future has slightly changed" or "You feel your future career slightly change" that guide the gameplay. It makes it easy to piece together the cause and effect while still maintaining a level of complexity for the player since the puzzles vary in length and subtlety.

The protagonist's (Spoiler - click to show) future career is determined by the object placed on the pedestal in the 2001 office while his grandmother's future is based on the TV channel that she is watching in the 1961 living room. The pedestal puzzle was fairly obvious because its description flat-out explains this, providing a clear way of experiencing cause and effect. For example, if you put the sapling on the pedestal in 2001 you are going to find some paintings of it in the office in 2021. This then ties in with another puzzle that requires a certain painting, moving the gameplay forward.

The puzzle for the (Spoiler - click to show) grandmother is more subtle. Changing the TV channel in 1961 influences her interests and the products she buys. This allows the player to alter the items found in the 1981 house. With the right TV channel, the player will find cinnamon in the pantry which is a needed ingredient for the baklava recipe. I felt that this puzzle was a little less obvious than the career puzzle (then again, that could be just my take on it) but they both demonstrate the same gameplay concept. This is just another example of how cause and effect can be incorporated as a puzzle, and this game has plenty of them.

Story/Characters
The characters are all memorable and likable, especially Ada. She is a fun vibrant character with an endearing relationship with the protagonist. While the Ada puzzle seemed lengthy in comparison to the rest of the game, it was also my favorite puzzle. In fact, my favorite moment in the entire game is when (Spoiler - click to show) she finally completes her robot, and you realize that she created Uncle Rob! It is an excellent conclusion to the puzzle especially since the player can interact with Uncle Rob as he follows you around.

Everything was thoughtful. The memory board changes as family members die (after all in 2041 CJ would have outlived everyone except Ada) but there is always the option of visiting them in earlier time periods. (Spoiler - click to show) His grandpa and mom are exceptions. The grandfather died before CJ was born, and his mom while he was young, but the game takes a lighthearted approach to remembering them. I liked finding the recipe card on the memory board because it is closely tied to the protagonist's memory with his mother. And at the end of the game all the family members come together for a party that makes a nice resolution.

Conclusion
If you enjoy this game, I strongly encourage you to check out The Impossible Bottle. It is just as fun and whimsical (both games are also made with Dialog). Likewise, if you are reading this and have only played The Impossible Bottle than I urge you to try The Impossible Stairs. They have similar strengths but with differences in the story and gameplay that make them unique. And the (Spoiler - click to show) crossover with The Impossible Bottle at the end was perfect.



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