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About the Story
This game takes place in a single room — but not always the same one. The room contains just one item, but again, there's more to it than that. Experiment and enjoy.
Jay Is Games
The best part of the game is in exploring your environment. You'll really cheat yourself if you just try to solve everything as quickly as possible. Take the time to look at everything. [...] The connection with the "escape" theme is a bit of a stretch, but I can't really go into that further without ruining the surprise of the ending.
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And in the end, I do think that this mostly winds up being a puzzler. It's an exceedingly well-crafted puzzler, though, in that it leads you through the puzzles with such a smooth and seamless sense of building, each on the former, that the player is always engaged -- the game equivalent of a "page turner," or a great RPG that knows just the exact moment before you've completed one quest to saddle you with the next. Similarly, the environments are described in a way that makes them feel rich instead of limited, but are limited in a way that results in you very seldom spending time chasing dead ends or trying to figure out where your focus should be.
-- Irfon-Kim Ahmad
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Number of Reviews: 10
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Dual Transform isn't a hard game. I don't think it was meant to be hard. It doesn't take too long to figure out how the game works and from there, it's just a matter of using logic to complete the next puzzle. Once you become immersed in the game, logic is replaced by a kind of instinct where you understand what to do next even before you comprehend why it has to be done. The puzzle system creates an environment that is unlike anything I've seen previously. Your surroundings are ever-changing and you must find a way to manipulate them to get to the next "room".
After playing the game for a few minutes, I felt drawn into its beautiful world. Each "room" represents a physical property and the more time you spend in the environment, the more immersed you become in the sensation of said property. The back-story of the PC is never fully explained, but
I didn’t feel a need for more information. The PC is a researcher, trying to design a three-dimensional, sensory workspace. The story behind the puzzle is intriguing, but simple enough so that the player doesn’t get lost in an overwhelming amount of data.
The "one object only" concept was implemented well and simplified the game at some points, while making it harder at others. The descriptions were well-written and used plenty of sensory information to create a realistic atmosphere. The ending puzzle brought the game to a beautiful, surreal, and somewhat surprising close. Hopefully, the author will follow up with a sequel like the ending implies.
In a review a couple of days ago of Hoist Sail for the Heliopause and Home I wrote that Plotkin is known for giving us "large empty worlds seen from a distance by an almost abstract protagonist". Dual Transform does not belong in this category exactly, since it is placed in a single room (although it is a single room that changes radically during the game). On the other hand, it comes close to being the most abstract game ever, since it is built up around archetypes of "pressure" and "form" that are given shape and materiality by the subconscious of the protagonist.
With this set-up, one would expect a clearly characterised protagonist: if we get to see what he or she subcobsciously links to pressure, to heat, and so on; if the entire world is the product of his or her free imagination; then, surely, we will learn about this person's thoughts, fears, ambitions, and so on? Nothing, however, is less true: no object in the world seems to have any personal significance for the protagonist, nor do we move far beyond, well, archetypal objects like "book", "tree", "church" and "mushroom".
This all might be a very clever application of Jungian psychology -- I cannot judge, since I know nothing about the subject. Ignoring this possibility, there is little to sustain interest in the story and the world: not only is the protagonist highly abstract, but so is his quest. It was never clear to me that the story explored something I cared about.
Whether any of this is a problem is a matter of sensibility: so many reviewers speak of immersion where I felt only distance that I must assume there is a mode of inhabiting these thoughtscapes that is simply inaccessible to me. But I suspect it is inaccessible to many. I cannot, for instance, think of a single book of fiction that is written at the level of abstraction Plotkin brings to the table -- even T. S. Eliot, who can be mightily abstract, infuses his poetry with particular details and (perhaps more importantly) links his philosophical claims to our lived experience.
As a game, Dual Transform is a puzzler that takes its inspiration from the magic system in Emily Short's Savoir-Faire. The puzzles are not difficult once you have realised something that is not quite obvious (Spoiler - click to show)(the single object you can take around with you will change in other rooms, but not when you have it in your inventory, so you must drop it on the ground to have it change), but in-game hints would still have been appreciated. The puzzles are not always logical, and I would have liked to seem them linked more closely to the archetypes we are supposed to be exploring. The final puzzle is better: it can be solved using knowledge you have already gathered and at the same time transforms your insight into all the locations you have visited.
The writing and implementation are good, as we have of course come to expect from Plotkin.
If you generally like Plotkin's worlds, you will like this one as well. If you find they lack characterisation and story, you will find those lacking here as well. A typical work, then, from a writer whose skills are beyond doubt, but whose aesthetics are (one assumes) more divisive.
As the description says, Dual Transform takes place in one room and in many. There is only one carryable object, and there are legion. Without moving from place to place, you shift the room around you by invoking certain archetypes, such as "pressure" or "heat." The strength of the writing, then, rests less on the story than on the degree to which every element of the room encapsulates the archetype from which it was derived. This is pulled off, to my mind, to varying degrees of success. What's more successful is the vitality and dynamism present within the various spaces invoked: some crackle with energy, others suggest oppression or dread, others are harder to pin down. The writing, however, is secondary here to the puzzles, which hinge on taking advantage of the symmetry between the room in its various forms: what changes, and what stays the same. They are mostly simple, but pleasing to the brain. The one flaw here is that pesky "To Be Continued" message at the end...
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