Patrick's Parabox is exactly the puzzle game I've been looking for. With a laser-like focus on stretching its core ideas to their breaking point, it never ceases to wow and befuddle with each new wrinkle.
Release Date: March 29, 2022
Suggested Audience Age: Everyone / All-Ages
Time to Play: 11 hours for the campaign, many more for completionists
Availability: PC via Steam & itch.io
Recommended for fans of: Recursion, Baba is You, and throwing your brain against all sides of a puzzle for twenty minutes until it finally “clicks”
Geek to Geek Media was provided with a review copy of this title by the developer.
I've admittedly been looking forward to Patrick's Parabox for some time. It's been a regular at the Steam NEXT festivals, and its little slice of a demo immediately left me thirsty for more. So, depending on how you want to look at it, I either came in with a hefty bias or lofty expectations.
As with any good puzzler, the core conceit is simple. Slide box A onto tile B to progress. You know, the most classic of classic Zelda puzzles.
And it manages to take that one task, in over 350 different ways, and absolutely melt my brain more than almost anything I've been asked to do all year.
You see, most of the blocks you're asked to shove about the puzzle-space are, in and of themselves, other spaces that you can enter and exit. Often, entire other puzzles, or iterations of the same puzzle you're currently in. And that's such a roundabout pitch that I feel the need to run a crash course before I can even start to tackle Patrick's Parabox as a game.
Take this example from very early on in the game. Your character, the magenta-ish cube, can squeeze themselves into (and out of) smaller squares, provided they have an opening and can't be pushed about. So, by wedging it against a wall, you can use this L-shaped block as a tiny “pipe”, like so:
Okay, that's a little wonky, but not too far beyond what you might expect.
Now for something a little more challenging, and closer to the heart of the matter.
Take this example, from a bit further on. The only block in this level is, itself, the level that you're in. You need to push the tiny version onto the highlighted space in the upper-right, then navigate to the dotted space in the upper-middle.
Normally, you'd be stuck here, since pushing the block-level to the right would block the only way through that corridor. But look at that ominous, giant version of the magenta-ish block occupying the left side of the screen. Then look harder at the little block-level in the center – see how there's another, tiny magenta-ish block inside it?
That's right, eagle eyes – the solution here involves “exiting” the “main” level from the passages on the far left and far bottom, which cause your character to pop out of that little block-level from the same side. You literally have to think outside the box to get things into position.
Now continue escalating that line of thought for another two hundred puzzles. Pushing blocks inside of other blocks. Deliberately forcing puzzles to loop back on themselves. Using trickery to duplicate boxes inside of each other.
Patrick's Parabox sure does give me the best kind of headache.
Here's the great thing, though: the game is still built in a way to make you succeed.
Sure, you might look at a randomly-picked for five seconds and decide “nope, I don't even know where to start with that”. Patrick's Parabox will look back at you and decide “sure, fair enough”. And, if, you so desire, you can just… skip ahead.
I'm not talking about the handy cheat-code-like “Unlock All Puzzles” option in the game's settings – though that, too. More that, of each set of two dozen puzzles, barely half are required to progress, and only a few of those need to be on a “critical path”. Essentially, once you're proven that you get a core concept, Patrick's Parabox is happy to let you skip ahead to find something you find fun rather than frustrating.
And that's what kept my momentum going so hard from start to finish with this game, despite the fact that I left two dozen levels unfinished behind me. Normally, my stubbornness and completionism would get the better of me, and I'd still be banging my head against a wall until I suffered my way into a solution. Instead, so many levels opened up so quickly, each with a fresh idea or a killer spin on old one, that I just bounced from puzzle to puzzle until I found a problem my brain wanted to chew on.
Which means that the game's only real barrier is grasping onto its twisty-turny logic in the first place. With precious little text in the entire package, it's not unheard-of to stumble into a solution without understanding why you got there. Which, on one hand, fair – it's difficult to explain some of the game's less-straightforward concepts in words. But it can also feel like it's playing hard-to-get at points, since the whole conceit is poking and prodding at boxes until you uncover some unfamiliar mechanic that was totally opaque ten seconds ago.
For some, reverse-engineering a motor is delightful. For others, it's an exercise in frustration.
With how the game runs itself in circles at times, it feels like a miracle that Patrick's Parabox runs at all, let alone so solidly. It's snappy, with adjustable movement and playable with just the fingers on your left hand in a pinch. It comes with a (slightly-hidden) color & presentation options to keep things just a little bit clearer for those of us who struggle.
But most of all, I just enjoy every minute I spend on it, even those where I find myself thinking in circles.
It's both novel and familiar. It oscillates wildly between obtuse and intuitive depending on your most recent “a-ha!” moment. And, most of all, it's one of those games that, once I started, I could hardly play anything else without my mind wandering back to this one.
In short, we're barely through March and Patrick's Parabox is already a front-runner for my favorite game of the year.
You want a puzzle game to twist your brain into a fresh new pretzel?
That's exactly what Patrick's Parabox set out to do, and that's exactly what it's done.