Seeing through the Perspective of '_Prism'

by Nick Dinicola

6 May 2016

The best puzzle games teach us that there's always more to learn, and _Prism succeeds in this regard through its final lesson. There’s more than one way to interpret a pattern.
cover art


(Clint Siu)

Prism (or more specifically, _Prism, note the underscore, in case you want to search for it on Google or on the App Store) is an iOS puzzle game that’s pretty dang good, but the most impressive thing about it is its art. The simple idea of geometric shapes floating in space is used to convey a strong sense of progression, culminating in a truly clever climax that’s also an anti-climax. The game gets to have its cake and eat it too. It’s subversive and expected, climactic and anti-climactic, a clever trick and a thoughtful lesson.
Prism is one of those puzzle games that happily avoids any overt explanation of its puzzle mechanics. It doesn’t teach you through exposition. It teaches you through experimentation. Puzzles begin simply enough. A white line with a red dot on one end and a red circle on the other appears on screen. Swipe to move the dot to the circle. Solved. An “X” of interconnected blue dots and an “X” of blue circles appear, drag one X to the other X. Solved.

The puzzles progress like this, using color and shape to express purpose. Yellow means tap, green means hold, and so on. Soon the rules begin to stack up. Hold this green shape, while rotating this other shape, so that you can then tap a third shape. It would be horribly complex if not for the art, which acts as a step-by-step guide to completion, assuming you remember what each color/shape means. Even then, however, the game is never terribly difficult.

Visually, there’s a clear sense of progression. This being a game about shapes, it is fitting that we begin play on the sides of a triangle. Then we go up a level to and play on a cube, then an octahedron, then a dodecahedron, then an icosahedron, and so on until we’re dealing with abstract geometric shapes that then break apart and reform into even more abstract geometric shapes.

It’s a smart way to express complexity visually. Puzzles are located on the sides of a 3D shape, so naturally the more sides to the shape, the more steps to the puzzle. This logic stays consistent up until the final puzzle, in which our many sided shapes finally coalesce into a sphere.

There’s a genuine sense of tension to this peaceful puzzle game thanks to this visual language of progression. The infinite sides of a sphere suggest a kind of endurance test, a puzzle with so many steps that it seems endless. But this isn’t actually the case. The sphere is actually quite easy. There’s only one step to this puzzle.

It’s an anti-climax to be sure. Puzzles increase in steps until they culminate in a puzzle featuring only a single step. However, it’s not disappointing (at least I didn’t find it disappointing) because of how this simplicity fits perfectly within the established visual language of the game.

A sphere only really has one side. One or infinite, the argument could be made either way. We’re encouraged to think the latter way because of the process that brought us here. The game was establishing a pattern, and we naturally took that pattern to its logical extreme. But the best puzzle games are about subversion, establishing rules and then breaking those rules in smart ways that keep us guessing. The best puzzle games teach us that there’s always more to learn (see The Witness), and Prism succeeds in this regard through its final lesson. There’s more than one way to interpret a pattern.

Prism establishes a visual and symbolic language, then it creates a pattern with that language, then it twists that pattern in a way that’s unexpected yet completely logical. And it does all this with shapes that a kindergartner could draw.

We all know how critical it is to keep independent voices alive and strong on the Internet. Please consider a donation to support our work. We are a wholly independent, women-owned, small company. Your donation will help PopMatters stay viable through these changing, challenging times where costs have risen and advertising has dropped precipitously. PopMatters needs your help to keep publishing. Thank you.

//Mixed media

NYFF 2017: 'Mudbound'

// Notes from the Road

"Dee Rees’ churning and melodramatic epic follows two families in 1940s Mississippi, one black and one white, and the wars they fight abroad and at home.

READ the article