GNOG is a brand-new puzzle game out for PS4 that's designed to envelop you in its gorgeous, colorful, diorama-like worlds. Each level takes place within the head — or noggin', get it? — of a goofy looking monster, and your goal is to bring all its moving parts to life.
At a glance, it's clear that GNOG has an incredibly vibrant aesthetic and visual language, but sometimes its visual ambitions impede its legibility. When GNOG is at its best — and it usually is — I forgot I was solving puzzles and simply enjoyed the process of playing around with the intricate, seemingly magical toy boxes in front of me.
GNOG is at its best when you get lost inside its teeny tiny worlds
For example, after tinkering with the settings on the synthesizer-inspired world of the "PURP-L" level for about five minutes, I remembered that I was actually supposed to be solving a puzzle — and not, in fact, just playing around with a fun new toy.
Instead of making progress on this level's music-based puzzles, I had been hypnotized by the pulsating, summery synth beats that were playing the whole time and enjoying the ways in which my actions were modifying that music.
It sounds simple, but that's really what the appeal of each level in GNOG is all about: tinkering with the small, virtual diorama in front of you, figuring out how it works and unlocking its secrets as you go. GNOG has a tactile quality that most games lack — like you're actually turning over a magical, living toy box in your hand, fiddling with its secret doors, turning knobs and just seeing what happens.
In the GIF above, notice how the square tiles on the upper half of the critter's face pulse from left to right, down the line at regular intervals. Each tile makes a sound effect — vocal "oohs" and "aahs" of different pitches — so depending on which ones you have activated, the texture of the overall song will vary.
There was actually something I was supposed to making progress on with each of those musical bits — matching tiles of a certain color with specific musical tracks — but I was just enjoying the process itself that I wasn't really actively trying to solve it.
GNOG teaches you that it's okay to explore
What's most refreshing about GNOG is that it's about as low-pressure as a game can get. There aren't any points or timers — it's just like having a box of little toys you can tinker around with. There's a solution to each level, and you'll sometimes have to work to find it, but I rarely felt like GNOG was actively working against me.
Unlike games which delight in knocking you down over and over, GNOG wants you to discover its secrets just as much as you do. And, hey, if it takes you a little while to get there, no big deal.
In this way, GNOG seems particularly appealing to younger gamers who are still learning how to read the visual language of games and software more generally, but there's such an attention to detail in every single object that I never felt like I was playing something meant for someone else.
Don't buy GNOG looking for puzzles that'll keep you up for hours or challenge your reflexes. Instead, think of it like buying a trip to a magical toy store filled a handful of fantastical mini worlds. You won't be all that challenged, but you'll probably get lost in it. And that's the point.
GNOG is available for PS4 and PSVR now. It will come to iOS and Steam later this year.
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