Maquette
Maquette Graceful Decay / Annapurna Interactive

I don’t particularly want to feel small right now, or maybe it’s more accurate to say that I don’t want to feel powerless. The world has been buffeting us all an awful lot lately, and it’s hard not to feel like little insects or toys, blasted into a boundless vortex by every slight sneeze or throttled to within an inch of our lives by the enormous invisible hand of the marketplace.

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But smallness does not always equal powerlessness, at least I hope not, and we’ll be putting that premise to the test this month with a variety of new games. For some strange reason, multiple upcoming releases from multiple developers on multiple platforms all involve the same basic conceit: You are very small, and it is up to you to save a world that is very big.

Maybe there will be something cathartic about feeling both tiny and strong? That would be a relief, and now that I think of it, vastly preferable to the opposite — being enormous and weak, a.k.a. how the bugs in my apartment think of me.

MARCH 2: MAQUETTE


You stand in a beautiful fantasy world. All around you are tall towers, and in front of you is a small scale model of your environment. Any change that you make to the scale model is reflected in the world: Nudge a building block in the model, and in your world it is as though a giant finger has descended to push the corresponding building aside. Maquette is a creative puzzle game that asks the player to think creatively about scale, and the mental gymnastics that it requires reminds me of the delight and surprise prompted by a first playthrough of Portal. Alas, trailers for the game are accompanied by some overambitious dialogue that melts the immersion. (Saying something in a profound tone of voice doesn’t make it so.) In addition to being a creative puzzler, the game is also a metaphor for romantic relationships; you see, couples can sometimes blow things out of proportion, turning small annoyances into gigantic conflicts. This insight is delivered with a serious tone that is likely to be at odds with the micro-macro tomfoolery, and I suspect that most players will find the game’s sincerity undercut. But hey, at least the puzzles look fun.
Available on Steam and the PlayStation Store


MARCH 18: MINUTE OF ISLANDS


Beautiful Tintin-inspired design blends nicely with platform puzzling here. You are a young mechanic with a magic wand, exploring an island of technological ruins deposited by giants. Visually, it’s a treat, and I look forward to spending time wandering and exploring this environment; it looks like it’ll fit nicely with the chill go-for-a-walk games I reviewed a few months ago. The player’s small engineer character, sometimes dwarfed by the massive giants and their machines reminds me a bit of Miyazaki’s Nausicaa, and the game seems like it’ll make for excellent streaming — because it’s so pretty, it’s a fine title to sit back and watch someone else play. Honored at the Independent Games Festival, Gamescom, and at the PAX East Showcase, I would not be surprised to see this modest-looking title become a quiet obsession among your cool friends. Developers have hinted that end-game levels will involve “psychedelic episodes that break physics,” so I suspect there’s more to the story than just a calm stroll.
Available on Mac, PC, and consoles

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MARCH 26: IT TAKES TWO


Here’s another game that’s not content to just offer puzzles; it’s also a story of a relationship on the brink. Two married heterosexuals considering a divorce are turned into little dolls who must navigate their way through a variety of puzzles while also healing their relationship; the shift in scale from human to toy provides an abstraction that will no doubt be therapeutic. As with Maquette, I am skeptical about the story content of It Takes Two; the trailer hints at stale Dreamworksy banter and an insistent screaming narrator that I could not wait to get away from. (“You’re not feeling it?” the narrator sneers; if this was a few years ago, it would have been a joke about how THAT’S going to leave a mark.) The puzzles themselves look delightful — a creative crafty world full of tiny objects transformed into threats and opportunities like Yoshi’s Wooly World or Little Big Planet — and you know, sometimes fun puzzles are enough.
Available on PlayStation, Xbox, and PC.



ALSO: GIANT MONSTERS, MUSICAL THEATER, CRASH BANDICOOT

Of course, the month’s most prominent game in which you will be made to feel very small is Monster Hunter: Rise, coming March 26 to the Switch. Fight against colossal monsters in lush landscapes; though your character is not miniaturized, you might as well be as these creatures bear down on you. I wrote about how to get started with Monster Hunter over here. Also this month is a Crash Bandicoot 4 remaster for next-gen consoles, which will be fun though I can’t imagine who is buying a PS5 to play last year’s/decade’s platformers. And then there’s Balan Wonderworld (available on Switch, PlayStation, Xbox, and Steam), an odd indie-developed, Square Enix-published title that has a promising premise — acquire powers by dressing up in a platform adventure themed around musical theater — and a look that is so generic, unpolished, and uninspired that I fall asleep just thinking about it.

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