Moncage is an emotionally devastating game, but not because of the story it tries to tell. The game asks you to solve puzzles by connecting the violent and the mundane. At first, I was charmed when I used a bicycle pedal to unlock a door. My stomach dropped when I used a trash can to shoot a real gun. Several puzzles later, I thought that I was desensitized to the casual cruelty. Then I used a campfire to wipe a nation off a map. Turns out, I wasn’t.
The entirety of this puzzler takes place in a three-dimensional cube. Each face shows you a different scene, and you can move the camera around the cube and zoom in and out of each. You “solve” puzzles by changing the perspective to “connect” items in one face to items in another. For example, rotating the camera just so made a striped hammock in one face’s scene blend into the bottom half of a striped awning in an adjacent face. This caused the telescope lying on the hammock to fall from the one scene into the other, unlocking further interactions.
Moncage is a joy to play, and the puzzles are really good at making you feel clever. While the puzzles themselves aren’t overly complicated, they often require creative thinking to connect completely unrelated objects on a visual basis alone. The game starts off as a relaxing theoretical exercise. Its hint system ensures that playing the game never feels stressful. Which is funny, because the questions that it asks of the player aren’t lighthearted at all.
By clearly juxtaposing unlikely objects, the gameplay asks: What if a toy could break hearts? What if a battery was a bullet? What if a ship in a bottle was a warship carrying you to stranger shores? I felt smug about my own cleverness when I used a fake coin to stamp a piece of paper. A few moments later, I realized that I had just authorized a military recruitment file for one of the story’s main characters.
Later, in one cube face, I saw a fairground. In another, I saw the smouldering remains of a nameless war. Moncage slyly connects “play” and “violence” with a subtle grace that you won’t find in more explicit war games. After a few hours of playing, I became wary of solving these puzzles. My intentions were playful, but I was unlocking the events in an ambiguous tragedy. As I manipulated the cube to piece together a photograph of a man and his estranged son, I thought: “I didn’t know. I never meant for any of this to happen.” Maybe the characters didn’t either.
Aside from the empty levels and the photographs that you acquire as you play, the only other clues as to what’s going on come in the names attached to the achievements. The vagueness feels intentional. The playful levels are filled with character, and every puzzle is meticulously designed. Moncage actively rebels against a linear reading of its story by arranging the photographs you collect out of order. Was the ending an alternate timeline? Was it a beginning? I still don’t know for certain. There’s only one correct way to solve each puzzle, but the story itself refuses to be read so easily.
I’m not sure if the game is stronger for taking a kaleidoscopic, fragmented approach to portraying the characters’ memories. Don’t let me discourage you from seeing for yourself, though. Moncage is still the most fascinating puzzle game I’ve encountered this year.
Moncage was released last month, and it’s available on Steam, Google Play, and the App Store.