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Review - And Yet It Moves (Steam, 2009)

A beautiful puzzler with some of the most relaxing gameplay around

And Yet it Moves is an indie puzzle platformer with a unique aesthetic that revolves around fully exploring a single mechanic.  If that description sounds familiar, it’s because indie developers make games like that a lot.  It’s like they can’t help it - they have two beers and wake up to find they’ve accidentally created a puzzle platformer with a unique aesthetic that revolves around fully exploring a single mechanic.  Luckily, the fact that this description is common is no comment on the quality of the games themselves, which are often excellent. And this game is a perfect example.  And Yet it Moves takes its single world-rotating mechanic and crafts an engaging and visually stunning game that is an absolute pleasure to play from beginning to end.

The first thing that grabs you about the game is its look.  The entire game looks like a moving collage, made up of different layers of paper, torn and slapped on top of each other.  It is unique and utterly beautiful.  Many of the individual pieces appear to be photographic in their quality, while others are much more abstract, and it’s just jumbled enough to make it interesting.  And the paper schtick goes even further than the torn edges.  When you die, the player character gets instantly ripped into several pieces, and there are areas of each level that are black, with no paper at all, and these are an instant death if you touch them.  

There are four main chapters to the game, each with their own visual style, from pretty bland caverns in the beginning to a lush and gorgeous forest and finally to a trippy, psychedelic ending section that’s difficult to describe.  Everything about the visuals are stunning, with the exception of the main character.  In such a colorful and dynamic world, it seems out of place that your avatar is colorless and moves so stiffly.  Perhaps there’s some message in there that I’m missing, but for me, the player character was a blight on an otherwise great visual presentation.

The gameplay, as I mentioned, revolves around a single mechanic - the ability to rotate the world ninety degrees at a time with the push of a button.  This is a relatively simple idea that gets used in more and more interesting ways as the game goes on.  In the beginning, it’s as simple as coming upon a solid wall to the right, and rotating the world so that wall becomes the new floor, allowing you to continue.  Later, you’ll be rotating madly, tumbling yourself into ever-tighter mazes to get to the next checkpoint.  Or rotating to keep up with platforms that also rotate and disappear randomly.  Or using the rotation to make a stationary platform on ropes into a giant, frighteningly fast rope swing.  In all of those similar indie games I mentioned in the opening paragraph, I don’t think I’ve ever seen so much done with such a simple mechanic, or one explored so fully.

One interesting thing to note, and one that will be familiar to players of Portal, is that you maintain your momentum when you change perspective, so that if you were traveling one way when you hit the button, you will continue moving in that direction, despite the fact that it is now a different direction (if that makes sense).  This is used to great effect later in the game, and forces you to play around with the physics to get where you want to go.  This is especially true with a number of what I will call “diving boards” in the game, places where you use the scenery to get more spring and more height into your jump.  Several times you have to jump as high as you can, rotate 180 degrees, so you are basically “falling up,” then rotate again to come back down on the board for an extra high jump.  It’s tricky to get just right, since falling too fast or too hard will kill you, but it’s tons of fun to try.

One other wrinkle in the gameplay are several obstacles that need to be “solved” in order to pass.  There are giant lizards that will kill you if you get near, but there are also several insects in the level, and if you can rotate them near the lizard, they will run him off.  Similarly, there is a gorilla who will not let you pass, but if you can rotate some bananas to him, he will get distracted and you can go by.  There are even a couple of particularly clever sections where you have to use fire to burn parts of the paper scenery away to continue, and using the rotation to change how the fire spreads is really interesting.  The one gameplay mode that didn’t hit home with me was where you control you and a shadow version of yourself at the same time, and you have to guide both to their respective checkpoints.  There’s so much to keep track of that these sections become tedious.  They’re just as clever as the rest, but simply not as much fun. 

I have mentioned dying a few times, so now is a good time to talk about difficulty.  This is a rare example of a game in which you will die many, many times, but the game is still not hard or frustrating.  The player is pretty fragile, and can be killed in any number of ways, several of which I’ve already mentioned.  The way you will die most often is simply falling too fast.  I died dozens of times on jumps that didn’t really look that far, or by rotating (and keeping that momentum) so many times that I simply hit the ground too fast.  Happily, the game only shuffles you back a screen or two when you die, so there is no penalty for trial and error (except for a pretty annoying death sound that you WILL get sick of).  The game encourages you to try different ways to get past each level (though there’s really only one correct way), and dying never felt unfair or frustrating.

This is no small point for me.  Puzzle platformers that are unnecessarily difficult (such as Braid) or overly punitive when it comes to mistakes (such as Abe’s Oddysee) make for a frustrating, and not always enjoyable time.  But “enjoyable” is the word I would use to describe And Yet it Moves over and above any others.  There is just something so serenely relaxing about this game.  There is never any urgency, time limit or anything else that can stress you out.  You simply spend time in a gorgeous world, occasionally flipping things around when you think it might help.  That’s not to say that many of the puzzles aren’t challenging, because they certainly require some brainpower to solve, but you never feel rushed, or panicked, or punished.  It’s a remarkable accomplishment, in my opinion, but it may not be for everyone.  I know that for many players, the rush and panic are part of the experience, and not having that as a motivator could lead some to label this game “boring,” but I absolutely loved the relaxing atmosphere.  It’s something not many games offer, and a great change of pace from other gaming experiences.

One thing that is unique about And Yet it Moves is that there is no discernible story.  And I don’t mean “no story” in the way that Limbo doesn’t give you any text, but still allows you to craft your own narrative.  I mean no story at all.  Certainly, you can make up your own reasons why this little paper man is jumping through themed collage levels and pissing off gorillas (and why he has the ability to shift gravity at will), but there is nothing explicit in the game to help you out.  This is another situation where I appreciate the decision, while also recognizing that some people may be put off by it.  Personally, as much as I love great narrative in games, I would rather have nothing at all than a boring, shoe-horned plot that gets in the way, just because games are “expected” to give you some context.  I think it was a brave decision to keep story out of the picture, and one that paid off.

Because of the great time I had with it, I’m tempted to say that you can’t go wrong with And Yet it Moves, but I realize there are things about it not everyone will love.  It’s slow, short and easy, and the lack of context may be a problem for some.  But for me, this was a fantastic experience.  The art is gorgeous and the gameplay is simple and satisfying, but the relaxed and relaxing mood is maybe what I appreciate most about it. It’s a rare occurrence to play a game and have a 100% positive experience from beginning to end, and these developers should be commended for that feat.