There's a fine line between a game that that revels in artistic merit and one that is stuck up its own arse.
I'm sure no developer sets out to make a game that can easily slip into pretentiousness, but sometimes the end result can miss the initial intention and the message can be lost behind the try hard nature of trying to make a point.
When I started Expand
I instantly worried which side of the fence it would land on. It had all the signs of a game that was screaming "Here's the answer right here, games are art after all."
The combination of minimalistic visuals coupled with the piano-led soundtrack made me think that the team behind it were gently nodding to each other in a wine bar at how they were going to change the world with a computer game while they constantly refreshed their twitter feed in a hope that their mentions would be filled with people thanking them for changing their lives.
I was worried.
As a game, Expand
is as simple as it gets. You control a pink square around a series of circular mazes avoiding red obstacles or being trapped between shifting platforms. Gameplay is so straightforward that it can be played with one hand and never attempts to add new mechanics to complicate things. Instead, the idea is to take this most basic of concepts and push it as far as it can go.
The hook then is within Expand
's constant tinkering of perception. The further you move from the middle of a stage, the quicker things pan out. If you die the whole stage rotates, meaning that you have to readjust your brain to move across the same obstacles coming from a different direction. It's an exercise in keeping you on your toes without asking you to do new things and this simple little trick works incredibly well.
As you progress the game starts to get a lot more challenging and the ideas behind the mechanics start to get more and more ingenious. It's not that the task of getting from A to B ever changes. Nor does what you have to do with your pad to get there. Instead, Expand
seems to come up with more and more interesting ideas to slow you down or kill you.
Then you'll start to pick up the nice touches that dress the experience. The music building with each section, keeping in time with the sliding walls and your movement. You'll need to focus on patterns two or three moves in advance in order to keep up with the game, and as things start to get more complicated, you'll find areas challenging in a way that makes you want to try again and again until you nail it.
Thankfully the checkpointing is generous. Some areas ask you to start all over again but they're rare and somehow manage to feel necessary. For the most part you're only pulled back slightly and can take an instant second, third or tenth attempt in a matter of seconds.
This rips away any barrier that might be between you and the game. You'll be more relaxed knowing that Expand
isn't trying to screw you, it's simply trying to make a point and that's what brings us back to art vs pretention.
If you're going to make a game as stripped back as this with an (admittedly beautiful) piano-based score, you had better be able to back it up with something. Maze puzzles are fine, but don't present them to me like this unless you have a strong point to make. Thankfully Expand
does, and it makes it very well.
The thought I left with after finishing the game is a simple one. Take an idea and refine it. Work on it. Put as much into it as you possibly can and even the most basic thought can develop into something worthwhile.
In terms of concept, there's nothing to Expand
. It doesn't offer anything to play that we haven't already elsewhere. What it does do though is go the extra mile to take something so simple and turn it into something great.
Some may find it a bit dull, some may think it's being a bit too fancy to cover up how simple everything is. But those people can piss off back to their sofa and watch Gogglebox while chomping on a Big Mac and washing it down with a Carling. No Glass.
I, on the other hand will be telling my friends about this over a £15 glass of white wine in a restaurant that you definitely can't get a table at shortly before heading to an art gallery and rubbing my chin until the fucking skin comes off.
+ Full of interesting ideas
+ Takes a simple mechanic and perfects it
- Not for scum
SPOnG Score: 8/10