Today another guest writer brings their signature style to GamEir. Here’s Dylan Magner’s review for Expand, enjoy.
More often than not in the world of console gaming the hardware is defined and evaluated by the software. Primitive consoles like the Super Nintendo compensate for their relative limitations thanks to a strong back catalogue which make the most of and, in most cases, suit the antiquated technology. Conversely, powerhouses like the PS Vita are held back by a lacklustre selection of games which makes its technological brilliance redundant. Expand is, however, one of the instances where a game’s quality is hindered by the platform on which it is presented. Fundamentally, Expand is a perfectly functional, entertaining puzzle game. The concept is simple, you play as a pink square who must traverse through four (somewhat) different levels in order to locate four missing pieces of a circle at the centre of the elaborate labyrinth in which the game is set, which expands and contorts as you move within it.
Throughout the four sections of the game, all of which are circular in nature, you encounter obstacles which can either kill you – or really just run into you and send you back to an earlier checkpoint – or block your passage, preventing you from progressing any further. There are only two ways in which you can die: being crushed by black projectiles which move throughout the level trapping you between themselves and the levels walls, or hitting into red spaces which kill you instantly – these range from walls which you have to gingerly move between like a game of virtual operation, to expanding red fire circles which engulf certain parts of a level, including you, if you don’t make it through them fast enough.
However it’s the levels shifting environments which make up the title’s most interesting gameplay element. Moving within the games various sections contorts the area in which you find yourself, increasing or decreasing the size and speed of the square that you navigate while also shifting your perspective. This can also cut off your periphery in certain sections as well as increasing the size and speed of oncoming projectiles, making parts of the game more challenging while, in the process, adding an extra element of interest to what is a rather simple game which offers little else beneath the surface. While it never fully compensates for its graphical or gameplay limitations, it momentarily veils them with said perspective changing and some really clever moments: For example, when you die, you respawn at one of the various checkpoints littered around each section.
As previously mentioned, these sections all utilise a similar circular outer structure and when you respawn the entire level shifts 90 degrees in either direction, meaning that if you fail a section three times or more, you will get to attempt it from four different perspectives – north, south, east, and west, essentially. It’s a brilliant touch and is indicative of what Expand is like at its creative best, as it can be genuinely fascinating to see and feel how one part of the game is easier to navigate from, say, a top-down southern perspective than it is from a lateral eastern one. One more word of praise before we take a critical look at Expand’s weaknesses is its soundtrack, which is far and away the games primary strength. A minimalist score made up of sweet piano melodies and arpeggios which underpin sweeping, emotive strings, its an absolute triumph, bringing to mind film composers like Thomas Newman, and not only enhance the game but, in the end, go on to define it and keep you playing even when the games initial premise becomes dull and repetitive.
Expands biggest flaw has little to do with the game itself, but the console on which it appears. This is unfortunate and may seem a little unfair, but it is an unavoidable criticism. Expand is a game which is tailor-made for a handheld console, with its visual minimalism and simplistic gameplay, it simply doesn’t translate that well on the big screen and its stripped back presentation and execution are blatantly transparent on a powerful current-gen home console. This is especially galling when compared games of a similar ilk available on PS4: puzzlers like Portal and Limbo use innovative gameplay mechanics and complex level design expand upon a genre generally known for its simplicity, while independent titles such as Journey and Everybody’s Gone To The Rapture use stunning visuals and engrossing narratives to drive them along and engross the player. The fact is that Expand is too fundamentally repetitive, its four sections too similar and lacking in variety, to stack up against any of the aforementioned titles and keep the player completely engaged from start to finish.
Expand is not necessarily a bad game, and it plays perfectly fine for what it is, it just looks ordinary when compared to other titles on the console, even those of a similar price and length. On a handheld console like the Vita or a mobile device, Expand could easily shine and warrant a higher score. Its strengths – the truly excellent score and shifting perspective – mean it could potentially be worth the price of admission if you’re looking for something a bit different – even though it grows stale the more you play it – but there just happens to be a litany of titles more worthy of your time and money.
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