Circulous review
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Circulous review

Our Review by Campbell Bird on August 14th, 2020
Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar :: SO FAR SO GOOD
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Circulous is an episodic narrative puzzle adventure that’s off to a promising start.

Developer: Chain Reaction Games
Price: $4.99
Version: 1.1.1
App Reviewed on: iPad Pro

Graphics/Sound Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar
User Interface Rating: starstarstarstarstar
Gameplay Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar
Replay Value Rating: starstarstarhalfstarblankstar

Overall Rating: starstarstarstarblankstar

Circulous is a narrative puzzle adventure from Chain Reaction Games, the creators of games like The Company Game and Solisquare. It follows the story of Amanda Trouser, a woman who has just lost her job. In her search to make ends meet, she stumbles upon a job offer that unveils a strange and intriguing mystery that you learn more about as you solve a variety of environmental puzzles. Circulous may be an episodic title, but in this first episode it offers up enough unique puzzles wrapped in a surprisingly smart interface that makes me excited for the next chapter to drop.

Focused fiddling

In the world of Circulous, you view the world through Amanda's eyes, and from this perspective you experience both the game's story and solve its puzzles. You have very little control over Amanda's movements, but most of the time the game places you directly in front of the thing you're supposed to be looking at the given moment. As an example, one of the first puzzles in the game invovles you packing up your things to leave your job, and the game automatically places in your view the box and the things that go in it, which you have to arrange to complete a jigsaw-like challenge.

I say all of this intentionally because there is a large contingent of first-person puzzle games out on mobile that focus on environment exploration and traversal in a way that Circulous specifically does not. Most notable of these games are The Room series and its derivatives. Unlike these titles, there is almost not wandering around in Circulous. Everything is very focused on a mostly linear set of puzzles that are put right in front of you.

Computer, enhance

Just because you can’t move around doesn’t mean you don’t have options when it comes to your puzzle-solving approach. At any point while playing Circulous, Amanda can whip out her computer, which she can use to reference important information gathered along the journey, trade messages with other characters, and even get some hints if the particular puzzle at hand is a little too difficult.

The interface of this computer is super slick and mimics the way your phone or tablet operates, and it's so useful for keeping things organized and referencing information that I hope to see some version of it crop up in future puzzle adventure games. This feature really makes Circulous stand out, both in terms of how it feels and how it allows the entire game to flow logically without forcing you to backtrack or bounce around various locations.

Bespoke befuddlement

As far as the story goes, there's not a whole lot to say. Part of this has to do with the fact that Circulous is only in its first chapter. It also doesn't help that the plot so far is pretty boilerplate. Even if the story beats remain conventional, though, I'll have a good time with as long as the game maintains its pacing and varied puzzle design.

The only thing I don't love so much about Circulous is that some of its puzzles are a little obtuse at the outset. In the back half of the first chapter, there were numerous times where I was able to correctly identify the things in my view that were key to solving a puzzle, but the ways I was supposed to use them or the effects of interacting with them weren't totally clear, even after some experimentation. Thankfully, Amanda's laptop could serve up hints to set me on the right path, though I wish I didn't have to seek them out as much as I did.

The bottom line

Even with access to only one chapter, Circulous is well worth its asking price (it's also worth noting that subsequent chapters are scheduled to release monthly for free). Despite my personal troubles with some of it, I enjoyed enough of Circulous's clever puzzles, focused design, and immactulate attention-to-detail to come away from the experience satisfied and eager for what comes next.

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