Brendon Chung, the one-man powerhouse that makes up the entirety of Blendo Games studio, is back at it again with another amazing experience: Quadrilateral Cowboy.
Following the aesthetics of both Gravity Bone and Thirty Flights of Loving, QC takes place in their same world full of block characters voiced by Peanuts’ adults. And just like the prior two, QC feels like a Wes Anderson movie in game form. Hipster vibes are screaming from the eclectic soundtrack with tracks from the 1910’s-1920’s, the minimalistic, yet beautiful, character and world design, the mysteriously covert story that you know is fleshed out completely somewhere... but this is where QC starts to depart from its predecessors. Gravity Bone takes about 5 minutes to complete; Thirty Flights of Loving takes 15 minutes, give or take; Quadrilateral Cowboy takes <sp>hours</sp> to complete, and I’ve been enjoying every second. But enough of my rambling, what’s QC like? Here’s the introductory sequence:
As your hover-cycle alights, you dismount at your destination, a moving train which contains a specific part you and your company require to finish the job. Locked doors are easily bypassed by your technological know-how. Simple hacking through a direct connection with the data jack opens any and all doors, windows, or skylights in your way. You arrive at the glass-enclosed container which contains the missing piece. Once secured, you rush back and escape into the night, ready to begin a new job. Ready to make more money. Ready for more challenges.
Quadrilateral Cowboy begins deceivingly simply enough, but soon becomes more and more complicated as you and your team complete more missions, earning more cash with which to purchase more equipment to complete even bigger missions with larger amounts of cash, but how much is enough? Simple one-lined inputs become structured computer syntax with multiple devices executing code all at once. I didn’t start QC thinking of myself as a programmer, and much less hacker, but after playing, I feel I have a much better grasp of what it means to be one and what all is involved. Simply typing door8.open(3); wait (2); camera2.off(3), hitting execute, and watching those lines make actual change in my environment so I can complete the objective sounds extremely dull, but in practice is amazing! Each job is made up of three main missions, each one building on the former’s lessons to reach the next objective. This makes the pacing of everything predictable, but manageable, which is important as you’ll need to know exactly what each tool does and how to use them, as you’ll have plenty of gadgets at your disposal for the final missions. Yes, instead of skimping out on much of the action, QC lets you experience each heist, something GB or TFoL only teased. Needless to say, my time with QC has been a non-stop joy fest. Typing out a code to be executed at specific timings, setting up gadgets to activate at a specific blink of the eye, watching everything occur in real time to solve that puzzle that you’ve been analyzing so long it shows up in your dreams… That’s the mark of a truly inspired and revolutionary game, which is exactly what Quadrilateral Cowboy is.
Bypassing systems in video games always felt just like that: bypassing a system in a video game.
QC proves that simple connect the dot or color match mini-games are not only oddly out of place, but entirely unnecessary when the player can be taught realistic solutions that work logically. Why would I play Pipe Dreams to open a door, when I can instruct a bot to do so with a few commands? Perhaps your concern is that pulling out a laptop and typing commands breaks up the action or slows the overall pace, but never once was that a problem in my playthrough. Many missions can be completed within a minute if you understand the concepts involved and know the best routes. For instance: One mission required me to open a door with a device that can only keep it open for one minute. Once opened, I entered the building, climbed a spiral staircase, entered the vent shaft, pulled a lever to call the elevator up, jumped down the elevator shaft, set up a briefcase rifle in the vents to shoot a specific button when I blink, blinked, entered said chamber, and downloaded the data to finish the mission, all with ~30 seconds left on my door timer. Tell me where the lag in the action was? Tell me how a cute mini-game would’ve fit into this picture of an agent breaking into a facility? Tell me why this hasn’t been implemented sooner?
My resonance with QC expresses my desire for more titles to challenge the player with logical puzzles, and this is exactly why I love this game. QC is an aesthetically pleasing title with a complimentary color palette painted over beautifully simple designs for everything from compact laptops to soda can shaped robots. It has an enthralling story with fascinating twists, quiet yet powerfully moving pictures, and gameplay that keeps the player involved completely, never sacrificing its difficulty so one constantly flexes their mental muscles. This is why I love QC.
But, perhaps you don’t think the same way I do. Maybe you don’t like banging your head against puzzles. That’s alright because QC is also very accessible. From the start, you can select Tourist Mode, where all doors are unlocked, and you can experience the title simply for its story. Too easy? Only having difficulty with one specific puzzle? Press F1 to activate No Clip Mode and walls mean nothing. Some later puzzles are also entirely skippable from HQ with just the press of a button if you would rather return to it later. Speaking of options, QC also has a Developer Commentary mode where you can play with floating ?’s that, once activated, gives you some insight into the thought process that went into different design decisions, something I find particularly interesting.
Overall, Quadrilateral Cowboy is an exciting, thought-provoking experience that challenges a player’s mental fortitude with new ways of thinking required to pass through unique barriers. The end result is the same, but everyone’s own thought process creates multiple, imaginative solutions. An intriguing story, timed missions, and learning new tricks to solve older scenarios help increase the replayability significantly. As a whole, QC builds on and surpasses Blendo Games’ previous titles in this world. I’m interested to see if this is the end of a trilogy or the start of something much larger.