by William Thompson
reviewed on PC
The first thing you notice about Expand are the simple, yet clear minimalist visuals. You start with a small pink square within a white maze-like structure on a black background. And apart from a few added colours later on in the game, that’s all there is to it. It looks rather dull, but it is the simple yet effective gameplay that drew me in. The aim of Expand is to guide the aforementioned pink square (who I affectionately called Pinky) through the series of circular mazes. Sounds simple, and it is early on, but the mazes become tougher and various obstacles are placed in your path to prevent you from reaching an exit.
Although the aim in Expand is to guide Pinky through the mazes, there is somewhat of a puzzle element as you work your way through. Certain areas require buttons to be pressed in order for ‘doors’ to be opened up. Most levels rotate as you travel through them, some contain moving barriers that squash Pinky, and some levels contain red walls that kill the moment Pinky touches them. Many of the levels also have expanding (hence the title) mazes that zoom in and out as you travel through them, adding some dimension to the game. The circular mazes are nearly always moving, giving each level a dynamic appearance. That said though, there is a pattern to each of them, so working out the pattern is half the trick. The other half is to actually navigate through the labyrinths.
Most of the levels have multiple checkpoints which does ease any frustration. Having so many checkpoints means that you won’t have to repeatedly go through some of the longer stages from the start – although there was one stage that does require completing without any checkpoints that I started getting frustrated with. It could be said that the number of checkpoints could make Expand easier than necessary, but I found that not having to repeat an entire level makes for a less aggravating experience.
Prior to playing, the game does encourage you to use a game controller and a set of headphones for optimal performance. And I’ll reiterate that here...don’t play with a keyboard unless you are some sort of sadistic person with an immunity to frustration. The keyboard controls do work, but it is ten times as difficult to navigate your way through the mazes. The gamepad does work remarkably well though, and is wonderfully responsive. It was only through my own failure that I wasn’t able to guide Pinky through the labyrinth without having to restart. Control is purely through the left thumbstick on the controller as you move the little pink square around.
The wonderfully composed musical score does an amazing job. For me, it had a calming effect that seemed to nullify any frustration I was having with the game. There were definitely times when I died (through my own incompetence) on multiple occasions on a particular level and would have thrown the controller out the window if the music hadn’t kept me so relaxed. And combined with some of the level designs, could almost put someone in a hypnotic state.
The only issue I had with Expand occurs when your die and return to the last checkpoint. When this happens, the camera angle rotates slightly around the circular maze. Normally, this isn’t a problem, but on some of the levels, the angle makes it difficult to see the patterns emerging and limits your vision. But as many of the levels, especially later on, use a revolving maze, this doesn’t occur all that often.
Pink square in a round hole
For a somewhat monochromic looking game that only has you moving a pink geometric shape through a series of concentric mazes, Expand is highly addictive. Indeed, the basic visuals work extremely well with the puzzle nature of the game, allowing the player to focus on the task at hand – getting the square to the exit. The level design challenges you to find a path through all the hazards to the clearing at the end of the level. And, there is enough variation in the maze designs to keep things interesting throughout the game. The controls are smooth (on a controller) and it is usually only an error on the user’s part that results in having to repeat a section of the level. And I cannot speak highly enough of how the music is used to produce a sense of relaxation as you guide your pink square through to the exit. Just like the game mentions a controller and headphones, Expand is highly recommended.
Lovely serene music, wonderful level design
Minimalist visuals, keyboard controls