Adventure Gamers Awards
I didn’t know what to expect when I first booted up Golem, other than perhaps a quirky puzzle-platformer with a golem buddy. Instead, what I found was a somewhat Journey-esque side-scrolling adventure about a friendship forged between human and rock creature that deeply affected me even after I was done playing. This is, in short, a beautiful visual and auditory experience, coupled with clever and ever-changing (if not overly challenging) puzzles throughout a simple yet endearing story, all done without a single word of dialogue.
The tale begins with a series of beautifully drawn stills about a nameless young girl leaving home to fetch water for her family, as the bridge that normally carries it into the city has long been broken. She explores the base of a nearby tower that was once the source of water but finds only small reserves inside. Upon reaching her hand into a puddle, she triggers a glowing core that turns out to be a golem. Murals light up as the golem activates, revealing that if she can reach the top of this mysterious tower (with the golem’s help), it will begin sending water back to the city as it once did.
In less than a minute, the player already knows their overall objective and has a vague introduction to the golem, who has an obvious but undefined connection to the tower. In a game like this, simplicity works best, as it’s not so much about the end goal but what this unlikely duo must do to get there. The rest of the story, including the origin of the tower itself, is told organically through more murals along the way that glow when your golem gets close enough to them, blending story and gameplay together seamlessly.
The gameplay is easy to pick up, but its puzzles are a bit harder to master. The controls are basic enough, with most things done with the left mouse button, like clicking where you want the young girl to move, pulling levers, telling the golem to stay put or follow, and a few more actions as you progress. The WASD keys move the camera around a 2.5D plane, while the scroll wheel zooms in and out. Just as importantly, the ability to switch camera focus between characters is done via buttons in the bottom corner of the screen. The spacebar doubles your movement speed, which is a lifesaver during the more sprawling levels where you’ll be backtracking a lot, which can feel like a chore at times.
Golem also has gamepad support, which uses two face buttons for selecting where to move, one for separating and walking with your golem, and another to enter doors/use levers. The left stick moves both the camera and cursor simultaneously, right is for zooming, the bumpers can switch focus between the girl and golem, and the triggers are used for the fast-forward function. Both schemes work great, but the mouse and keyboard option is better as it simplifies all the different contextual actions into just a single button.
The puzzles themselves will have the duo climb, push, pull, swing and occasionally jump through a number of physics-based environmental obstacles as they ascend the tower. Platforming exists only in the loosest sense of the word, as you can never do anything that would kill your character. If a pit is too large, they won’t jump, but if it’s a tiny gap, they’ll do it automatically.
None of the puzzles feels out of place, as a lot of what you end up doing reactivates different parts of the tower, whether opening the flaps to a wind generator, re-focusing a series of mirrors to reflect sunlight towards a large glass container to boil and purify water, or generally just clearing out rubble. A lot of situations boil down to getting both characters to the same place, since each can do certain things the other can’t – the girl can climb vines and rope while the golem is too heavy, but in one of its early forms the golem can make large jumps that the girl cannot, so working in tandem becomes key.
One element that keeps the gameplay fresh is the discovery of majestic, glowing wells that’ll basically upgrade – or evolve, even – the golem into an entirely new state. These changes are a great way to visually show the ever-growing bond of friendship between the girl and golem, as the creature gains more human-like features the more they accomplish together. But they are also functional, giving the golem new powers to confront further challenges on the path ahead, like the ability to climb up the architecture, or even move stone with telekinesis. The more complex the golem grows, the more complex the puzzles become. Rather than having an increasing arsenal of abilities to choose from, however, each new form the golem takes is permanent until the next, and the puzzles will shift focus accordingly until the next well is found.
The level layouts are usually straightforward, the only real difficulty being the stages where you have to solve separate major puzzles in multiple interconnected areas (indicated by a segmented diamond symbol at the top of the screen, with each part lighting up as you solve its respective area). These levels are noticeably less linear than the others, and it can be easy to get lost or lose track of where you’re going.
While that might seem daunting, the actual challenges aren’t incredibly hard to solve by any means. The best idea is to always look around for a climbable rope, a door to walk through or a lever to pull to effect one change or another. Zooming out the camera can be helpful while solving a puzzle, but if you keep it zoomed out all the time the interactive elements might seem to blend into the background on occasion. Thankfully, anything you can interact with will display a glowing blue outline when you mouse over it.Continued on the next page...