An Interesting Journey of Monsieur PAF review
Sometimes it’s not possible to devote a large chunk of time to diving deep into a game, but it can be hard to shake the adventuring itch. Fortunately, adventure games come in all shapes and sizes, and indie developer Ernestine’s isometric puzzle-platformer An Interesting Journey of Monsieur PAF is exactly the type of time waster that fits perfectly into those fleeting moments that need filling between life’s hectic demands. Unfortunately, the default controls seriously hold the game back, but if you can get past those, there are some nice environmental challenges contained within.
The titular Monsieur PAF is a brawny guy with a red-brown cap, no shirt, and tight jeans. Unlike most adventure game heroes, his natural inclination is to punch his way through obstacles. He has traveled with an unnamed professor to the Rispaune ruins on an archeological expedition. In the opening cinematic, the professor leans against a wall, causing part of the ancient structure to collapse, separating him from his musclebound assistant. Now PAF has to navigate the ruins on his own and come out the other side to be reunited with his friend.
The world of Monsieur PAF is presented with cute, cartoony graphics from a 3D isometric perspective. You’ll navigate the protagonist through the environments by moving up, down, left, right, or any of the forty-fives in between, relative to the screen. His movement is not solely planar though, as in most rooms he needs to move vertically as well by jumping up narrow pillars or dropping down to lower levels.
Missing a jump doesn’t result in death, as there’s always something down below for PAF to land on before trying again, but I found moving harder than it should be, regardless of whether I was using a game controller or the keyboard (even after a post-launch update meant to alleviate some of the problems). Some of these jumps are right on the limit of his jump distance, such that even the slightest deviation while in midair (yes, PAF can defy physics and alter his jump direction while soaring) will mean a missed landing. With movement tied to the analog stick on a gamepad, it takes only a little wobble to end up in failure. With no options to adjust the sensitivity of the stick or to remap to the discrete directions of the D-pad, this can become quite frustrating. It’s especially so in some of the taller rooms that require long runs of perfectly executed jumps.
The keyboard is little better, as the controls can either be set to move orthogonally or diagonally, but not both at the same time. For example, if you have the controls mapped to the default WASD keys for moving up, left, down, and right, respectively, then moving in a diagonal direction requires pressing two keys simultaneously, which quickly becomes physically straining and tiresome. Fortunately, I was able to use third-party control mapping software to map all eight movement directions to the number pad on my keyboard, something that’s not possible through the game itself. Doing so took this experience from a study in aggravation to a largely enjoyable jaunt through the series of puzzles provided across the Rispaune ruins.
Even once I got the keyboard working well, however, it wasn’t the end of my control troubles. At one point the game stopped responding to my keyboard input at all. It would work fine for the menus, but entering one of the puzzle levels would disable the controls so that it was impossible to return to the menu, much less move and interact. The only option was to task out of the game and force it to quit through Windows. Restarting the game did not correct the keyboard controls, although using a game controller was still an option. Even completely uninstalling and reinstalling the game did not fix the keyboard controls. Ultimately, to keep using the keyboard I had to go to a different computer on which the game had never been installed before. Wondering if I just had bad luck, I consulted the game’s forums looking for a solution, and was relieved to see I wasn’t the only one encountering such keyboard difficulties.
Control issues aside, Monsieur PAF makes good use of the limited actions its protagonist can perform. He can run, jump, punch things, shove things, and pick up crates and rocks to move them or throw them. The ruins in which PAF finds himself trapped are divided into a handful of different temples, each with a central hub area and discrete puzzle rooms branching off of it. Within any given temple, you will need to find a collection of items such as gears spread through the rooms in that location in order to advance to the next. These items are automatically picked up by running or jumping into them, Super Mario-style. While looking for these objects, you will typically have access to multiple areas of the temple, so that if you get stumped on a puzzle in one room you can go to another and work on a different one there. Ultimately, you have to solve all the challenges in each temple to reach the end of the game.
Despite the brawn-over-brains approach of the titular protagonist, there are a good variety of puzzles to solve, and the majority of them are quite well done. In one instance you may have to carefully stack a series of crates to make stairs that you can jump up in order to reach a higher level. In another you may have to push blocking objects – crates, statues, pillars – to form an open path across a room. Yet another requires figuring out how to move blocks past various obstacles onto pressure plates to cause bits of ancient machinery to operate to your advantage.
Many of the puzzle rooms are also augmented by the presence of ancient totems. These are statues that PAF can punch to invoke different mystical abilities. One type of totem allows for the objects in a room to be reset to their original places, while leaving PAF’s own position unchanged. Another totem grants PAF a temporary super-powered punch, letting him bust through large red blocks that he couldn’t otherwise harm. Combined with PAF’s normal abilities, this can lead to some rather complex challenges based on simple and easy-to-understand mechanics. Once you determine what elements you have available in a given room and how they operate, nearly all obstacles can be overcome by careful thought and reasoning. This makes the game’s difficulty feel just right and the solving of its challenges quite rewarding.
Puzzles being localized to individual rooms makes it easy to pick up the game, solve a conundrum, and put it down again. There is no narrative to speak of, so even coming back to it days or weeks later is not a barrier to enjoying Monsieur PAF. This makes the experience perfect for those stray moments when you want to play something without delving in too deep. That said, don’t be surprised if the short length of each room leads to that just-one-more phenomenon that could keep you playing longer than you’d intended. All told, the game took me six hours to complete, but a fair bit of that was spent trying to get a decent control scheme working and agonizing over one poorly clued puzzle in particular, involving the correct placement of four identical pillars, which had me flummoxed far more than anything else. Outside of those issues, I expect I’d have completed the adventure in under four hours.
The entire game is spent within the confines of the ruins. That means a lot of cube-based stone architecture. However, the visuals are livened up with the encroaching jungle poking through occasionally, or with such effects as lava casting red light on the surroundings. It’s an understated art style, but it works well and serves not to distract from the puzzling. Rooms are frequently bigger than can appear on-screen all at once, and automatically scroll with PAF as he moves through them. Available control buttons also allow for the camera to be pushed a little ways from PAF to examine other areas of the scene before returning to the protagonist.
Audio is mostly pared down to the simple sound effects of PAF grunting when he punches things and the scrape of crates, pillars, and rocks being pushed across the ground. The only exceptions are a few basic musical loops that give the proceedings a bit of a jungle vibe. The game features brief introductory and concluding cutscenes, but neither of these are voiced, simply showing what characters say via subtitles.
It’s unfortunate that the out-of-the-box controls for the puzzle-platformer An Interesting Journey of Monsieur PAF are so lacking. If you’re able to find a workable solution to help mitigate the control issues, you’ll find an entertaining time waster inside (waaay better than Solitaire). With no story or characterization, this is a modest little game that places its focus squarely on environmental puzzles and makes things suitably adventurey by staging them in classic jungle-hugged ancient ruins. PAF’s no Indiana Jones, but he’s fun to spend time with all the same.
With such finicky, problematic controls, a bit of third-party key-mapping magic may be your best bet to bring out the fun, colourful, puzzle-solving romp through ancient ruins at the heart of An Interesting Journey of Monsieur PAF.