Moncage is an emotionally devastating game, but not because of the story it tries to tell. The game asks you to solve puzzles by connecting the violent and the mundane. At first, I was charmed when I used a bicycle pedal to unlock a door. My stomach sagged when I used a trash can to shoot a real pistol. Several puzzles later, I figured I was oblivious to the occasional cruelty. Then I used a campfire to erase a nation from a map. It turns out not.
The entire puzzle takes place in a three-dimensional cube. Each face shows you a different scene, and you can move the camera around the cube and zoom in and out on each one. You “solve” puzzles by changing perspective to “connect” the elements of one face to the elements of another. For example, rotate the camera such makes a striped hammock in the scene of a face blend into the bottom half of a striped canopy in an adjacent face. This knocked the telescope off the hammock from scene to scene, unlocking further interactions.
Moncage is fun to play, and the puzzles are really good at making you feel smart. While the puzzles themselves aren’t overly complicated, they often require creative thinking to connect unrelated objects on a single visual basis. The game begins as a relaxing theoretical exercise. Its index system ensures that playing gambling is never stressful. Which is funny, because the questions he asks the player are not at all light.
Clearly juxtaposing unlikely objects, the gameplay asks: what if a toy could break hearts? What if a battery is a bullet? What if a ship in a bottle was a warship that carried you to foreign shores? I felt satisfied with my own skill when I used a dummy coin to stamp a piece of paper. Moments later, I realized that I had just cleared a military recruiting record for one of the main characters in the story.
Later, in a cube face, I saw a fun fair. In another, I saw the smoldering remains of a nameless war. Moncage slyly connects “game” and “violence” with a subtle grace you won’t find in more explicit war games. After a few hours of playing, I was wary of solving these puzzles. My intentions were playful, but I unlocked the events in ambiguous tragedy. As I manipulated the cube to piece together a photograph of a man and his estranged son, I thought, “I didn’t know. I never wanted all of this to happen. Maybe neither are the characters.
Aside from empty levels and photographs you acquire as you play, the only other clues as to what is going on come from the names attached to the achievements. The blur seems intentional. The fun levels are filled with character and each puzzle is meticulously crafted. Moncage actively rebels against a linear reading of its history by arranging the photographs you collect out of order. Was the ending an alternate timeline? Was it a start? I still don’t know for sure. There is only one correct way to solve each puzzle, but the story itself refuses to be read so easily.
I’m not sure if the game is stronger for taking a kaleidoscopic and fragmented approach to portraying the memories of the characters. Don’t let me put you off seeing for yourself, however. Moncage is still the most fascinating puzzle game I have come across this year.