“Mirror, mirror, on the wall – help me move this shiny ball”.
Now that I’ve got that phrase out of my system (it’s been a long couple of weeks), let’s take a closer look at Mirror Drop: a puzzle game with a twist, a turn, and several extra dimensions.
Creator Ian Lilley describes it as “an overwhelmingly psychedelic 3D puzzle game”, and as far as I’m concerned, that’s a perfect description — although you might want to throw the word “confusing” in there for good measure.
But don’t worry. It’s the good kind of confusing!
Like many great puzzle games, Mirror Drop’s rules and systems unfold slowly, with you just one tantalising step behind. But unlike most puzzle games, this one takes place in a kaleidoscopic, beautifully disorienting world of shifting geometry, eye-searing colours and endless mirrors.
while Mirror Drop does go out of its way to disorient you, there’s substantially more to this smart little puzzler
Let’s be honest: with this game, the visuals are the first thing you notice. The dizzying landscapes had me braced for a challenge right from the start. But while Mirror Drop does go out of its way to disorient you, there’s substantially more to this smart little puzzler.
Initially, you’re thrown in with little guidance. There’s no plot, no narration, and no text overlay telling you what to do. You simply take control of a first-person camera with six degrees of freedom, floating and rotating in 3D space – and your first task is to figure out what the hell’s going on.
Without spoiling too much, it soon turns out to be a game of gravity manipulation. Every level contains a floating mirrored ball, and by changing the room’s gravity, you can send it careening around the level in unexpected directions – sort of like the world’s most unfair pinball table.
Your goal in each level is to manoeuvre this shiny ball into three different floating blobs in turn. Once you’ve collected each blob, you simply need to track down a (somewhat) hidden exit and it’s off to the next stage.
After a success or two on the first level, I thought “hey, I’ve got this”. The core mechanics are, indeed, simple. But of course, there’s a twist.
Picking up a floating blob invariably causes some sort of change in the landscape. Colours shift and intensify, reflections multiply in odd directions, and the perspective bends in strange, non-Euclidean ways. Once again, the challenge is figuring out where you are!
Now, I’m no great fan of mazes in games. But while Mirror Drop does disorient you, the game strikes a careful balance between challenging environments and good, old-fashioned puzzle mechanics.
I know I’m in the presence of a great puzzle game when it skilfully and gradually expands its “language”, testing your boundaries with new situations that push familiar mechanics in unexpected directions.
At times, of course, this involves getting stuck. But there’s also the “aha” moment, when your patience is rewarded, the penny drops and you finally understand a rule or mechanic you’ve been figuring out by intuition.
For me – and I suspect for most puzzle fans – this feeling is almost as thrilling as actually finishing a difficult puzzle. And thankfully, Mirror Drop has that feeling in spades.
And there’s more. Alongside those highlights of puzzling brilliance, there were simply moments where the graphics shifted in such a way that I was awestruck by the game’s beauty, or its scale, or its incredible colours.
Its raytraced graphics engine renders beautifully smooth curves and spheres, with not a hint of a polygon in sight. Combined with the saturated, vivid colour palettes, the game has an alien intensity that’s strange and compelling even in screenshots – and in motion, it’s downright hypnotic.
As a devoted (if not particularly talented) fan of puzzle games, Mirror Drop was a true pleasure. But there are definitely a few caveats.
If you like your puzzles wrapped in a story, delivered by a cast of affectionate characters or served up with philosophical quotes and videos, you’ll probably want to look elsewhere. This game is thoroughly abstract.
Beyond that, some players will surely find the environments too confusing, frustrating or headache-inducing to navigate. For me, the balance was just right, but anyone who’s prone to motion sickness in games should definitely steer clear.
But if you’re a patient puzzlenaut who’s up for a challenge and doesn’t mind heading to the outer limits to find it, Mirror Drop comes highly recommended.
One last thing: if you’re on the fence, you can download Mirror Drop entirely free from developer Ian Lilley’s website. But if you like it, do fork out the £5.79 for the Steam version. This is a brilliantly creative little game and it deserves your support.