Youropa opens in a dramatic fashion with the world turning upside down. But after that big bang opening, you’re dropped into an oddly silent world full of floating blocks and platforms, mysterious doors and very little guidance.
In Youropa, you take on the role of a short, nameless humanoid creature with a big bobblehead and suction cups for feet. Early on, you are dunked with paint and also given the opportunity to add some features on to your blank body. The paint acts as your health/life meter, depleting to reveal your plain white self if you get injured or fall off the level.
The game revolves around environmental puzzles, exploration and experimentation. Each stage is a puzzle, with a path to traverse, collectables to find and secrets to discover. The twist is that your character, with its little suction cup feet, can walk up walls and on ceilings.
It’s not always that simple and the game has a minimal tutorial, leaving you to figure out the base rules for yourself. One of the main rules is that you can only transition between floors/walls/ceilings using curved surfaces – which means that you can only transition at certain carefully designated points in the level. Another big main rule is that gravity is still in effect, so if you do indeed try to jump between different surfaces you will fall down into the abyss instead of sticking. As you become more familiar with the laws of the puzzles, your eyes adjust and you start to see transition points and solutions, although of course, those solutions become more difficult and complicated as you go on.
It’s perspective puzzling – thinking in portals if you will. Your ultimate goal for each level is to find and open the door which leads to the next level, although how you go about doing that will vary. Sometimes it’s not as straightforward – there might be multiple switches to press, a roundabout route to work out, an additional puzzle to solve, a tempting-looking door that might lead to somewhere new, and enemies as well to throw a spanner in your works. On top of this, add in some occasions where you have to rotate the stage in order to see the situation from a different angle and find the solution to something which had previously felt obscure – one early example involves rotating the stage to see a pattern of lights that needs to be replicated elsewhere in the level in order to progress.
Like most puzzlers, you can be straightforward and simply gear towards progressing through the levels. However, the real challenge is in trying to find all of the collectables. For those who like that kind of challenge, it is absolutely there, and although oftentimes the solutions involve just looking closely for transition surfaces you might have missed, later puzzles really push your thinking. There are particularly clever sections that make use of the ‘paint is your lifeline’ mechanic’. However, because of the lack of guidance (and I’m not saying that this is necessarily a bad thing), you will mostly rely on trial and error and it can be frustrating because sometimes it’s not always clear whether the solution lies in front of you and you just can’t see it, or whether the solution relies on a mechanic that hasn’t yet been opened up to you.
Although the experience of playing Youropa was mostly good (bar some motion sickness in my case), one of the biggest problems I encountered involved attempting to wrestle with the camera. Since the game relies so heavily on being able to change your perspective, this was very disappointing and frustrating because there were times when the camera would zoom in far too much and get stuck that way, or zoom all the way out to show the whole level in one screen instead of allowing me to focus or zoom in on a particular part of the level some distance away from my character. While I did encounter other bugs, like being stuck in walls or in blocks, these were minor compared to what I think is a fundamental flaw.
Youropa also has an odd feeling about it. On paper, it sounds interesting and rouses curiosity. In practice, odd pacing, a temperamental camera, a juxtaposition of beautiful backgrounds and landscapes with a strangely generic look and feel to what’s right in front of you, and enemies that aren’t really threats makes for an odd experience. The visual design lacks the consistent minimalist but beautiful visual landscape of The Witness, or the humour and interest in the details of Portal, or the novelty and tight pixel work of Fez. The game features characters in the form of yappy dog-like enemies or big hulking thugs you have to defeat (never really difficult to do so), but they are as generic and indistinct as your own blank character (at least until you slap a layer of paint on it). It’s hard to explain this strange feeling of a puzzler which makes steps towards individuality in its look and feel but never quite hits the mark.
Some players may find appeal in Youropa’s customisation and sandbox possibilities. There is, for example, a paint shop where you can decorate your character in the way you like it, googly eyes and all. There is also a level creator which gives you access to exactly the same tools and pieces as the developers. If you like to create your own puzzles, this is a fun prospect, although the more cynical player might see this as a tack-on to a game which in general, may struggle to set out its own identity within an already crowded space.