This coverage is part of ReedPop's EGX Rezzed Digital event, which is live now. For more coverage, head over to the official site
When you think of puzzle games, you probably think of fitting pieces or solving visual riddles on a static screen. Well, it's time to stop thinking like a human. In A Monster's Expedition Through Human Exhibitions by Draknek and friends, you need to think like a monster. You need to solve problems on the go.
A Monster's Expedition describes itself as "an open-world puzzle adventure," and that's not too far off the mark. You put on the knapsack of a faceless monster and push around objects in order to travel from island to island, and the archipelago truly sprawls. One small land mass might have three or four exits. If you can figure out how to cross the water separating each island, you're welcome to wander.
A Monster's Expedition feels refreshingly free, chill, and open for a puzzle game thanks to its refusal to pin you down while you agonize over problems like a student. Better still, it gives you a reason to wander from place to place. As the title suggests, you're travelling around the monster world to examine a natural museum of exhibits related to human culture. Since these exhibits are put together by a civilization that doesn't have a full grasp of our now-extinct human ways, some of the exhibit descriptions are pretty amusing. It's worth hopping around to learn about queue barriers (the "Britainites" loved queues—even the monsters know it now) and astounding velvet ropes that seem to throw up an invisible barrier around art exhibits.
Whoever set up these exhibits isn't too keen on accessibility laws, which is why moving onto each new island requires you to solve block-pushing puzzles-or, more accurately, log-pushing puzzles. There are trees galore in this glorious monster-run future, and you're capable of pushing them over with your bare hands and turning them into impromptu bridges and rafts.
Pushing over a tree so it becomes a log is easy. Positioning that log so that you can use it to cross the water is the tricky part. If you approach a log from its side, you can "walk" it end-over-end, or push it along on a horizontal path. But if you approach a log from its top or bottom, it'll roll until it hits an object or winds up in the water. Most islands offer very little space for your monster pal to maneuver, so pushing fallen logs into their proper place takes considerable forethought. Thankfully, each island offers an undo option that sends you back step-by-step if you make a mistake. You can also reset an island's puzzles with the tap of the "R" button. The slate is wiped clean immediately, and the lack of load time is very appreciated in a game where making mistakes is inevitable.
It's also inevitable you'll get mad at an island and its dumb, stupid trees that refuse to let you turn them into a bridge without struggle. That's when you strike out in another direction and visit an adjacent island. You might find an out-of-the-way exhibit, or the means to build yourself a raft that takes you to a whole new biome and a new set of puzzles. And you don't have to worry about sailing too far into the unknown since there are fast-travel stations that let you visit previous areas. Wherever you go, A Monster's Expedition makes the journey satisfying by pushing back its thick, land-obscuring fog whenever you land on new territory.
Admittedly, all that open space with no hard instructions telling you where to go next makes your journey feel a little aimless. Part of the problem is how, to my knowledge, there is no way to chronicle which exhibits you've seen. There's no journal to go back to, no pop-ups marking your achievements. You travel and you soak up the culture, much like visiting a real museum, I suppose. The ambience in A Monster's Expedition is certainly museum-like. The simple visuals subscribe to a soft, pastel color palette that's easy on the eyes, and the gentle music compels you to strike out just as much as it encourages you to slow down and observe your surroundings when a puzzle has you stumped. (So to speak.)
I generally enjoy puzzle games, but I approach them warily because I'm not a logical thinker. I need time and quiet to solve even simple problems, and it's beyond stressful when a puzzle game traps me within four walls and hangs a counter over my head. But a Monster's Expedition Through Human Exhibitions never forces an answer out of you, and that's it's greatest strength. If you're stuck, simply head in another direction. Maybe you'll come back to your problem area; maybe you'll travel to an entirely new land. It can be aimless to a fault, but it's also a reminder that wandering without rules or goals can be relaxing. Travel wheresoever your logs fall, young monster.