Vignettes: You spin me right round baby right round

Vignettes is a game that expects you to take a unique perspective on things to win. But will gamers be comfortable adjusting their view-point?

All my life I’ve been told to not look at things funny. I have a condition where my natural resting face always looks slightly like I’m ready to start a fight. It’s gotten me into trouble before. Often when I’m day-dreaming away in idle space whilst accidentally staring in the direction of the biggest biker in the Wetherspoons. Vignettes however requires these two things; looking at something oddly and idling away.

In Vignettes you are presented with an object; a phone, a lamp, a camera, etc. The player must rotate said object so that from a certain angle it transforms into another object. For example looking at book from on particular side may transform it suddenly into a picture frame.

Their are six “worlds” in the game that must be unlocked by interacting with an object in a specific manner. Within each world the player is presented with a path to follow showing potential objects that still have to unlock. Find all the objects on the paths and bada-bing you have completed that world.

Vignettes contain absolutely no text bar it’s own title. The game starts with a tutorial summarising the overall mechanics of the game, and then you as the player are left to your own devices to work out what to do next. In it’s nature the game is aiming to be an experimental experience for the player. Even the menu systems require exploration to understand their purpose. The player has to feel their way along. Vignettes manner of doing things in this way can a first be both fascinating and exhausting.

The player starts the game at a million miles an hour. Objects are ‘appearing’ with ease and it’s exciting to find the next phase in the games path. But once a path is blocked the game descends into exhaustion. The player will hit a wall where they are left spinning an object randomly until it decides to reveal it’s next phase in transformation.

When the player hits the end of their ‘path’ is when things turn frustrating. To proceed the player must go backwards to previous objects repeating their steps. Ironically for a game built on playful experimenting the player has to back track a lot. Their are some shortcuts buried within non-descriptive menus, but these are only starting points.

So the situation is this; the player has an object that they know has another secret to unlock. After spinning the object for five minutes they decide to go down another path. But this may involve turning that phone back into a book, then back into a lamp, then back into a pot, and back into a guitar. It’s simply frustrating and the pay-off quickly becomes dwarfed by the effort involved.

The second halt in gameplay is when an object won’t reveal it’s secrets. The player is informed that their is still an elusive ‘?’ on an object to unlock but given no real clue or idea as to what the object will be. This results in spinning the stubborn object until it’s twirling like a ballerina on a tea-cup ride.

The selling point of the game, experimenting and exploring, quickly becomes a frustration. The design of the game doesn’t ease this either. In stead it adds on extra layers of design to complicate matters further. For example some objects may require a pre-requisite action to be unlocked. Maybe you have to have made a note of a clue from a totally different object you are yet to discover. And the player is never told “hey you definitely won’t be able to actually unlock this one yet as you haven’t found the top-hat yet”. They are instead left to toil against an unlockable object.

Finally came the bugs. As shown in the image below I had one instance where a page appeared through a book. This prevented being able to progress to the next stage. I had to reload a different object just to be able to get back on the right path. I’m normally pretty forgiving on bugs in games, but when an issue fundamentally blocked my progression I felt it necessary to flag in this review. It was one of a few issues noticed with objects in the game.

And it’s with this example of a bug that summarisesVignettes overall. The concept is unique, interesting, and exhilarating. The moments where you’ll be blitzing through objects, exploring the paths to take, experimenting with objects, and unlocking trinkets is great fun. These moments deliver on what the Vignettes; an experimental play-thing designed to enthralled by drip-feeding it’s secrets. But due to confusing progression, difficulty spikes, and confusing Vignettes ends up more a rubiks cube than a pop-up book.