Sometimes we as gamers need a break from shooting an endless onslaught of devious aliens or from saving a vast fantastical world for the thousandth time. Puzzle games can serve as great solutions in those times of need. Zenge is a short but satisfying puzzler developed by Michal Pawlowski with Hamster on Coke games that really fits the ticket. I played through Zenge on my Switch OLED in handheld mode for this review.
Zenge is presented as a very relaxing package. “Less is more” is the clear design philosophy here with the player being introduced to the game’s mechanics without any words direction. Credit is due to the developer for being able to incorporate mechanics that grow in a way that is not too complex that it results in the player feeling frustrated while at the same time not being too simple that the player loses interest. The minimalist design of the gameplay paired with the soothing ambient soundtrack results in nothing less than a relaxing and brain-engaging experience.
I mostly utilized touch controls for my entire play-through of Zenge, and it is clear that this is the preferred way to interact with the puzzles from a developmental standpoint. Though there is a way to use standard controls in this game I was not able to successfully utilize them effectively. This unfortunately limits how the game can be played on the Switch making it really only playable in handheld mode with the touch screen. Seeing how strongly the game utilizes touch, I was not surprised to find that Zenge is offered on other platforms such as on smartphone app stores. This makes complete sense after playing through the game as it is essentially the perfect “time-killer” when you have a couple of minutes here or there and want to knock out a puzzle or two. The smartphone form factor and use case would be the ideal one in my opinion for this game.
The minimalist design philosophy is the foundation of every aspect of Zenge, and the graphical and artistic presentation is no exception. After every puzzle is completed, the player is shown a beautifully hand drawn piece that is supposed to communicate the next part of the story. Beautiful saturated colors and sharp simple designs add to the experience through every step in the game.
According to the game description, Zenge tells “the story of Eon – a lonely journeyman who’s stuck between the worlds and time.” Knowing the minimalist nature of this title, I was curious to see how the story would be communicated with the lack of words and prose. It is well founded that a significant portion of the effectiveness of human communication actually stems from non-verbal means as opposed to verbal. Pixar animation studios’ short stories are fantastic examples of this where you as the viewer are able to understand a complete character and story arc over the course of five or so minutes without one word being spoken. It is very possible to communicate effectively with few or no words.
Zenge’s story mostly hits this mark, though at the end it was not 100% clear what the story actually was that the game was trying to convey. There is an element of the tension between good and evil mixed with the idea of love being shown through the intentional effort of understanding despite one’s differences that exist in the story here and there, but nothing clear enough to glean anything satisfying from it. The story experience is more akin to observing and appreciating the art, which though beautifully done, is not the strongest aspect of Zenge.
In contrast, the soundtrack is one of the strongest aspects of this puzzler. I have a strong affinity towards ambient/lo-fi tracks, so having these calming sounds as a background added to the overall atmosphere of the game. One complaint though is that once you approach the one hour mark, the soundtrack begins to loop as the available tracks start to repeat. More variety here would have been appreciated, though it is also understandable considering the overall length of the game.
Unfortunately, replay value is not very high with Zenge. Once you finish the last puzzle, the game essentially rolls its credits and puts you right back to puzzle #1, which starts the whole process over again. There is a gallery where you can view the artwork of all of the completed puzzles, so there isn’t much motivation to start over from the beginning once the game has been completed. One consideration though is that there are a large enough quantity of puzzles that it would be difficult to remember the solution to every single one, making for some possible short puzzle sessions even after fully completing the game.
Zenge was an enjoyable and relaxing experience that was a great change of pace from some of the other larger titles I have been playing through. Though relaxing it is still very much engaging, and at times I found myself exclaiming a satisfying “YES!” as I found the solution to a puzzle that just a few minutes earlier seemed too complex to solve. That is the addictive nature of puzzle games, and Zenge can easily join in that same company. Though the Switch might not be the best platform to experience this game on, I would suggest you should decide which platform would suit you best and pick up this game if you need a relaxing and satisfying gaming break like I did.