Luca Redwood is responsible for the mobile hits 10000000 and You Must Build A Boat. Both are addictive, match-three games where players navigate perilous caves and dungeons, fighting skeletons and dragons by sliding rows and columns of items along a puzzle board. Redwood is now hard at work putting the finishing touches on Photographs, a new puzzle game, but this time the focus is story. Photographs is very different from Redwood’s previous projects, but no less engaging. We got a chance to play through a large portion of the game and came away with five reasons you should keep your eye on Photographs.
Unique Narrative Structure
While Photographs is a puzzle game, it ditches the match-three mechanics from Redwood’s previous two releases in favor of delivering a meatier story. Photographs is told over the course of five brief vignettes that follow different characters through traumatic or transformational points in their lives. The first story follows an Alchemist and his granddaughter and opens on them living a quiet life in their wooded home. The girl falls ill, and the Alchemist’s search for a cure becomes an all-consuming obsession. This sorrowful and tragic tone permeates the game’s other four stories to varying degrees.
Impressive Variety in Puzzle Design
Photographs explores five completely unique puzzle types. In The Alchemist, you control two players on a 5x5 grid. Both characters move together, so you must navigate them around various obstacles and traps until they slot into their respective goals. It’s easy enough to get stuck, so thankfully the game has a handy tool to rewind to any previous move you’ve made.
The puzzles themselves are tightly woven through the stories. For example, when the Alchemist’s granddaughter becomes sick from exposure to a poisonous weed, the game’s traditional sliding puzzles change so that players must navigate the girl around carefully placed weeds on the board.
A later story, The Athlete, follows a young girl who is forced to make difficult decisions to stay competitive as a diver. The early puzzles are straightforward; there is a dotted line shooting off your character and you have to adjust the angle of your launch so she’ll land in a pool of water. However, when things get dicey and more competitive in her story, you’re asked to make more complicated ricochet shots that require careful planning. When she still struggles to compete, that’s when her puzzles, and her story, get interesting.
The final game will have a host of different endings depending on choices you make. There are no real choices during the vignettes themselves, but after the five stories are over, you make a series of choices that dictates which ending you’ll see, and then you play through a short epilogue that ties things together. Based on what we played, Photographs does a great job at meshing narrative and game design. We look forward to seeing how the game can play out differently.
The soundtracks in 10000000 and You Must Build A Boat were fun and catchy, but ultimately forgettable. This time, Ben Prunty’s soundtrack is a standout element of the experience, and it brings a dreamy, atmospheric tone that will be familiar to anyone who has heard his work on FTL. I recommend keeping this game on your radar if for no other reason than to listen to some excellent music. I’d also encourage headphones if possible when the game eventually finds its way to mobile devices.
Photographs is structured quite differently from Luca Redwood’s past games with much more attention paid to fleshing out a collection of stories and characters, but at its core it’s still a puzzle game. Whereas Redwood was previously a one-man studio, there are now three people working on this game. It might not sound like a huge team, but with what we’ve seen from Photographs so far, the larger team really shows in the presentation.
Photographs will release for PC, iOS, and Android sometime in 2019. You can read what Luca Redwood had to say about Photographs when Kyle Hilliard interviewed him, and you can watch us play the game in an episode of New Gameplay Today.