It’s hard to strike a fine balance when it comes to puzzle games. Often do we see them either leaning towards being too difficult and not innovative enough, or the direct opposite. Fearful Symmetry & the Cursed Prince is a good example of the former, whereas Mystery Castle is a good example of the latter. Samsara attempts to find the middle ground, but inadvertently falls victim to pros and cons from both sides of that field. There’s very little to go on in terms of story, in fact even the premise is light and unfulfilling. The game throws you into the role of Zee, a young girl that’s playing in a park before being distracted by a nearby squirrel.
Curious, Zee follows the squirrel through a nearby portal to a world of echoes, one that’s inhabited by a shadow child. Trapped in what appears to be an endless chain of dangerous realms, Zee and the shadow child must work together to overcome each and every obstacle that stands in their way. How is this achieved? By solving a series of puzzles, of course. Unfortunately this is where the first problem with the game makes itself apparent. The puzzles are far too basic and don’t truly evolve throughout the game. There’s a few moments of innovation here and there, but it’s not consistent enough, which presents a very confused and awkward difficulty curve.
Gameplay follows the same format from beginning to end. The screen is split across the middle, horizontally. The top half of the screen and the bottom half of the screen are similar in design, but depict two versions of reality, one of which is generally more alive than its counterpart. This makes for some interesting visuals, as one half has a slight resemblance to Ori and the Bling Forest, whereas the other half is a more colorful representation. I dare say that the visuals are one of Samsara’s strong points. I was never dissatisfied with the beautiful artwork on offer, it’s always pleasant to witness what each new realm and stage brings to the fold. It helps that there’s a good level variety to soak up too.
The first world serves as a tutorial as such, slowly and surely feeding you into the basics of the game. Zee will traverse across one half of the screen, with several movable objects tucked away in the top right corner. The player is tasked with moving these objects to form a safe pathway for Zee to cross safely over. The kicker here is that each object will also need to fit into place in the opposite reality, which can indeed prove to be tricky at times. However, as aforementioned, the difficulty never really finds a steady line to walk on. Many of the puzzles within can be overcome quite swiftly, which is a shame because the concept is interesting enough to cater for better puzzle development.
That’s not to say that the puzzles in Samsara are completely bland, but often the answer to each is all too obvious. I did enjoy the fact that the movable objects can be placed on either side of the reality, because it opens up more freedom as a result. Many of the objects remain the same across all of the realms, such as wooden stairways or blocks. These can all be rotated in any direction to achieve the correct placement. The aim of each level is to guide Zee to the portal, which is always housed on a singular screen. There’s no movement or transition between screens, you’re given your puzzle, your tools, and you’re free to go as you please. Towards the second half of the game, Samsara becomes more engaging through the use of cleverly added mechanics.
World four, for example, opens up wormholes that allows Zee to momentarily travel to the opposite reality, alongside the shadow girl. This comes in handy for when Zee needs to help her shadow friend overcome an obstacle that isn’t present in her side of the reality, such as fading away decayed vines. It’s moments like this in which Samsara truly shines, but oddly enough these moments are few and far between, seeing as the game doesn’t like to step out of its comfort zone. It would have been nice to see more emphasis and a regular use of these wormholes, or even new additions to work with as Zee progresses, but beggars cannot be choosers, right?
It’s not a bad puzzle game by any means, but it’s just not exciting or innovative enough to remain intriguing. Once you have completed the game, which can take roughly two to three hours to complete, you can play all of the levels over again in reverse order. It’s hardly a rewarding gift, but it will be a great addition for anyone that enjoyed the core experience. The price in return for the content is well set, so even if you come away slightly underwhelmed, it’s not going to have left a hole in your bank account. Hopefully if we see a Samsara 2, the developers spend more time fine-tuning the mechanics and add in some more interesting elements outside of wormholes and reality switching. Samsara has potential, but it’s never really tapped into.
Samsara is just another standard puzzle game that never really evolves throughout the entirety of play. Despite a few interesting mechanics, the lack of innovation is what lets this experience down in the long run. Fans of the genre will most certainly enjoy what’s on offer, and it truly is a visually pleasing journey, but that means very little when there’s just not much of a challenge within.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.