Game Reviews


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| simian.interface
| simian.interface

There's no denying that simian.interface is a stylish game.

It has surreal pixel-art graphics with unsettling '80s vivisection laboratory undertones, a chiptune soundtrack that's by turns playful, nostalgic, and stirring, and its gameplay is unlike anything you've ever experienced before.

Whether or not it's any fun is another matter. In fact, this well-regarded puzzle game from indie developer Vested Interest is not particularly puzzling and it's barely a game.

The fact that it's well-regarded despite these ostensibly crippling limitations tells you everything you need to know about the sort of gamer it's aimed at and whether or not you're likely to enjoy it.

Monkey puzzle

Each stage involves either tilting or swiping at your device to impose order on an array of floating shapes. By way of illustration, the first level sees you bringing a solid white square within the boundary of a white outline.

When you tilt or touch the screen the shapes move in opposite directions, and so the task of bringing them together is complicated by the need to ensure that you're pulling away from the point at which they converge rather than towards.

Fine, you think. That's how the game works. And then it changes. The next stage sees you pulling three nested squares together, but this time they all move in the same direction as your finger or tilt.

Soon after that you're trying to guide three squares into a rectangular outline - it seems impossible until you start experimenting with the controls and realise that a swipe or tilt is all you need to make the squares obediently converge like guided missiles.

Pretty soon you're trying to bring rows and columns of squares together, or to turn a scramble of coloured vertical and horizontal lines into a neat check pattern, or to rotate a cluster of cubes (solid white, so you can't tell if they're turning clockwise or anticlockwise) until it aligns with a shape in the middle of the screen, or to manipulate a mangle of random 3D objects so that they fold themselves neatly into a outline.

Ape-stract expressionism

Every stage is different, and simian.interface constantly introduces new rules and ingredients throughout its short running time. In most cases the goal is clear, or becomes clear after a moment's fidgeting, but a few of the more obscure puzzles require you not only to work out how you're supposed to move the pieces around but also how the screen is supposed to end up looking.

At one point you even have to make what resembles a fragment of a Mondrian painting, which means groping for an arrangement that makes perfect sense to the developer and to abstract art enthusiasts but doesn't conform to a logical pattern in itself.

It doesn't matter, though, because if you don't know what you're aiming for you can generally fumble your way to the solution in a few seconds of random motion anyway. There are only so many places for the answer to hide.

And if you tilt or swipe too far in the wrong direction the corresponding edge of the screen turns red and the game informs you that you've lost focus. This keeps you from sliding, revolving, inverting, or twisting the puzzle pieces into an irretrievably random formation, as well as reminding you that you're playing as a monkey in a lab doing something in the name of evil science.

It also keeps the stages short, and you'll rattle through the entire game in half an hour, pausing between batches of stages to tap on pixellated bananas before being dosed with dopamine.

The apes of wrath

You can't die, and there's no obvious penalty for repeatedly losing focus or just randomly jiggling your iPad until the pieces align. It's conceivable that you could finish simian.interface by strapping your device to a dog and spending a couple of hours playing fetch.

All of which makes it a difficult game to score. You can play simian.interface for free online, and for an unloseable game that you can finish before your dinner gets cold I'm tempted to say free is about the right price.

However, this iOS version does come with tilt controls, what gameplay there is is innovative, and the presentation is inventive and intelligent.

I've given simian.interface a score that acknowledges its aesthetic quality but places the emphasis on how fun it is, which is to say not very. If you're the sort of person who enjoys avant-garde media, and if your enthusiasm can survive on crumbs of gameplay, you should download it anyway.


simian.interface is a stylish and mildly interesting game that will appeal to avant-garde gamers but probably won't satisfy anybody looking for a substantial puzzle game experience
Rob Hearn
Rob Hearn
Having obtained a distinguished education, Rob became Steel Media's managing editor, now he's no longer here though, following a departure in late December 2015.