Platforms PC, Mac, Linux
Genre Adventure Platform Played PC
Publisher/Developer Chris Johnson (designer and programmer), Chris Larkin (composer)
If video games are not already art, then Expand is the reason why they should be classified as such immediately. Despite only using four colours, white, black, red and pink, Expand’s minimalist art style is represented beautifully through smart, awe inspiring level design that remains unique and varied throughout the whole experience.
Expand is a 2D puzzle game that tasks the player with guiding a pink square through various levels, while avoid obstacles. For the most part, it’s not too challenging, but some brain work and on the fly puzzle solving skills will sometimes be required. Thankfully, checkpoints have been placed wonderfully, implementing some penalty for death, but not enough to make it frustrating. After all, Expand places its emphasis on its visuals, sound and level design, so it doesn’t want to make things too frustrating to prevent admiration of its brilliance.
If you’ve ever been to a contemporary art gallery, you’ll be aware of the new forms of art, such as moving art or animated art. Expand could very well be on display as a work of art. The aforementioned minimalistic colour scheme is utilised wonderfully, with each colour representing a different gameplay device. White is where your pink square can move, black represents walls or obstacles, and red signifies death. Little explanation is needed, but the player immediately gets the idea.
From what I can work out, Expand mostly takes place on a single screen. A white dot is constantly in the middle of the screen, acting sort of like a gravitational pull. As the player guides their square around the circle and through the puzzles, past areas are covered by black, then revealing a different layout. The player is literally moving around a circle for most of the game, but the amazing manipulation of shapes to create new levels keeps things feeling fresh and varied. I barely recall seeing the same design more than once during the two to three hours it took to finish the game.
While Expand is a short experience, it is extremely memorable. As with the minimalist colour palette, plot is kept to a minimum too. You are simply told to collect four missing pieces, and yet, there is an emotional atmosphere present. Comparisons can be made to Thomas Was Alone, but Expand manages to create an atmospheric, emotional experience without the use voice over narration or multiple characters. A peaceful, sombre orchestral score plays for most of the journey, occasionally increasing in tempo for faster paced moments. It drew me into the experience, seemingly representing the square’s loneliness, and his desire to escape from the maze.
Even death is fun in Expand. When you die and are returned to a checkpoint the level rotates offering a new perspective to the same puzzle. Even though it’s the exact same puzzle, it feels different because of the new perspective. The game’s press kit says that where you start again is determined by where you were squashed.
If anything, the one criticism I’d have for the game is that there could have been more player input at times. I played the game in two sittings of just over an hour each time, and at times I felt that the controls were becoming monotonous because I didn’t have to do much besides avoiding obstacles. This feeling was temporary, and in hindsight it didn’t take away from my experience. I think the simplistic controls compliment the art style, so I’m still unsure as to whether additional input commands would have improved or hindered my experience.
Expand is something special. It’s a wonderfully designed experience across the board, with a minimalist art style utilised innovatively to produce amazing, unique level design that always feels new. The orchestral score adds emotion to an inanimate object and meaningfulness to a purposely minimal plot. Expand is an experiment gone right. It left me wondering how the hell two guys from Australia designed such an intricate, awe inspiring game with just simple gameplay. Expand is a work of art, a mesmerising interactive experience, and a great game.
- Unique, innovative level design
- Orchestral score creates an emotional connection to an inanimate object
- Even death is interesting
The Bad (maybe)
- Sometimes the simplistic control scheme felt monotonous when pacing was slower