Like most puzzle games, the premise of The Z Axis: Continuum is a simple one. Fully inspired by the likes of Portal, this 2D puzzle platformer seems, from the outset, to be an easy one in which you just need to guide your small character through multiple levels, reaching the end goal in each. As you would expect though, things aren’t always as simple as they seem.
The Z Axis: Continuum starts off nicely enough, delivering a number of well paced and thoughtful tutorial style stages to ensure that you fully understand and get to grips with not just what is required, but the rather great physics and manipulation opportunities that it brings. Get those out of the way though, and the Continuum turns in to one hell of mind bender – one that may just be too much of a test for many.
A test is exactly what you get in this game, and should you be able to look past the rather simplistic visuals, will find a strange world in which you need to rotate the entire universe in order to reach your end goal and escape the madness. Basic platforms are in place for you to run along, small obstacles are ready for you to clamber over, and portals, cloning opportunities, time manipulation devices and more are all ready for use. And even if you think you know exactly how to get to the bottom of a certain situation, the constant rotation of the world around you will very quickly ensure your mind is left in a bit of a scrambled mess.
But then, that’s what all good puzzlers should do – they should tease you in and then spit you out without a care in the world. The Z Axis: Continuum does that brilliantly, with the solo developer at Lazerpants Studios overseeing the creation of a game that will push even the most hardened puzzle fan’s patience to the limit.
Is that a good thing? Yes it is, because a test of the mind is something that many will flock to. But similarly, the brutal combination of switch pushing, portal using and that over-arcing rotation mechanic, will scare off a whole ton of intrigued gamers.
In terms of problem solving capabilities, The Z Axis: Continuum is right up there with the very best mind benders, but if truth be told, those visuals spoken of earlier aren’t the only downside. There are times when your character will refuse to move over even the smallest rise in level, with his floaty jump proving troublesome at best, and even once you’ve got your head around the fact that you daren’t go near a spike, the collision mechanics between death-bringer and character seem slightly off. With little in terms of checkpoints to help save the day, one wrong press of a trigger or face button, as you delicately try to twist the world in order to ensure your guy falls through a labyrinth of puzzles, will quickly see death occurring and a full restart of the stage required. Even if you drop to safety, you may well find yourself trapped, with little way of getting out and progressing. This is never more frustrating than when the dead end occurs near the end of a stage – after many minutes of frantic pushing and pulling of switches, and turning the world on its axis blindly in the hope that something will fall right.
Perhaps those deaths would be felt slightly less if the camera system that lets you look over each stage prior to – and during – the event was a little less twitchy. See, even with the chance to zoom in and out, movement of this is limited, and there are corners of stages which are tricky to view correctly, with the snapback of the camera failing to bring too much joy to the whole experience. Giving us full smooth movement of the camera system if only so we can look over each tricky situation would have been much preferred.
It is however great to see that each and every level completion is timed, with personal bests available to be beaten should you wish to really push your mind to the maximum. This could – and probably should – have been expanded upon because there are no local or global leaderboards available to view, and that’s a shame because the addition of the latter type could well have seen some online bragging rights turn out to be king. The timed aspect does ensure that the strange breed of speedrunners out there will be more than happy with what The Z Axis: Continuum brings though.
Should you believe the hype, then apparently no one escapes the Continuum unscathed, and I’m testament to that statement. But then, for the strange oddities surrounding the platforming mechanics, and the dodgy visuals that hold it all together, I’ve strangely enjoyed my time with this hardcore puzzler. That has to be put down to how well each and every level has been created, and how good the actual rotation physics are. If anything though, it is utter proof that should love be placed into the development of a game, that will be broadcast to the player at every opportunity. That may not always translate to fun, but it does mean that the Continuum comes across as being very clever.
It is for that reason you should consider a little test of the mind with The Z: Axis Continuum, particularly if you’re down with the whole puzzle scene and want something to keep you going for a few days. Don’t be put off by the visuals, and don’t expect your time in the Continuum to be a walk in the park, because this warped world brings about plenty of frustration, but if you’re prepared to hunker down and refuse to take an ‘L’, no matter what the situation, then this is something that will appeal.