Violett comes close to defying description, which is what people usually say when they want to talk about an experience that feels so absolutely unique that it demolishes conventions to create something brand new. And that’s not entirely untrue for Violett. It’s definitely unique—in that it is so poorly designed it’s perhaps the most impossibly obtuse adventure game I’ve ever played. Looks pretty, though.
Violett’s wordless introduction sets up the storyline, sort of. The girl you play as is Violett, or at least that’s what I assume, since there’s no actual confirmation of this. Violett is moving into a new house with her parents. While her parents are bickering, she finds a hole in the wall of her new house. Inside it is a snazzy necklace that shrinks Violett and sends her flying through the hole.
The weird thing is that on the first playable screen you’re dropped into, Violett is imprisoned inside a cage in the lair of some anthropomorphic bug lady. It feels like that between the cut scene and the start of the gameplay, an important piece of info was omitted. From the first interactive moment, Violett is confusing. And it never gets better.
Ostensibly, Violett is a point-and-click adventure game in which you tap objects to interact with them or pick them up and drag things out of your inventory to use on objects in the environment to solve puzzles to progress the narrative. But most adventure games make some effort to nudge you in the direction of puzzle solutions. They’ll give you the option to examine objects for helpful descriptions of them or include hotspots that let you know what can be interacted with. Typically, conversations with characters give you some idea of your goals. Violett either fails at or doesn’t even attempt any of these things.
At the outset you’re meant to be looking for pieces of the necklace Violett found in the intro, but it was never revealed that she lost the necklace, or that it broke into pieces. Once you reassemble the necklace, it’s unclear what’s supposed to happen next. That would be fine if new goals were clearly introduced, but Violett opts for a no-dialogue approach throughout. Conversations are represented by talk bubbles with sketches inside of them. This is similar to Amanita Design’s Machinarium, but the sketches in that game were animated and detailed. Violett just shows you an image of a gate or some creature and expects you to go on that.
Objects are similarly confounding. I’ve been playing adventure games since the eighties and have never come across a game that hides its interactable objects so well. You’ll end up tapping all over the screen, as random detritus on the ground could be something you can pick up, and dark patches on the wall might turn out to be switches. Violett is set in an otherworldly environment of surreal creatures and objects, so even after you pick something up it often remains unclear what the hell it is. You’ll find the occasional diary page, which have lovely illustrations and descriptions of creatures you’ve encountered. These provide much-needed context, but show up too infrequently.
The controls are iffy. It sometimes takes multiple taps before objects react and sometimes you’re expected to swipe in a specific direction to indicate which way you want something to move. If you don’t, the object won’t react, so you might be tapping exactly the right thing, but nothing will happen. The game claims to have hints to toggle on and off, but all you get is an animated pointing hand moving left-and-right, up-and-down. Hey, thanks for the tip!
Violett’s only saving grace is that it’s gorgeous. It’s all beautiful, hand-drawn, 2D environments filled with oversized everyday objects with fantastical twists. There are talking bugs, books that shoot out rainbows, popsicle stick rafts, and a toy train activated by a Rube Goldberg contraption. Characters are in 3D but stylized to fit into the environments with everything adhering to a Tim-Burtonesque aesthetic. That it’s all so charming makes it an even greater shame it’s so impossible to play.
The audio design isn’t quite on par with the visuals. The music has a creepy and mysterious, yet pleasant vibe that matches the overall style, but the sound effects are lacking. Most of them are serviceable, but certain actions strangely have no sound attributed to them. Also, when characters converse they spout gibberish, which is irritating more than cute. Worst is that when you do something wrong, Violett emits a derisive grunt. It’s an obnoxious noise and you’ll obviously be hearing it a lot.
I would say that Violett is all the bad stuff from old-school adventure gaming where developers would design puzzles with solutions so obscure they felt like punishments more than challenges, but that doesn’t truly approximate how constantly, unforgivingly confusing it is. I mean, the hub world that connects you to all the different puzzle rooms is in the style of an Escher painting for crying out loud. Violett is beautiful and has some very inventive ideas going on, but the developers have made no effort to help us understand them.
Note: After this review was written, Violett was updated with a proper hint system, but the hints, like the dialogue, are confusing pencil sketches. Furthermore, the inclusion of a hint system does not excuse the incredibly shoddy puzzle design as playing the game should be possible without resorting to constantly looking up solutions.
A beautiful-looking adventure with a lot of seemingly interesting ideas. Unfortunately, the gameplay design is so obtuse the game is effectively unplayable.