The new puzzle game Maquette is a difficult thing to describe on paper. Set in a beautifully crafted world, it’s filled with creative, mind-bending puzzles that constantly challenge you to shift the size, scale and scope of everything you see. On top of that, it also reveals the slowly paced story of a failed romance, peeling back the tale’s cathartic layers one by one.
The French word “maquette” refers to a scale model. And that’s literally what’s at the center of this game’s world, with full-size buildings, neighborhoods, fairgrounds and parks surrounding it. When items are placed within, or moved about in that scaled-down model, it has the magical ability to change those very things in the outside world.
So, for example, a normal sized key can be placed between scaled down buildings in the maquette and instantly create a massive key bridge back in the larger version of the world that you inhabit. To solve puzzles, both huge and miniscule, the player will return over and over to that central maquette to find yet another creative way forward.
The story of Maquette starts with an artist’s sketchbook—a collection of whimsical drawings that we soon realize are the source material for the colorful, aesthetically pleasing world around us. Those drawings also represent the developing relationship between the narrator, Michael, and a lovely artist he meets and draws with, whose name is Kenzie.
In lettering penned on walls and buildings and through heartfelt voiceover (delivered by real-life married couple Bryce Dallas Howard and Seth Gabel) we retrace the rise and fall of a couple who have big dreams that don’t quite take shape.
The puzzles here are very well thought through—ranging from easy to incredibly difficult. But they never feel broken or unfair. Sometimes they change your size as well, shrinking onscreen avatars down and forcing you to make your way through a Gulliver-sized world.
The whole perspective-shifting journey is wonderfully creative. It can be played in one long several-hour stretch or easily broken up into smaller challenges as you focus on mastering a puzzle or two and then come back for another chapter later on.
Each of those path-blocking puzzle obstacles also reveal more and more of Michael and Kenzie’s story. In the early stages of the relationship, the pair’s interactions are a delight to be a part of. The characters are well defined, and the voiceover work is excellent and moving.
Parents of younger players should note that the latter stages of Michael and Kenzi’s story—as cracks begin and spread to eventually crumble the relationship—could leave players feeling quite bittersweet. There’s a resolution to be had, but it’s not a happy ending.
The tale also jumps from abstract drawing to drawing and spans quite a few years, so the details of the relationship aren’t always well defined. The two main characters obviously live together, but it’s not clear if they ever marry. (We never hear or see anything sexually intimate.)
We hear a single exclamation of “What the h—!?” in the dialogue, as well as references to drinking wine.
Maquette is, without question, a very creative and at times difficult game. And while some will find its full relationship tale to be upsetting, you could easily see it as a cautionary encouragement that even the most loving relationships require hard work and commitment.
In fact, if looked at from a different and scaled-down perspective, the game subtly reminds us that our closest relationships can be much like a challenging puzzle themselves.
After spending more than two decades touring, directing, writing and producing for Christian theater and radio (most recently for Adventures in Odyssey, which he still contributes to), Bob joined the Plugged In staff to help us focus more heavily on video games. He is also one of our primary movie reviewers.