Retro styled puzzle games aren’t exactly uncommon at the moment. And the promise of an emotional narrative and unique game design often falls a bit flat – or becomes pretentious. But OneShot quite pleasantly surprised me in this respect. While bearing all the hallmarks of ‘another RPG maker puzzle game’, its world and story are actually interesting and affecting, and its ‘meta’ gameplay mechanics makes for, not only some very unique and clever puzzles, but also pairs beautifully with the narrative.

 

There are two main characters in OneShot. Niko, a young child who we guide throughout the game, and ourselves. Yes, the player is actively referred to throughout as the guiding force behind Niko’s choices. She talks directly to us (even using our names) and credits us for helping her in her quest. But it’s safe to say that Niko is the ‘hero’ of the game.

 

It all starts out with Niko waking in a room, of which you need to find a way out of. Along the way you find a large lightbulb that illuminates your surroundings. Once you’ve escaped these first areas, you find yourselves in a strange world – dark, with strange vegetation, and of course, all these dormant robots lying around. The one live robot we do find, initially, has been awaiting Niko’s arrival, and explains that she is a messiah who is to restore the light to the world and stop it from dying. So it turns out that lightbulb we found wasn’t just a quirky lighting device, but in fact this world’s sun. Niko is obviously alien to this place and simply wants to go home, however also wants to help this world regain its light, and therefore life – the only way of doing so is to travel further in and find ‘the tower’, where she must place the sun.

 

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How do we get there? Well, it’s not as simple as just walking or taking a boat, as there are a variety of problems in the way that need to be solved before progressing. The world of OneShot is a fairly open one, and if you hope to progress then you’re going to need to explore. The majority of puzzles are item based, so, for example, we need to fix a robot to help us get across a river, so first we need to power the robots again – which means finding and fixing their broken power source, finding items as you explore that could help with that – then we need to fix the robot so it can move again…and so on, and so forth. If you explore in detail and keep your eyes peeled, you will probably find all the necessary items, but then figuring out how they will be used is also part of the challenge.

 

Nothing much is spelled out for you in OneShot, and so you have to use your powers of video game logic to think outside of the box. Oh, there’s a bubble that’s filled with liquid – maybe use that syringe you found to extract some, and perhaps that liquid can be used for something else. If you’ve played a point and click you probably get what I’m on about, though the open levels of OneShot makes it all a bit more challenging. Being able to remember objects in the levels, titbits of helpful information, and thinking of how to combine what you already have with those things is what I found to be most challenging. In fact, I’d recommend playing the game in two sittings, if not one. The ability to fast travel alleviates this somewhat – and obviously the potential frustration of trying to find your way around – but when it starts out, the game can be a bit overwhelming. Stick it out, though, and you’ll discover a very intriguing world and some clever puzzles.

 

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I briefly mentioned the game has this ‘meta’ aspect to it. Well, it’s not just a plot device, but is also used in some of the game’s more challenging puzzles. This could involve minimising your game to look for a file in your documents, which contains the password to a chest, or even – and my favourite example – using another tab from the game’s files to hover over the game window in order to reveal solutions to a set of puzzles. It may sound a bit much, and initially it did come across as a tad obnoxious – the game provides little guidance (though it does some, however mocks you for using it) – but once you start to understand how the game works, you’ll start to put pieces together faster (the answer to this puzzle is in another realm, you say? *minimizes tab and searches documents*).

 

These puzzles are well written, and due to the overall feel and context of the game, they avoid coming across as a gimmick. While Niko is the one doing everything on screen, the game is pushing this notion that you are guiding her, and a relationship is forming between the two of you. When you exit the game, for example, upon returning, Niko is there waiting, and makes a comment about your absence. So of course, when there’s a problem that Niko cannot solve physically ‘in the game’, so to speak, it feels very fitting that you go off and fix the problem.

 

Aside from creating some cool puzzles, this also does wonders for how you feel towards the characters in the game. I won’t spoil the ending, but it’s clear after finishing the game that you are purposefully made to feel close and responsible for Niko. And it works. I’m not one to get really emotional during games, however there were a couple of moments where I felt quite upset for the girl – there is no voice acting, and the game isn’t the most visually complex, but the developers did a great job of conveying emotion through animations and the writing. And surprisingly, for a short game, you get to understand a bit about the world and its history – this may only be a glimpse, but it’s enough to make one feel invested in the place.

 

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All that said, OneShot isn’t without its issues – though, these are minimal to say the least (if you’ve already checked the score, you probably guessed that). It’s a short game, clocking about 4 hours, and much of that time is padded by the exploration, which leads to it feeling a bit light on actual content – there are some good ideas here, so it would have been nice to see some more challenges and locations. And of course, as I’ve already briefly mentioned, the convoluted nature of the meta aspect. Once you get to grips with the logic, it’s pretty much non-issue, however it does make for a frustrating early game, and perhaps the game could have handled its hints and tips better (if you don’t quickly realise what you are supposed to do, you could spend a while traversing the environments looking for things that aren’t there). And lastly, the game pre-warns that it is best played in windowed mode, and that’s due to the meta puzzling. If you are playing in full screen, it may window itself for the purpose of a puzzle, which can be jarring. I supposed there’s not much way around that, but unless you don’t mind playing the whole game in a window then it’s something you’re going to have to deal with.

 

Otherwise, however, OneShot was a surprising treat. The world and our main character Niko suck you in and create a real emotional attachment. The writing is superb, and the game’s meta features make for some creative puzzling. It’s just a shame it didn’t last a bit longer. The gameplay actually marries brilliantly with the general feel and context of the story, and it’s very engaging as a result. I’d definitely recommend this if you’re up for the initial logic challenge.



Author

John Little
John Little

I started gaming with the release of the PS1, and have been enthralled with the medium ever since. I particularly love strategy and horror games - Silent Hill 2 and Shogun 2 being a couple of my all time favourites. I became adamant that I wanted to be a video game critic after discovering YouTuber TotalBiscuit, and subsequently took on (and completed) a Journalism course, hoping to one day play and talk about video games for a living...or, you know, just as a hobby.