Amphora Review

In Amphora, you command a wisp of smoke that lives in a, well, amphora. Like a genie or spirit, your smokey form watches over the life of a girl, guiding her and her family through the major scenes in their lives. Each scene is displayed in colourful environments that draw inspiration both from shadow theater and stained glass windows. The amphora is located somewhere in the level and your area of effect surrounds it. This means that you are not able to manipulate objects everywhere in the scene and may lose control of them if they end up outside this area. If the objects are important, they will spawn back in, giving you a chance to try again. Your task in each scene (or level) is to manipulate certain objects in a certain to complete the task needed to proceed. Usually, the levels are fairly straightforward and the goal is clear from the beginning.

What is not always clear is the way how to solve it. While most scenes are easily breezed through, there were two in particular that were difficult, the sheep and the ship levels. In the sheep level, it was not made clear how to solve it and I got through it by breaking the game. Later, while watching a video of how to complete the level the proper way, the solution required an idea that had not been introduced before and wasn’t used after. The ship level was difficult because the controls were janky and fiddly. This resulted in trial and error as I continuously swept my mouse back and forth trying to launch this item correctly.

The questionable controls and physics prevail throughout the game, but it was only in this instance where I felt it had a detrimental effect on my play. The rest of the puzzles more or less worked as they should have, though if you are going to achievements, you will encounter more jankiness.

When trying to toss objects across the screen is not enough, the smoky amphora unlocks a new mechanic, wispy silver lines. These lines can be drawn and cut and drawn again to hold things in place, kind of. There are some strange rules around how exactly these lines work and what they can do, so experimentation is a must. This mechanic becomes essential in certain puzzles, where you need to hold things in place in relation to other objects or keep certain things in place. A few of my solutions had these ugly spiderwebs all over as I was frantically drawing lines to get one that worked.

Each scene looks great and is something to look forward to, and tells the story of the life of a girl and possibly her family. We see stereotypical phases of her life – falling in love, marriage, playing with toys, going to war, traveling – but there is no explicit narrative. This often leads to confusion about the context of what is happening in the scene. In the aforementioned ship scene, the player has to moor a ship so a passenger can get on and supposedly go to a far away land. We don’t know why, or where and while this may not be important for the actual game, it made the narrative seem superfluous.

A story might be necessary to include to give some context and structure to the puzzles, but I wish it had been implemented a bit better. Since the game is without speech or written text, the stories of each scene rely solely on visuals (and the cultural references of the player) for delivery. Some scenes are quite complex and delightful, but others are bare by comparison. Perhaps more time on each scene and a less ambitious story with more straightforward set pieces would have improved it.

It does not take away from the experience except in implanting the feeling that I had missed something profound. What is this amphora anyway?

In the end, it comes down to inspiration. Some of the scenes are great. Reading bedtime stories to the young girl, love at first sight in the marketplace, the man under the rain of arrows are all superb. The craft of these really highlight where the developer’s inspirations lay and make the less well-thought out scenes stand out even more as filler scenes. Amphora is a game that feels like it started as an aesthetic first and a game second.

But it is a great aesthetic. If you can deal with the inconsistent inspiration and the inconsistent difficulty, it is a nice puzzler for a handful of hours.


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