The Delusions of Von Sottendorff and his Square Mind is a new puzzle-platform hybrid on Nintendo 3DS and is a unique take on what Psychonauts touched on years ago, asking the player to assess, reassemble and analyse the protagonist’s mind. We follow Von Sottendorff around his jumbled, chaotic mind while trying to find sense, logic and reason to the anarchic mess inside.
Despite taking clear influence from Double Fine’s finest hour, The Delusions of Von Sottendorff is a fresh and unique take on puzzle platforming. Each level places Von Sottendorff in a collection of puzzle rooms side by side where your goal is to collect a puzzle piece, or memory, and find a key to unlock the exit to the level. These rooms can be jumbled around and swapped about to create new paths, to find more story items or to actually find secrets hidden away. Aligning one room with another could be as simple as lining up two matching doorways or you can create unexpected exits in the form of trapdoors, which may or may not plunge you into rooms you don’t want to be in. These can be used to your advantage, of course, and you can try to assemble each puzzle room in such a way that it will allow you to solve a long, protracted series of puzzles across multiple rooms. However, certain combinations of rooms can also lead to nasty traps and careful forward planning becomes pretty essential. This game really puts emphasis on focusing on the little details in each room, while at the same time urging you to pull right back to remember lots of tiny, small details at once and keeping the bigger picture in mind. The levels can get quite complex, offering a lot of rooms to sort through at once, and some of these puzzles are pretty fiendish and hard, but they’re presented in simple, smart ways so as not to overwhelm the player too much. Your brain is always ticking away, and finally sorting out Von Sottendorff’s hectic mind is often a rewarding experience.
Artistically, the game has a delightful whimsical vibe that reminds me a lot of Psychonauts – Tim Schaefer’s fingerprints are all over this game. From the visual psychology to the design of the puzzles, The Delusions of Von Sottendorff makes an honest attempt at marrying theme with design. We get exclusive access to Von Sottendorff’s mind, presented as a series of mixed-up rooms scattered with unkempt possessions and collectibles, while an unreliable narrator attempts to throw the player off the scent. The visual design is nearly a rip-off of the Schaefer classic but it does just enough of its own weirdness and oddities to not cause too much déjà vu, though I will say it doesn’t truly do enough to escape the obvious comparisons. Visually, its… okay. It doesn’t stand out as visually striking or brilliant as the aforementioned Double Fine game but it doesn’t need to. It does its own thing from a game design perspective so it does get away with a slightly parroted visual design element and it does have some neat audio features that do set it apart. Again plugging in the theme of the game directly into design, the game takes full advantage of your headphones by channeling certain audio queues and dialogue to certain areas. The dialogue dances between your left hand side and your right hand side, and sometimes in front of or behind you. It plays with your expectations a little bit and it’s a really neat feature but feels a little gimmicky, as appreciated as it is. The music is great, too, and it makes your expensive investment in headphones worth it, though I did find the same music tracks repeated all too often.
It’s all relevant of course, and I can’t overstate enough how all of this ties into the central themes of the game. You begin the game with Von Sottendorff fast asleep at his desk, before travelling into his mind and seeing the jumbled maze of rooms that needs to be travelled through. Each subsequent room here represents its own five level segments of the game, and with each set of five levels completed, another memory of Von Sottendorff’s is unlocked. Slowly over time, you tie up the loose ends of his mind, and assemble the cramped maze of rooms and more of his backstory is revealed to you – it’s a really neat way of telling a story and it’s truly unique to video games. The way design often mirrors theme is something special that only video games do and I loved sorting through Von Sottendorff’s mind.
So what did I dislike? Well, sometimes, getting doors to match is a pain in the backside. Much of the room swapping can be done from the lower screen and it isn’t always obvious whether a door is in the background or the foreground, and you’ll match rooms together expecting the door frames to meet up but they don’t, forcing you to awkwardly swing the camera around to see the dimensions of the door frames. It’d be much better to see at a glance where the doors actually lie. Really, most of the harder, frustrating levels were only difficult because it was too hard to see which entrance match up. The voice over for Delusions was also really bizarrely acted. The lines were delivered with real awkwardness. I’m not sure whether this is what they were going for or not but it felt very stilted to me.
Regardless, The Delusions of Von Sottendorff and his Square Mind is a neat little gem. It doesn’t nescasarily dazzle you or offer you anything terribly new but it does present you with some uniquely laid out puzzles with a hearty dash of Psychonauts-esque humour. Approach with an open mind, and a willingness to accept a certain degree of rough edges, and you’ll have a blast.