Puzzle games are masters of covert time consumption. Some, like Tetris, keep players on their toes with an unrelenting pace and an addictive “one more try” appeal. Others, instead, offer a calmer, more contemplative experience, letting the player move at his or her own pace as they descend into the logic and rules of the game’s world. Quell Reflect, a title that has made its move from mobile to the 3DS eShop, is among this latter class of puzzlers and performs its intended duties admirably well.
The core of Quell Reflect lies in the “ice puzzle” motif that pops up sometimes in Legend of Zelda and Pokémon titles. An object sent into motion in these types of puzzles will not stop until it hits an obstacle. In Quell Reflect’s case, you’re guiding drops of water over a pane of glass, collecting all of the tiny pearls in a level. The difference between these puzzles and the above-mentioned examples, however, is that they feel much more satisfying to complete and less like a chore to be forced through.
The beads of water on Quell Reflect’s playing fields not only have to deal with their own inertia, but a variety of additional features and hazards. A drop can be slid off one side of the field to wrap around and appear on the other. Spikes will destroy your drop, but some can be pushed around by their dull sides to burst also fatal poison drops; sliding into a warp ring will also send a drop out of another ring in the same direction by which it entered.
These and other additions are easy to understand and gradually introduced into the game, but are used in increasingly clever ways to force the player out of standard ways of thinking. Sometimes what looks like the obvious route is not the correct one. Other times you have to make two or more drops work together, or even commit acts of sacrificial hydrocide. It creates a much more engaging environment to experiment with than the plain maze navigation seen in other examples.
The challenge grows steadily through the more than 100 puzzles, but the gameplay remains very relaxed and borderline zen. Droplets respond smoothly to swipes of the stylus (buttons can also be used) and there is absolutely no rush or urgency involved. The only limits imposed on the player are the minimum number of moves needed displayed with each puzzle, and even these are only set as goals to increase replayability. Collector types can go off the path of the solution to find a gem hidden in each level as well as gather achievements, but most of these will be unlocked through basic play.
Quell Reflect’s presentation, while not adding directly to the gameplay, conjures an intriguing, wistful atmosphere. Levels are selected from shelves in what looks like a cellar, each marked with a year from the 1960s and 1970s; groups of levels are attached to paintings on each shelf, which serve as that collection’s backdrop as the scene outside the cellar’s window fills the top screen. This setting, combined with beautiful, relaxing music and the soft patter of rain, is a simple yet effective way of adding a sense of presence to the game, as though someone was taking time on a quiet day to look back on memories long gone by. There is no divulged backstory here, but it does open one’s mind to muse and create their own. Sadly, none of the scenes or levels employ the 3D features of the system.
The fact that Quell Reflect takes the “ice” mechanic and creates an experience of it that doesn't make you want to shatter your 3DS against the wall is a testament to the care creator Fallen Tree Games took in the level design and ambience. Puzzle fans looking to curl up with a cup of tea and lose themselves for a while will definitely want to give it a try. While it can be found for cheaper on mobile devices and doesn’t seem to take significant advantage of the hardware, its $3.99 price tag on the eShop still feels very reasonable for the thoughtful and sophisticated experience it offers.