Creating a working puzzle takes a certain level of skill, even more so if you wish to make it interesting. The Quell series really seems to pay a special mind to the puzzle as a form of craft, presenting its challenges to the player while also attempting to build a serene journey through them. Quell Memento, the latest iteration to grace the 3DS, follows in the path of its predecessor - Quell Reflect - but seeks to expand upon the internal and external elements of its experience.
The basics of Memento remain the same as Reflect: slide one or more drops around stages, navigating gates, spikes, movable objects and such to achieve a goal. While collecting all of the pearls in a stage remains a mission, it is no longer the only one. Some stages will require passing by all the lights to turn them blue, or your drops being the light emitters themselves, lined up in the right spots to hit all the gems of their colours. You can add to this even more new items such as switches that turn lights on and off, “spirit" drops that follow set paths whenever you move your own drops, and “rose" blocks that switch between spiky and safe when hit.
For a game that advertises itself as “zen," these additions sound pretty overwhelming on paper. However, Memento does a superb job of simmering these elements into its stages, forming a very satisfying learning curve. Only a few of the 160+ stages feel like a cluttered mess of gimmicks at first glance, weaving all the goals together, but they're tucked toward the end when you should be ready to take them on. Overall, the extra pieces in Memento feel well-paced and cleverly implemented.
Quell themes its puzzles around memories and time, and Memento is no different. The names and layouts of many stages still provide vague implications toward the events in one's life, but Memento strives to flesh things out a bit more. The stages come packed in old tins of various sorts, found within a decaying home. The old man whose memories you're sifting through even speaks to you briefly between levels, as you move from tin to tin, and also within a few stages. The “story" here is still very light and serves more as a garnish, but the way it's sprinkled throughout the puzzles can still serve as a compelling reason to push through a few more puzzles than you planned to for a session. You never receive a full, clear idea of the man's life, which can make each piece you do receive through a tiny, dusty photo or a stage name all that more addictive if you get into it.
The presentation keeps very much in line with the series, with nice, mostly static backdrops and lovely piano and strings from composer Steven Cravis. It all combines to form a sort of noble melancholy, fitting well with the game's theme and encouraging slower, thoughtful play. The experience is slightly nicked somewhat by a bit of jumpiness in the rare cutscenes, and the soundtrack is better heard on headphones than over the 3DS speakers, but these are by no means dealbreakers.
The puzzles themselves still feature front and center in Memento, and plenty of reason is given to return to them with different mindsets. Getting through the puzzles is one thing, but each also presents a challenge to “perfect" the stage in the minimum number of moves. Each stage also features a hidden jewel that can be found by hitting the right block in a stage, often meaning going off the “correct" path and experimenting. Even more rewarding, certain stages contain similarly hidden red rings that lead to secret levels.
Quell: Memento shines with elegance and substance, successfully building upon the foundation of its predecessor without sacrificing the relaxing mood and tempo at which it operates. Whether the “story" resonates with you will either add to or have a neutral effect on your experience but, with or without, this is still one of the best puzzle games to be found on the 3DS.