To know whether you'll enjoy Please, Touch The Artwork, all you need do is glance at your bookshelf. If you have any art books whatsoever sitting there, we can pretty much guarantee you'll have a great time with this delightfully entertaining, thought-provoking, and unpretentious puzzler. Likewise, if you've ever taken yourself to a gallery or museum of your own accord. If you like puzzle games and have even a passing interest in modern art, in fact, you should really get this downloaded, pronto.
Three games comprise this off-beat fusion of art history and narrative from developer Thomas Waterzooi, who crafts ingenious mechanics around an art style you'll recognise instantly, even if your knowledge is lacking. A light narrative is woven throughout to keep you entertained and surprised without falling into irksomeness or repetition. If you're looking to ground yourself with gaming touchstones, Thomas Was Alone with a dash of Ape Out's jazzy presentation comes close to describing the vibe. But, you know, in the form of a touch-based art puzzler.
The three games are presented as a trio of galleries and will stretch your grey matter in different ways and to different degrees. A front desk is manned by an attendant who will point you in the right direction depending on your mood, or provide illuminating quotes from Piet Mondrian, the artist whose abstract work — part of the De Stijl movement ('the style' in Dutch) — inspired the entire game.
The Style gallery is made up of 58 puzzles which begin with a completed composition on the left side of the screen, and the same canvas replicated on the right, minus certain lines or colours. The objective is to make the right canvas look identical to the left. As you work through them, a quirky seven-day creation-style narrative plays out across title cards as new ideas are introduced while a distilled overview of the De Stijl movement appears on the gallery 'walls' between the puzzles.
Mechanics are introduced and implemented with flair. Trial and error plays a natural role as you experiment and reset compositions. Primary colours, which are introduced with hilarious fanfare, aren't accompanied by an explicit tutorial detailing how to apply them; the name of the game is all the instruction you're given and everything you need. Tapping any 'box' on the canvas sends a wave of colour outwards which fills any adjacent space touching that box, corners included. Imagine a white square divided into four even squares. Tap the top right square and the three adjoining squares will turn yellow, leaving the one you tapped white.
The addition of multiple colours and, later, other complications such as diagonals will slow your progress after you race through the opening compositions, although upon failing multiple times a hint system appears. We must admit, the final few compositions were beyond us and that hint system was put to good use.
The Style gallery offers some real headscratchers for puzzle fiends, then, but the other two galleries are more easygoing. Boogie Woogie follows two squares "who just want to be together". In this gallery, lines are generated across a canvas, with squares positioned along the outer edge where each line terminates and a target square at the end of one of them. Tapping one of the outer squares sets them travelling along the line, and where lines intersect on the canvas, coloured squares materialise which have different effects on your travelling square.
Red ones, for example, turn it 90 degrees to the right, while white ones sent it to the left. Blue squares send you back the way you came, and so on, with pitfalls, tunnels, and other hazards appearing as you progress. Far less taxing than The Style, Boogie Woogie strikes a nice balance between narrative and mechanics, marrying the two without becoming overwrought as you mentally project the route of each square waiting on the outer edge of the canvas in order to pick the winner.
New York City gallery is the most evocative and meditative of the three modes, depicting the emotion of moving to a big city through an ever-more complex-looking set of mazes. You navigate through them left-to-right by swiping in cardinal directions anywhere on the touchscreen. Collecting pellets throughout that open the exit, it feels like a blend of Pac-Man and Snake, though minus the hazards and stress inherent to those games. Taken a wrong turn? Simply flick back the way you came and take a different route.
While the mazes look complicated, even the visually noisiest examples are deceptively simple in practice. The NYC gallery is easily the least taxing of the three, gameplay-wise. Completing screens reveals lines of a poem, but again, the developer's choice to reduce the mechanical challenge as the tone gets darker prevents things from getting heavy, which we found refreshing. There's no end of indie games available — many of them excellent, we should add — that go to complex, emotional places and require content warnings, not to mention a certain mood to be able to digest and enjoy. Please, Touch The Artwork isn't one of those games. It is thoughtful and thought-provoking, but it's also 'just' a fun little puzzler if you want it to be. Don't want all the sensitive, high-brow rubbish? Just tap through it.
That's the real beauty of Please, Touch the Artwork, though; it isn't 'high-brow' at all. Waterzooi strives to demonstrate through interaction how these compositions, however abstract, are emotionally charged through their creation and absorption. Yes, you could tap through all the 'talky stuff' but if that doesn't interest you, you'll likely find yourself at the far right end of the galleries disappointed about the length of the game (two-to-three hours according to the developer, although we put over five into it, all in). If you're at all intrigued by the artworks that inspired the game, though, you'll appreciate all the more how these delicate narratives complement the puzzle mechanics, with both artfully employed to engage and educate.
If you've made it to the end of this review and you're still not sure, it's $7.99/£7.19 at full price and there's even a demo available to give you a flavour. Given its relatively short length, we'd encourage you to give the full game a try if it sounds halfway up your alley, but the demo's there if you want it. There's also an update scheduled for mid-January that will patch in Joy-Con controls should you wish to play on the TV (it's handheld-only at the time of writing). Using Joy-Con goes against the ethos of the title somewhat, but it's great to see the game being supported.
Please, Touch The Artwork is an excellent little experience that cleverly combines intuitive, pensive puzzle mechanics with art history and humour to create an interactive exhibit you really shouldn't miss. If you've got any interest in modern art whatsoever, you're sure to enjoy this gem, but even puzzle fans who don't know their Picassos from their Pollocks would do well to browse these galleries. There's really nothing else to say. Do what the title says.