The Pillar: Puzzle Escape

The very first thing I thought when I picked up The Pillar: Puzzle Escape is that it looks a lot like Jonathan Blow’s masterpiece The Witness. It has a similar visual style, and it’s set in an inexplicable world filled with puzzles. A lot of these puzzles, like The Witness‘s puzzles, have you drawing lines. (I am not the only person making this comparison, I might add.)

The Pillar: Puzzle Escape is a lot smaller than The Witness, which isn’t a bad thing. This was an opportunity to pack similar gameplay into a tighter space, which could have easily led to a richly satisfying puzzle experience. Unfortunately, The Pillar squanders that potential, instead opting to repeat the same puzzle types over and over again. This means that as short as the game is, it still feels too long.

I confess that there are some environmental puzzles that feel fresh even in the later moments of the game. One puzzle has you redirecting beams of light through colorful pillars to mix the right colors. The combination lock puzzles, which admittedly do repeat, throw a few surprises at you as well.

On top of that, the game is beautiful, with some lovely scenery to explore. The red tree in the level 8 Stones is gorgeous, for example.

The Pillar: Puzzle Escape

But The Witness was constantly throwing fresh twists at you. In The Witness, there are puzzles that require you to pay close attention to environmental sounds. There are other puzzles that force you to contemplate the lines that shadows make on the ground.

These are just two examples of environmental puzzles that make you slow down and think about the language that The Witness is speaking. I don’t mean that literally, of course; what I’m talking about is attempting to figure out the logic that the world is built upon. With The Witness, there is a logic to the world, and it is remarkably consistent, despite the sheer amount of variety in its puzzle design (and despite how deliberately baffling the game can be).

The Pillar: Puzzle Escape starts to feel tedious about two thirds of the way through. The memory puzzles, which flash lengthy sequences of moving boxes on a grid and ask you to repeat them in the exact right order, feel especially tedious to me. I eventually ended up drawing out each sequence on dot paper so I could follow along — and drawing these charts took multiple sequence views, sometimes more than a dozen. I can’t imagine that anyone would remember all this off the top of their head.

The Pillar: Puzzle Escape

If The Pillar were just a couple levels shorter, I think it could have gotten away with this. But it does start to drag because it doesn’t offer enough variety to stay interesting. The puzzles don’t progressively get more difficult (I would argue that the game’s single hardest puzzle is in The Gorge, which is the fifth stage if you count the intro), and they don’t get more rewarding either. When you beat a level, you’re shown a repeated animation of a pillar cracking apart. It feels meaningless.

It’s always possible that I simply don’t get The Pillar. However, I think it’s much more likely that the creators of The Pillar didn’t really get The Witness. It’s unfortunate, because this is a game that has a ton of potential that it doesn’t really know what to do with. As much as I admire what The Pillar attempts to do, I don’t think it sticks the landing.

The Pillar: Puzzle Escape is worth a playthrough, I suppose (especially if you’re trying to add a super-easy Platinum Trophy to your collection). But I don’t think this one will stick in my memory the way The Witness still does all these years later. I was hoping for a bite-sized version of The Witness, but the single bite we got with The Pillar: Puzzle Escape lacks the same rich flavor.

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