unWorded: There Are No Words for This Narrative Puzzler

Narrative puzzle game unWorded has the potential to make you feel smart, stupid, and a little sentimental all at once. Developed and self-funded by French indie Bento Studio, unWorded starts players off by showing some dialogue between a man and his wife. The guy's been hospitalized and seems to be going in and out of consciousness while his wife watches, which might have hit home for me more than others.

This man is an author by trade, and his wife must be proud of the material, because she's reading it aloud to her husband at his bedside. As she does so, her husband has dreams influenced by the stories. That's where players come in. Different shapes (letters of the alphabet) scattered around the screen may at first appear random, but they can be arranged into a shape connected to the story content.

For example, in one stage, crap looked pretty random, but with some playing around, I was able to shape things into a boat. The parts then centered themselves and confirmed that they were indeed a boat. If you're stuck, you can click for a hint, and the passage will bold the thing you're supposed to be making. It's not always a giveaway though, as I got stuck more than once. In fact, unWorded's developers told me they've seen a lot of people play, and everyone gets stuck at least once.

Here's the first one that stumped me, and I realize how dumb I'm about to look, but here goes. Flip through the gallery to see the steps of my struggle, followed by the solution that the devs were kind enough to show me.

Damn, I was... kind of close, but no cigar.

And that's where we get into the good and bad of unWorded. My mind's eye was seeing a palm tree purely from one viewpoint and thinking only of the leaves going one way. It does, true its developers' vision, make players think outside their own box -- approach things differently. From a game player's end, however, I couldn't help but feel some puzzles were themselves clinging to overly specific solutions.


"You have to try to think out of your usual way of thinking. When you have your mind set on something, it's tied to (your own) story; that's remembering. When you search something, you don't quite remember, but you know you have to remember, you want to remember... it's that kind of feeling that the puzzles capture sometimes."
- Bento, on approaching unWorded

Getting stuck doesn't pose any problem to those interested in the author's tale. Players are free to skip any puzzle at any time. If the hint isn't enough, and however many configurations simply aren't working, one is free to flip the page. The game will never even show you the solution, if you do so, meaning you could come back and challenge that pesky puzzle again another time, if you want. This is part of what Bento was going for, as developers Benoit Prunneaux and Séverin Labit told me:

"It's like a story book where you can turn the page. You can go back to those puzzles and try them again. You can skip any puzzle at will, but you won't be shown the solution. You can go back any time and try one that you skipped. No story consequences for skipping, so you can still understand the ending."

They added, "Logic is different for everyone. It's tricky (to know how to balance, how much help to give the player, how easy or hard to make something) because people can look at a puzzle for a really long time but then wait, come back later that day or the next day with a different frame of mind and they realize 'Oh hey, I can try that,' and they solve it in a minute."

I can relate to that. I think we've all had those moments where we walk into a room and forget why we went in there, right? Or sometimes we can't figure out what to do about some problem in life -- big or small -- until suddenly it hits us like a ton of bricks. The solution was so easy, we wonder why we didn't think of it sooner. (For me, these epiphanies usually happen in the shower, which makes it very helpful that I take a shower every week.)

unWorded set to launch worldwide on November 16, first for iOS, but later releases are planned for Vita, PC, Mac, Android, and PS4. The price is expected to be $4 US, or in App Store terms, "Tier 4." PlayStation family and PC prices weren't specifically known at the time I talked to the Bento crew.

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