Viewfinder is an amazing puzzle game. It only took me five and a half hours to roll credits, but every moment was infused with something to tease my brain. The concept was wild to begin with, shifting reality to find ways to navigate the world. But the way Viewfinder flips concepts on their head, fundamentally changes the way I interact with the world, and introduces new ideas in a graspable way exceeded my expectations. While it’s not so successful on the narrative plane, it does manage to make me care for people I never meet, simulated AI, and one little robot that could.
I start on familiar territory with the introduction following along with the game’s demo, until it doesn’t. Unexpectedly, Viewfinder quickly pulls me from a universe where everything is possible and thrusts me into the main character’s real world. A place facing some unfortunately relatable problems.
But, besides a quick flashback to a specific event I experienced in the early days of the pandemic, this trip doesn’t do much for me. As such, I never get too attached to the overarching reason for my journey. The story beats that do work center around those involved in creating the stupefying challenges ahead.
Viewfinder is split into five basic hub worlds. The worlds once belonged to a separate ingenious innovator who, long ago, sought to prevent the issues my character currently faces — their labs and research only reachable due to a bizarre simulation. Jumping into a new space is like making a new acquaintance.
Hubs reflect their creators’ cultural background, personal tastes, driving interests, and professional pursuits in a way that makes them feel real. But, most importantly, each section takes a distinct approach to the way I interact with reality.
One world plays with the artistic nature of things. Another dives into actual nature. A third, and one of my favorites, has gaming Easter Eggs that can become reality. And yet another contradicts core understandings I’d learned up to that point.
My guide through these incredible realms is a synthetic cat named Cait. The creature brings humor, encouragement, and interactivity to a world that might otherwise feel empty. And yes, you can pet it whenever you want. It purrs and it’s adorable. This feline companion is sometimes joined by Dustin, my all-time favorite vacuum robot who, unfortunately, works in this world like the backpack-laden Koroks in Tears of the Kingdom. In trying to help, I often only cause pain.
Woefully, this dilemma eventually extends to Cait, causing the game’s most narratively gripping moment. It’s made more impactful because the potential implications of my actions loom over me for a while before the game truly makes me stare them down.
It strikes me that, while the meat of the game is its puzzles, this review will barely touch on them to avoid spoilers. In a design feature that’s as unique as it is rewarding, I place 2D images into the world, making them a tangible, 3D part of the environment. Manifesting reality in this way, I overcome a series of impossible-seeming tasks across a unique set of worlds.
There’s no convoluted busy-work here to pad gameplay. Often, I can often overcome the mainline obstacles in mere seconds — or I would be able to if I figured it out fast enough. It’s amazing. The solutions are always simple, but rarely easy.
2023 is a year full of can’t-miss games. Even so, Viewfinder deserves a spot at the top of your to-play list. Even though its driving motivation didn’t resonate strongly with me, this might be one of the most refreshingly inventive puzzle adventures to come out in recent memory.