October 1, 2015 9:30 AM | Lena LeRay
Expand is one of those games that's hard to write about. It's so different from anything else I've played that there's no common parlance for describing it already in existence. The closest genre is platformer, but that's only because it's focused on movement, traversal, and evasion. Levels are circular, the only thing you need to control the game is a joystick, and there is no fighting or jumping. The game it feels most similar to, as far as I'm concerned, is Antichamber, even though Expand has no puzzles. What I can say is that Expand is short, sweet, and beautiful in its own way.
The game is easy to pick up and play. The only thing the player can do is move the little pink square around. To start the game, they must master this, making the menu itself the first part of the tutorial. After a few stages that introduce the player to how the levels shift and change and the idea of getting crushed if they don't watch where they're going, the player comes to the screen above.
There are four main areas to the game, each of which ends with one of the missing pieces. The player must avoid getting crushed or touching anything red along the way to finding the pieces. At any given time, it's clear where the player must go and what they must do. Execution is where the challenge lies. The level designs make good use of the circular arenas and the unique qualities of the game's custom engine, with each area of the game having its own flavor and different kinds of obstacles to overcome.
All of this is accompanied by lovely, often minimalist music that sets a thoughtful tone throughout most of the game. The graphics are also minimalist, but the circular nature of everything and the patterns that the blocks and pathways form give the game a unique look. The game is at its most beautiful when the levels are expanding and contracting, with blocks changing shape depending on their position along the radius of the circle.
The game feels like the perfect length for the kind of experience that it is, but if you're looking for something to sink your teeth into for hours and hours, this isn't the game for you. My playthrough for this review took just under two hours, but I've played the first half of the game before and got through that part faster this time because I already knew what to expect.
It's available now for Windows, Mac, and Linux at the criminally low price of $4.79. The regular price is $5.99, but it's 20% off for its launch. Check out the Expand interview I did with Australian developer Chris Johnson last month if you missed it.