It opens with a young man dressed in a collared shirt and sleeveless sweater seated at his desk and absorbed in reading. He is distracted from his studies when the overhead light in his studio begins to flicker. After adjusting it, the light burns out, the room briefly shakes and a window shade falls down. Then, on the far side of the room opposite the desk, a section of wallpaper unravels to reveal a small door low to the ground. Understandably curious, the bookish gent opens the door and peers into the dark narrow space behind it before he stands back up, fetches a flashlight from his closet and crawls through the space. A short distance later he sees a ladder that plunges down into the unknown. Before he can decide what to do another tremor shakes the area. Losing his balance, the man falls forward and grabs onto the ladder. On his descent he passes by stalactites before emerging into an enormously cavernous area in the center of which stands a byzantine structure that looks like a jumble of interconnected towers designed by a mad architect.
Hopping off the ladder onto the structure’s upper floors, the man finds himself in an area that looks like a sprawling multi-leveled closet. Propped on or near the walls behind him are a variety of knickknacks: bicycle wheels, crockery, clothes hung up on lines, etc. Moving further down, he runs into the first of the game’s many mechanical dogs that will chase and violently pounce on him if caught, resulting in a quick restart. The first set of puzzles you’ll encounter will have you manipulating overhead lights to move the canines around. The dogs will try to avoid having beams of light fall on them because it turns them into dressers which the man can vault over or push back and forth (as long as the dresser remains in the light). A number of puzzles throughout the game require you to figure out how to use a light to turn an adversary into a stationary object that can be jumped over or pushed onto panel switches.
After the introductory puzzles things take a stranger turn when the man spies, through a hole in the floor, a rather regal-looking anthropomorphic bird lounging on a couch in a frock coat reading. As the fashionably-dressed fowl luxuriates in his book, a gigantic paw with sharp claws reaches from outside the building and swipes away the wall behind the feathered creature, exposing the room to air. Although his couch is dangling over the newly-formed precipice, he is blithe to the danger until a split second before it teeters over the edge, causing him to hop off. Pondering the situation with expressive gestures, the feathered creature strikes on an idea and disappears down a nearby ladder.
Eventually the young man comes to realize that the bird has decided to look for a book that can help bring the monster to heel. Thus, he comes to ally himself with others he meets in the world who band together to try to take on the monster. As he journeys deeper into the structure, the puzzles grow more involved as he comes into contact with other kinds of adversaries, which include one-eyed purple creatures that walk on long, stalky legs and spikey-haired shadowy creatures which imitate the protagonist’s movements. As with the mechanical dogs, he must figure out how into position them onto panel switches or otherwise get them out of his way.
Oh, did I forget to mention that sprinkled between the puzzles there are a number of interactive paintings that operate like-old fashioned, key-turned music boxes? Watching a feathered bard play a lute or guiding a mechanical dog past a series of lights so that he can pounce on a fleeing man and lick him add yet another level of whimsy to the game.
I didn’t relish trying to speed through “Creaks” because I found a number of the puzzles fairly challenging. Trying to tackle one after another without a break made me feel like my brain was melting. By the second half of the game I had consulted a fair amount of YouTube. Watching someone else speed through the solutions certainly did not dampen my appreciation, though. Oddly, it enhanced it as I was able to bask in “Creaks’” imaginative atmosphere without fretting over my slow progression.
“Creaks” is a charming game that should appeal to anyone who nurses an appreciation for animation and the fantastical.
Christopher Byrd is a Brooklyn-based writer. His work has appeared in the New York Times Book Review, the New Yorker and elsewhere. Follow him on Twitter @Chris_Byrd.