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Oquonie: down the rabbit hole

Aliceffekt's latest mobile game is deeply baffling, deeply clever and so deeply consuming.

Aliceffekt's latest mobile game is deeply baffling, deeply clever and so deeply consuming.

(Credit: David Moundou-Labbe)

When I'm not playing Oquonie, I'm thinking about playing Oquonie.

Oquonie is the newest game from Aliceffekt, AKA Devine Lu Linvega, AKA David Mondou-Labbe, artist, programmer, musician and linguist extraordinaire. You might remember exploration game Hiversaires from last year; if you played it, you know that Aliceffekt is not someone whose games are going to lead you by the hand.

Oquonie most certainly does not. I have been playing, on and off, for a couple of hours now, and I still don't understand what is going on, or why I'm doing what I am. This, it must be stated, is most certainly not a bad thing. The game has taken root in my imagination, and it's certainly not without its satisfactions.

The game starts with you in an isometric office controlling a long-necked, cheerful-looking bird. As you explore, you will encounter other characters and objects that speak to you in symbols — an invented language called Camilare. You need to figure out what you have to do, a task that is compounded in difficulty by the fact that you have no key for Camilare — and that the game's strange, non-Euclidean architecture will lead you to unexpected rooms, or around in circles.

(Credit: David Mondou-Labbe)

So far, I seem to have ascertained that you must collect symbols from the characters that inhabit the labyrinthine spaces. Three symbols of a kind will change your character's shape — into a different bird, for instance, or a wee piggie. This, in turn, allows you to advance on to the next level — certain doors will only open for a particular iteration of your character.

Beyond that, though, I'm still all at sea. There's a child-looking character painted in red and cyan who will show up only to disappear (the only colourful character in an otherwise monochrome game, illustrated beautifully by Rekka Bellum); I feel that s/he is the key to the entire game. Other elements seem to lead to this child-thing; a red floating obelisk, for instance.

But the game does not feel impossible. It feels as though, if you can just crack the next level, you'll understand just a little bit more, and more of the game will reveal itself. It is like living in a foreign country where you don't speak the language; the longer you spend there, the more your comprehension grows.

Aliceffekt's games are not the usual casual mobile affair, and if you're looking for something mindless to pass the time with, Oquonie will not be for you. But if you're willing to head down the rabbit hole, this strange, sweet, mind-bending game is deeply rewarding.

Oquonie is available for AU$2.99 from the iTunes App Store.