One Way: The Elevator is one of the waviest games I’ve ever played. I love games that feature waving. Far too few do, aside from sarcastic emotes in multiplayer shooters, and those don’t count. It’s perhaps more surprising in One Way, given its cheery demeanour disguises a rather melancholy story.
This is a very cleverly presented series of puzzles, each little vignettes as a small boy ascends a seemingly magical elevator that climbs up the floors of a building. On each new floor strange characters, sentient animals, and a hodge-podge of novel and hoary puzzles stand between the kid and the magic ball his lift eats (it has teeth) to climb to the next level.
It’s lovely-looking too, all bright, cheerful colours and happy-go-lucky folk, slightly reminding me of an Adventure Time vibe on an Amanita design. You click on stuff to see what happens, and then notice clues or patterns to press the right buttons on machines, decode symbols, and restore broken robots. Then alongside that, slightly less appealingly, you have some eye-rollers, like rotating pipes, restoring torn up paper, and worst of all, a 3×3 sliding tile puzzle. No! Bad game! In your box.
Why he’s climbing is somewhat more complicated. This gorgeous, cutesy puzzle-adventure begins with the cartoonish adoption and subsequent cruel treatment of a small boy. Think Harry Potter/Roald Dahl, told in wordless cutscenes, rather than something dark or disturbing. But still, it’s fair to say the entire plot relies on the deaths of two parents to get going, and then falls back on it in slightly mawkish ways throughout. Happy recollections of his life before the accident are reminisced as things in this clearly allegorical fantasy prompt memories.
I am certainly a little weary of games that begin with the sad deaths of someone or other, to justify EMOTIONS throughout. I always think of something Stephen King once wrote, I think in the afterword for Bag Of Bones but I might be wrong, about how he feels a depth of cheapness, and even something more serious, about bringing characters into existence only for the need to murder them. Can we maybe start thinking of motivations for young characters in games that don’t involve killing their loved ones on or off screen? Who knows, maybe it’s the personal experience of someone who made it – it just doesn’t feel earned here. On finishing it, it doesn’t even feel necessary.
This is by Cotton Game, who have been releasing interesting little projects since 2016’s Mr. Pumpkin Adventure, not that the (Western, at least) gaming press has apparently ever noticed. This bemuses me, because I could have sworn I’d written about Little Triangle for RPS, but clearly I did not. I am as bad as everyone else. I almost certainly played Isolands 1 and 2 on Android, and remember they were almost good. It seems like if anything should merit some wider attention being paid, One Way should be it.
I think Cotton Game are a Chinese indie studio, but they are somewhat enigmatic online. Their English website hasn’t been updated since 2015, and they only go by nicknames on there. INTRIGUE. Perhaps they’re big in China? Someone let me know.
But back to the game in hand. One Way works so well, even if some of the puzzles are a little over-used, because it just keeps on changing. Each new floor means a new scene, new characters, a fresh start. There are linking moments, as previous denizens reappear higher up in sweet, entertaining ways, but nothing that came before affects what you’re going to do next – you don’t need to worry about missing something earlier and having to retread or anything so cumbersome.
Well… almost. Cotton have a habit of designing their games to need to be played more than once to entirely complete them, and an accompanying habit of never remembering to explain that to the player. I remember getting tripped up by this on Isoland, although then being rather delighted by how cleverly it applied. The same is true here, and there are a couple of moments where presented puzzles are impossible to finish, because you’re meant to be noticing a simultaneous puzzle and saving the first one for later. That’s just bad game design, and I wish they’d stop it. At the same time, I’m delighted there’s a reason to re-play One Way, and want to do it.
So yes, I’ve griped above, but I really enjoyed this. It’s so lovely, and if you ignore its rather clumsy attempts to pluck on heartstrings, it holds together well. There are a bunch of decent puzzles in there, plus there are whole sections of the game you won’t find the first time through. It’s sweet, but there’s a depth to the design of the tower that reveals itself as you climb. It’s cheap too. And most of all, there’s all that waving!