Golem is a sidescroller puzzle game made by Longbow Games, set in the ruins of an old world. You play as a young human, and by your side is a mysterious, glowing orb. We’ll call this orb the golem, the one the game is named for. As you progress through different environments and conquer more difficult challenges, the golem will grow and change shape, evolving with you. You and the golem work together to progress through the sprawling ruins and uncover their secrets.
Golem begins as a simple, unassuming game. Your assignment is first to collect the golem, your partner-in-crime, and move them from point a to point b. The golem can unlock doors that you can’t figure out, but in this beginning stage, it’s simply a floating magical orb. It can’t move on its own, and you can’t carry it with you up vines and ropes.
Good Golem, Best Friend
This creature is probably one of the cutest things in any game, hands down. As you move from stage to stage, your golem will change its shape. Each new form changes the way the golem moves, and the way you interact with it as a player. This means that with each stage, the way you play the game is completely different.
In the beginning, you’re in control of every little motion of the golem, pushing it where it needs to be and choosing to leave it there. Once it gains legs, it will try to follow you until you tell it to stay in place. Just when you think you’ve mastered the gameplay, Golem throws a curveball, enticing you to keep thinking on your feet and developing new ways to play.
But besides that, it’s simply adorable. Each form the golem takes has a different method of movement and expression. Animators took the time to develop specific idle animations and walking patterns for each form. The two-legged form will sometimes whack itself on the head, the way someone might hit a large machine to get it to work. The animal-like form gallops at top speed on spindly legs, with a wiggling tail behind it. The amount of effort put into these animations is remarkable, and it makes gameplay an absolute joy.
Setting the Stage
All of the scenes in Golem are rendered in 3D. Much of the action takes place on a flat plane: you can go up, down, and side-to-side, but not to the foreground and background. Despite this, Longbow Games did not skimp on detail and atmosphere, even in places players can’t actually reach.
Much of the game’s exploration takes place in broken-down ruins, crumbling and overgrown with vines, but still very alive. With a free camera, players can look into all the shadowy corners and see carvings, doorways, and other signs of life and activity, even though they aren’t part of the puzzles. The environments really feel as if they were once lived in. It’s difficult to play through each scene without feeling a sense of awe and reverence for the people that came before the player character.
Once Upon a Time
If you wanted to, you could play Golem without caring about the story. After the start screen, there are no words on the screen and no voices in the audio track. Nothing demands your attention, or quizzes you on the lore of the game. You could move right along solving puzzles and no one would trouble you. Or, if you want to, you could pay attention to each lovingly-crafted detail, and get that much more out of the game.
In each stage, especially as you get closer to the pools of energy that upgrade your golem, there are carvings on the walls that form pictures. As the golem passes each carving, it lights up in blue. These engravings tell the story of the people that once inhabited the ruins, conveying something about their relationship with golems – and yes, that’s plural, because it appears that the player’s golem isn’t the only one in existence.
Even outside these chambers, there are little tidbits to pick up about the setting. In one stage, you travel around four sides of a tall tower, unlocking each part, which creates a towering spire into the sky. When the last lock is released, metal flaps extend from the spire, and you begin to see it move by harnessing the wind. This marvel of technology isn’t just efficient, it’s beautiful too, plated in gold and sparkling in the sun. The people that created it were intelligent, with a penchant for pretty things too. Even when they’ve all disappeared, the traces they leave behind still feel human and real.
These are just a few of the many, tiny details woven into the game. For the sake of avoiding spoilers, this article won’t include more, but it’s safe to say that for those who love the thrill of discovery, this game is for you.
It would be absurd for one journalist to say that every person would fall in love with this game. Some people won’t like it. Some people just don’t like puzzle games, and that’s fine.
But Golem is truly a striking game, and I found it to be a wonderful, enriching game from start to finish. I’m a long-time fan of puzzle games, and this one fits seamlessly into the niche in my heart. It’s beautiful, it’s fun, it’s adorable, and the puzzles it presents are engaging and challenging, but not frustrating. Golem pulls out all the stops to make sure you can play in a way that keeps you hooked, as long as you’re willing to be taken away to their beautiful world.