‘Creaks’ review: A transportive fairytale that’s hard to leave behind

Beautiful, atmospheric and bursting with ideas and artistry

Creaks begins with the discovery of a portal to another world, as many children’s fantasies do. A crack in the ordinary opens up, and suddenly we’re pulled towards adventure. Like the captivatingly dark fairytale Coraline, our character – a stiff Victorian-looking man in a shirt and knitted jumper – finds a tunnel behind the peeling wallpaper of his bedroom cell. He enters the crawlspace and an entire universe unfolds before him.

Creaks setting is instantly transportative. Almost the entirety of this 2D puzzle platformer takes place within a huge ramshackle castle that rises up from a sunless sea entombed within a vast subterranean space. This cavernous upside-down world makes the imagination soar, with the central castle – a kind of vertically-stacked labyrinth – resembling the impossibly large bathhouse from Studio Ghibli’s popular Spirited Away.

Creaks
Creaks. Credit: Evan Wilson

Beautifully drawn in the Amanita Design house style (the Samorost series, Machinarium), by the end of the game you’ll have passed through thousands of baroque castle rooms, from ancient libraries to painting rooms, greenhouses and observatories.

The visuals are completely enchanting. It’s impossible not to be drawn into Creaks’ weird world of clutter and paraphernalia, and so easy to get lost in the peculiar density of the backgrounds. Pots and jars filled with unknown essences, hanging horseshoes, kites with faces, carved toys that move in the shadows.

Every scene intrigues, pushing you to ponder the life and workings of those that once occupied the citadel, and the bizarre rituals that might’ve taken place before stone crumbled and dust thickened.

Creaks
Creaks. Credit: Evan Wilson

Much of your journey is a descent. You’ll clamber down rickety wooden ladders and take groaning mechanical lifts to new areas. The flow of rooms and floors is consistently linear – you’ll sometimes see previous areas you passed through, but you’ll never really double back on yourself like you might in a Metroid or Castlevania.

The pace of your journey is also constant. A few puzzles rooms, minimal platforming, and some exploration where you’ll be teased with a wider glimpse of the environment – a gnarled tree dancing atop a stalagmite, a creaky windmill. A bit of exposition follows. Your character spies on the remaining occupants of the castle through cracks in the floorboards and walls. The story, which unfolds silently and in a slapstick manner, is simple but told with plenty of charm and whimsy.

Creaks
Creaks. Credit: Evan Wilson

Puzzles revolve around the use of switches, levers and pressure pads. Using sliding doors and light sources, you’ll outsmart and bypass mechanical guard dogs, odd floating jellyfish, shadow monsters that mirror your every move, and… goats. Each element is introduced slowly over the course of the game’s six-or-so-hour run-time.

Eventually creatures show up together in the same room and combine, and so there are a few difficult puzzles where you’ll have to juggle a variety of elements in order to progress. The formula is never overly complex, but there’s still a few nightmare-rooms. Regardless, the joyous jingle of wind chimes that trigger as you finally line everything up correctly makes it all worth it.

Creaks
Creaks. Credit: Evan Wilson

To round out the puzzles there are dozens of elaborate canvas paintings hidden around the castle, squirreled away in the cobwebbed nooks and crannies. I suppose these are Creaks’ collectibles, although the game is so packed full of artistry, and the paintings seem so important tonally, it feels a little cynical to point out.

Regardless, they’re one of the best things about the game, and come in two types: oil paintings that you can tug and watch play out like clockwork, and wind-up mini-games that are a little more involved. Both are utterly bizarre – in a good way – strange and ornate, depicting 19th century style bird-people who play music, hunt, duel, fish, or simply take their dog for a walk.

The games are simple, requiring only a single button in some cases, but are such a welcome addition – just delightfully surreal with a tinge of creepiness.

Creaks
Creaks. Credit: Evan Wilson

If you were to boil it all down, I suppose there’s not all that much to Creaks. Just some puzzling, some looking at paintings and some spying at people through holes in the masonry. But it’s also a beautifully ornate experience. Its archaic, wobbly tower – constantly creaking – almost felt alive in my mind, despite the shadows and dereliction. It’s such a dark, fascinating place to delve into.

I already want to return through the tunnel behind my bedroom wallpaper, but I know like all fairy tales and fantasies, staying and recapturing the magic is rarely a possibility.

‘Creaks’ is available now on iOS. Will be released for PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch on July 22.

Our Verdict

Creaks is an utterly transportive puzzle-platformer that sets the imagination alight and beautifully balances joy and whimsy with an eerie darkness. Like all great fairy tales, it pulls you into its world, which then becomes hard to leave behind.

Pros

  • A fascinating, atmospheric setting
  • Beautiful hand-drawn art in the Amanita Design house style
  • Great music and subtle, haunting ambient sound design
  • Intriguing story with colourful characters and piles of whimsy
  • Well-paced trickle of puzzle elements that never becomes too muddled or complicated

Cons

  • There’s only one route through Creaks’ world, and rarely more than a single solution for the relatively simple puzzles
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