Annapurna’s latest mind-bending romantic drama is this puzzle game, Maquette

The word that enters your mind when I play Maquette, the indie-pop puzzle video game from designer Graceful Decay, is recursive. It indicates repeating, a pattern that duplicates itself into infinity, like the florets of broccoli romanesco or the branches of a snowflake. Grammar can be recursive, with a single structure utilized over and over in a sentence. Believing can be recursive, too — considering believed itself. In Maquette, the world itself is recursive, changing otherwise basic environments into topsy-turvy puzzles that duplicate themselves for eternity.

The story of Maquette has to do with the start and completion of a relationship in between the storyteller, Michael, and Kenzie. Memories are abstract, so rather of an actual retelling of the couple’s story, we get Michael (years later on) browsing a sketchbook the set as soon as shared. Their whimsical illustrations of castles, coffees, and dream houses offer a keyhole view into their time together.

The maquette in concern is actually a design variation of the world, and it’s the structure that the video game is fixated. The gamer will return there again and again, albeit in 3 in a different way sized variations of the area. It’s filled with puzzles to be resolved as Michael assesses the life expectancy of the relationship that started with a conference at a coffee bar, over that sketchbook.

Puzzles in Maquette include moving products in between the in a different way scaled recursive worlds. For example, if you get a little product like a ticket stub in the routinely sized world and drop it into the mini maquette, that product will appear enormous in the routinely sized world. It helps to watch the trailer:

Puzzles at the start of Maquette are relatively simple, defining the rules of the world. A gap in a bridge appears, with no apparent way to cross. But a key found on the ground earlier is actually the solution — once the small key is dropped into the smaller maquette, in the right slot, it can act as the large missing piece of the bridge in the bigger version of the world that you inhabit. Puzzles range from very easy to shockingly hard, but they never feel broken or unfair. There aren’t evil tricks that artificially inflate the difficulty or pad out a level; you just need the right perspective, noticing small things that might have big meaning in another context.

Perspective makes all the difference not just in solving the puzzles, but in making sense of the story. The couple has a familiar, if not dull romance. But though relationships live and die every day, to the couple in love (and then, not in love), the bond can feel like everything. In Maquette, we’re in this guy’s head, his grand world and vision, alternatingly romanticized and idealized, constantly centered on himself.

A bright tree with yellow leaves behind a little cart. Only part of the image is lit up in the brilliant yellow, the rest is colored in muted, darker hues

Image: Graceful Decay/Annapurna Interactive

Maquette, at its best, captures the growth of this man by twisting together the story and puzzles, allowing the latter to double as metaphors that amplify the former. It carries themes of simultaneity, between an ordinary romance and the magic of being in love, a little key that’s a enormous bridge, and little cracks that create huge divots.

It reminds me of a relationship I had, one that I thought I would never see myself out of. It’s these memories of mine that give Maquette’s narrative that emotional weight, even when the writing is clumsy or stilted. When I look back at that relationship, it’s only just a speck in my 32 years of life, something that hardly gets a thought. It’s hard to imagine that there was a time when it was so much bigger, where I lived in a fantasy world of my own creation — but I did. And Maquette has the right beats, and recursions, to bring up that feeling in me, that conflicting sense of scale.

At times, I rolled my eyes at Michael’s whiny moments, or about some of the little things the couple fought about. Perhaps these mundane parts of the relationship, how unevenly people fall in and out of love, provide contrast for the fantastical game world — the space Michael and Kenzie built together and in which they hold themselves up. Their relationship shatters for seemingly small reasons, but in their intimate world, the details loom so much larger.

A wide view of the pink-domed building surrounded by other colorful hoses and castles, with rich blues, greens, and purples

Image: Graceful Decay/Annapurna Interactive

It is refreshing to see romance as the beating heart of a video game. Titles like fellow Annapurna-published game Florence or Nina Freeman’s We Met in May built on the importance of small moments to create emotional weight. Maquette interrogates the relationship as a whole, showing something opposite — that there are times where these smaller sized moments end up as filler for a relationship that just ends. And that’s OK.

The magical world of Maquette never wears off, however the relationship fades. And so the world does shift with it, the colorful fantasy turning gray, the maquette tattered and damaged. (At least, for Michael.) This isn’t necessarily a spoiler; it’s something that’s clear from the beginning, an overtone that shades the whole story, even in its happiest minutes. The player knows from the beginning that the relationship — no matter how good and perfect it seems — eventually ends.

Maquette is now available on PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, and Windows PC via Steam. The video game was reviewed using a PS5 code provided by Annapurna Interactive. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased by means of affiliate links. You can discover extra details about Polygon’s principles policy here.

Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.