In ways both fantastical and familiar, Violett weaves a yarn that snakes around you and pulls you in. This point-and-click adventure shoves its surreality and challenge to the forefront, announcing its intention to lure you into its twisted world and twist your brain into knots from the get-go. As the story grows, the game’s mechanics wane, touching on possibilities Violett never fully exploits. Yet where the lead character’s magical abilities never wholly blossom, the journey casts its own kind of spells on you. Push past the frustrating initial moments and prepare for a lovely and unusual tale.
The basic setup is one we’ve all heard before. A young, rebellious teen moves away from her school and her life in the city to an old haunted house in the middle of nowhere. It’s a bit hackneyed, but it works as a solid foundation for the game’s real draw: a mind-bending nightmare world filled with tough puzzles and inventive visuals.
Channeling some unholy fusion between all of the great surrealist artists as well as a healthy dose of Lewis Carroll, Violett opens with the eponymous teen looking around her room for something–anything–to do. She spots a glint through a hole in the baseboard and reaches in to find herself quickly transported to a visually stunning alternate world. The story is pretty bare-bones and is almost exclusively without words, instead relying on pictures, symbols, and facial expressions to communicate. Unfortunately, while that approach helps the already stellar visual presentation, Violett’s first few moments are marred by a dedication to that minimalism.
After her transportation to this alternate dimension, Violett finds herself trapped inside a cage, and you, as the player, have some small degree of control over her surroundings. At first, she can’t do much besides rock her cage back and forth, by means of you clicking and dragging the mouse to and fro. Unfortunately that requires some strange timing, and it took me about 10 minutes to get the hang of it. On the flip side, that awkward motion shows up only once more at the very end of the game. Coarse first impressions aside, this first scene is fantastic as a vertical slice of everything you need to learn to progress.
This pond is more representative of the late-game stages and lacks the strangeness of earlier stages, instead looking very grounded, albeit quite somber.
Once you’ve rattled your cage sufficiently, you briefly grab the hands of a fairy, also imprisoned, which grants you some basic telekinetic powers. From there, you can manipulate objects throughout the room, either by simply clicking on them or by clicking and dragging them in a specific direction to achieve a specific effect. If you’re trying to manipulate an object in the wrong way or at the wrong time, Violett shakes her head and mumbles disapprovingly.
Scattered around the room are a few colored orbs that you can collect by clicking on them. They are hidden, though, and very carefully disguised by the environment. These are orbs of elemental power, and they act as a constant sort of Easter-egg hunt. Often there are four or five on any given screen, but figuring out exactly where they sit is a running puzzle that helps guide you to look around the room for clues as to your next objective. With this knowledge in hand, you have all you need to move on.
Not everything in Violett’s world looks like it comes from the land of nightmares…sometimes there are colorful party balloons!
From there, things start to get really strange. The first room you come to after the introductory area features a demonic-looking teapot that never takes its one eye off of you. It’s distinctly unnerving, but works well to set the creepy, absurdist tone. This room also tests the lessons you learned in the first room to make sure that you’ve got the hang of them. From there, you find an M.C. Escher-inspired hub of sorts that leads off to several other places, and the game proper begins. This is also the toughest part of the game, since you have several rooms that you must tackle with relatively little to guide you. The strangeness of the world and the obtuse rules it follows highlight Violett’s nature as an outsider to this world. You don’t understand it, because she doesn’t, at least not yet. Regardless, this first hub and its connected rooms amount to the first few hours of gameplay, and they are stunningly hard. While some of that difficulty continues, after you start to get a decent grasp on the world, it isn’t quite as alien or as hostile.
There’s an overarching theme of escapism that steadily transitions to homesickness, much in the way that Alice’s trip through the rabbit hole first seems like a fun romp before becoming more and more hostile. Here, though, the first few environments are remarkably unfriendly, whereas the later ones are wistful and lonely. Because there are no words or real cutscenes to help communicate the game’s message, and there’s a strong implication that this is Violett’s escapist fantasy, it’s hard to shake the feeling that this trip through the rabbit hole is reflective of Violett’s own emotional state. Helping that interpretation along is the absolutely fantastic musical score. The music changes from room to room, helping to contextualize each major location in the game. Some rooms rely on pizzicato strings to imply that Violett is in danger; others shift into G minor chords to imply sadness and loneliness.
A few orb locations are obvious, but some aren’t so easy. There are quite a few in this shot alone. Can you find them all?
While the meat and potatoes of such simple games are the environments and the puzzles, Violett does have a few odd problems. First, while the colored orbs I mentioned earlier are useful in that they help encourage you to look around and closely examine the rooms, they don’t have much utility beyond that. Later, Violett gains some other powers in addition to her telekinesis. It’s sort of implied that the strength of those powers is related to how many orbs you’ve collected, but they don’t change at all over time. Even if they did, those other powers are rarely used. Violett’s ability to float, make plants grow, and finally encapsulate herself in a shield all seem like they’d be fantastically useful for navigating such a strange land, but they never come up in a story-critical context until the last few seconds of the game. Instead, they’re used only to help collect pages of a diary left by an unknown stranger. These pages aren’t critical, nor do they provide any hints to help the game along. They are entirely optional, though you often have to go to rather extreme lengths to collect them. I was left feeling that the game is unfinished, because these skills aren’t used for anything interesting or vital.
Despite the oddly incomplete utilization of otherworldly psychic powers, and an insane difficulty curve, the emotional context goes a long way to helping Violett along. The steep curve is representative of Violett’s own confusion, and the powers are her growing determination to escape this alternate world and return home. Violett is quiet and unassuming, but it steadily weaves a tale about childhood fears and desires with which we are all too familiar. Despite its surreal setting, it has a very personal touch that grounds it.