Review: The Dweller

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I’ve found that games can teach us just as much about ourselves as it can about the creator or the greater world. The Dweller, for example, has taught me that I am an absolute sociopath when asked. Not only will I devour people, crush them with boulders, and send them screaming off of cliffs, I’ll do it while cackling gleefully and extolling the virtues of my deeds to anyone who will listen. So, to add some context for whatever therapist ends up reading this review in a few years, let me explain how The Dweller makes horrible murder so much fun in such a tight little puzzley package.

Archaeologists have discovered an ancient, buried city, and they simply can’t resist the historical secrets buried within. Too bad for them, you are the eldritch guardian of the city, intent on allowing no one to escape alive. Burrowing through the earthen walls of the caves, you can devour these hapless fools in an instant. For those just out of reach, you can inhabit boulders and crush the interlopers beneath your merciless bulk. Even fear can be a killer, sending panicked researchers screaming away and into deadly drops. But not all of these intruders are in places that can be easily reached by your powers, and so will require a bit of puzzling to dispatch. As you clean ancient house, you’ll come across research notes and letters regarding their mission, and you’ll be able to follow along as the situation escalates in a direction you might not expect.

The Dweller is a very lean little puzzle game, packing everything I just described into 59 single-screen levels where your task is to extinguish the lives of every human dumb enough to wander within reach. Your eldritch horror follows your cursor through floors, walls, and ceilings, but cannot cross open-air gaps on its own. That’s where the power to possess boulders comes into play, not only for bridging gaps but also for turning archaeologists into erudite paste. You’ll get a few additional tricks in the later levels but I won’t spoil them here. Instead, I’d like to point out how clever the game gets with its simple mechanics, starting you off with puzzles that explain your tools without any actual explanations, and then ramp up expectations to push your understanding and creativity. It’s exactly what any good puzzle game should do, what the best of the genre like Braid and Gunpoint have done, and levels are presented in non-linear segments so you can leave one you’re stumped on and return to it later.

And that’s pretty much it! You’ll get lore as you go, expanding on the characters you’re devouring and pushing the plot in new directions across the two hours or so it’ll take to complete this one. It’s not revolutionary or sprawling, but puzzle games in particular really don’t need to be. I want games that present unique and entertaining challenges for a few hours, enough to get my fill but not enough to burn out on, and The Dweller fits that bill perfectly. It’s quite a bonus for me that the payoff is crushing and consuming tiny, hapless adventurers, as I just can’t get enough of that kind of carnage. But regardless of where your moral compass points, I can assure you that The Dweller is a fine way to tax your brain for a few hours.

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