Terry Cavanagh's Naya's Quest is a bit of an unexpected breed... something like an isometric adventure game crossed with a puzzle platformer with a post-apocalyptic story at its heart. You play as Naya, a young girl who travels to an abandoned town after meeting a monk who claims he left something behind there that may be of use to her. There are a few different control options to choose from, but most of them are variations on using the [arrow] keys to change the direction Naya's facing and move her forward, with [Z] or the [spacebar] to jump forward in the direction you're facing, allowing you to cross small gaps or hop up on short platforms. To discuss the rest of the game is actually a minor spoiler as to what the monk has left Naya, so if you'd rather find out for yourself, stop reading now, but this wouldn't be much of a review if it didn't review the game's mechanics and gameplay, and so...
The monk's gift is a machine that, when activated with [X], reduces the level to a cross-section of the world around you, and once you leave the town with it, the game begins in earnest. See, although it may look like most everything is on the same level, more or less, layouts are designed to play on your perspective. Floors that look like a single straight unbroken run can actually be composed of different pieces in different alignments on the grid that makes up your isometric world, which means that pitfalls can be hidden anywhere, to say nothing of how challenging navigation can become. The device's cross-section ability allows you to break up what you see into chunks that, with the help of a grid below them, can help you to figure out the true lay of the land. Fall into the abyss, and you'll lose one of your three lives. Each room allows you to try three times to complete it, and if your lives run out, you can either go back to the last save square you passed, or restart from the beginning of the last room you successfully completed.
The lives system is, largely, the biggest problem with the game since it doesn't provide anything to the experience beyond frustration. It's such a clever, challenging concept of a puzzle that this arbitrary slap on the wrist feels jarringly out of place, and could lead to a few rage quits when someone might otherwise be inclined to plug away at it contentedly. It's a fabulous concept that might take you a while to wrap your brain around, but is well worth the effort... though the ending feels more than a little abrupt.
Though the narrative is sparse, revealed in bits and pieces as you play through the game's three sets of levels, it's a tantalizing little mystery that compels you forward... though perhaps not quite as much as the increasingly fiendish level design. Some stages were so deceptively simple looking and yet so clever in their solutions that I had to laugh in delight. The care that's gone into the level design is clear, and once the new twists start being introduced in later levels, you'll find the challenge ramping up in surprising ways. Suffice it to say, Naya's Quest has more than one trick up its sleeve, and is easily one of the most delightfully difficult puzzle games to come around in a long, long time. It's not easy to reconcile the fact that your eyes are lying to you, but it's even harder to innovate, and Terry Cavanagh continues to establish himself as a creator who finds as much joy in creativity and experimentation as we do in enjoying the fruits of his labours. Even when they give me a headache.