Viewfinder review: A mind-blowing puzzler where perspective is everything

In Viewfinder, you solve puzzles by finding the right way to see things, and here you do that by both physically moving through its abstract 3D spaces and mentally wrapping your brain around its mind-bending set of rules. Perspective is key because here’s the thing: it’s a world where you can bring photos to life, with the 2D image becoming a 3D reality when you place it in the puzzle world.

It’s an amazing hook and one I’ve never seen in a puzzle game before. There are echoes of The Witness, Gorogoa and Superliminal here, but Viewfinder’s dizzying puzzles are still very clean. It impresses right off the bat and continues to pull tricks from its silky tophat until the end of its four-hour run. It’s compact, brilliant, and one of the best puzzle games of 2023.

The goal of each Viewfinder puzzle is to navigate a space to access a teleporter that will take you to the next level. There are hub worlds with chains of puzzles, and if you complete each chain, the next hub world will unlock. But here’s the fun part. To access each teleporter, you will need the help of your magical photographs. When you hold a picture in front of you, the structures and objects in the picture materialize into the world in front of you.

Puzzle rules change over time. Sometimes you have to take pictures yourself, other times you can only use pictures you find throughout the level. Sometimes your camera may have the capacity to take five pictures, but in particularly difficult puzzles it will only have one. Teleporters will also often need a power source, meaning you’ll need to find and collect batteries along the way. The rules may change in each set of puzzles, but they’re all still wonderfully weird, totally offbeat, and so satisfying to solve.

Is it strange to say that Viewfinder makes me feel like a magician? That’s the flair of it all: watch me materialize a piece of this concrete climb out of nothing! It’s such a fun game that just begs to be messed with, and it can get really bonkers in later levels. I’ve used snippets of stone structures to build walkways, taken snapshots of desks and benches to create walkways, and even used photos of the sky to make entire walls completely disappear. When you fully realize the power you hold, you begin to look at the world differently. I was constantly looking for something with a straight edge to make platforms or any piece of furniture that would work as a makeshift staircase.

A 2D photo of a purple platform has been introduced to 3D in the viewfinder

Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Thunderful Publishing

It’s a subtle but impactful achievement. At first I started making simple ramps and bridges, but in the end, I was dismantling and rebuilding entire levels, replacing the architecture of the whole level with my own ideas and visions. I’ve completed puzzles in such a weird way that it looks like someone smashed a bunch of MC Esher sketches together.

This is just one of Viewfinder’s trippy ideas, but they evolve in many other directions. There’s a series of puzzles where you discover that when you place a picture, it’s not just the surface of that picture that materializes, but the entire world within it. Have you taken a snapshot of a maze? Place it in the world and you can move around it and find a prize hidden in its heart. Each photo is its own space to explore, like a gateway to another world.

A black and white path taken from a photograph connects one island to another in Viewpoint

There is a hint system if you get stuck. It will trigger when you have spent a certain amount of time on a level. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Thunderful Publishing

It’s a feeling I remember clearly when playing Gorogoa: you have to start thinking about what lies beyond the picture frame and how you can use it for the puzzle at hand. There are also parts where you have to align your vision in a specific way to make a doorway to the next level, which is a lot like The Witness. It’s a big surprise to see developers find new ways to break boundaries, and it’s impressive every time.

A hodgepodge of cut-and-paste architecture and platforming fills the screen in the viewfinder

Toy box
Viewpoint embodies a “learning by doing” philosophy. It’s as much a virtual toy as it is a puzzle game. There’s an easy rewind system to go back in time, making those mistakes disappear as easily as they appeared, meaning you can have fun to your heart’s content.Image credit: Thunderous publication

The viewfinder has a story explaining this extraordinary power, but it is very practical. It’s no spoiler to say that the world you inhabit was created by scientists who use it as a space to carry out their research, and if you listen to the scattered voice recordings, you’ll find they’re on the brink of a great discovery, one that will change the real world forever.

This narrative dressing didn’t blow me away as much as its riddle, but it still provided a nice backdrop for the world to see. I also like that each hub world belongs to a specific seeker and acts as a window into their personality. One seems to have a sweet tooth for all the chocolate, tea, and cake on display, while another loves plants, turning her central world into a huge garden. They all seem to be good friends and leave cute sticky notes for each other as well, and there’s a general mess to these seekers’ spaces that makes each area feel like it’s been loved and lived in. Everything is very soothing and peaceful – even the music from the menu is lovely.

A sight level that shows a teleporter attached horizontally to the side of a wall.

I’m desperate for the speedrunning community to get their hands on Viewfinder. | Image credit: Rock Paper Shotgun / Thunderful Publishing

Viewfinder is a puzzle game like no other. A reality-distorting, mind-bending hook makes it consistently interesting, and it has consistently impressed me with the directions it goes. It’s a game that makes me want to be able to erase my memory and play it again for the first time.

This review is based on a review version of the game provided by publisher Thunderful Publishing.

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