It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play, we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
2016’s The Witness is kind of like an open-world puzzle game. In it, you’re essentially asked to constantly solve the same 2D maze-style puzzle over and over, but depending on where you find it in the game’s open world, there are different rules for solving it. The most interesting of these puzzles are the ones that require you to step away from the puzzle and look at the world around you in order to solve it.
In one area, you learn that to solve the puzzle, you have to look at it through the branches of a tree, which shows you the path you need to draw. Eventually, you encounter a puzzle with a missing branch that prevents you from correctly solving it — until you discover that the branch that broke off is lying on the floor nearby. You can’t put it back, but its shape is enough to tell you the solution.
These moments make the world of The Witness feel more tangible, like it’s more than just a place where you’re solving mazes. They make you think about them like spaces in the real world, as opposed to something artificial and virtual. Foxhunt is sort of a short, condensed version of that sensibility.
In Foxhunt, you find yourself in a sunless yet bright, seemingly infinite desert, dotted with only a few telephone-pole-like monuments and small domed structures. The only other living thing there is a strange white fox. It runs away when you approach, leaving behind a note card. If you solve the puzzles the fox has created (it says via the card), you might be able to catch it. Unlike in The Witness, these aren’t abstract 2D puzzles, but they involve finding ways to understand the space you’re in, and manipulating it in the few ways you can.
While the space is free for you to explore, the fox’s cards point you to each puzzle and hint at how to solve them. But as you progress, they become increasingly vague. They start by telling you to look under a certain landmark, but eventually, they’ll just roughly point you in the right direction, expecting you’ll figure it out for yourself. The puzzles aren’t particularly difficult, but as they progress, they require you to think about the space like you would if you were actually there.
The cards help ease you into this process. With the press of a button, you can fan them out in front of you, letting you easily reread them for clues. That also gives them a tangibility that, in a small way, helps make the environment feel more like a real place.
Even though it doesn’t reach the levels of physical presence The Witness sometimes got to, Foxhunt does more than enough, given the size and scope of the game. You’re likely to leave Foxhunt wanting more, not because the ending isn’t satisfying or conclusive, but simply because the puzzle design and progression is so good, it’s easy to wonder where things would go with another hour or two of gameplay. But mainly, it feels like so much more could be done with these sorts of open-world puzzle games. I’m excited to see what other designers do with this idea.
Foxhunt was created by Anomalina. You can get it on Itch.io as a pay-what-you-want game for Windows or Mac OS. It takes about an hour to finish.