Pneuma: Breath of Life

Game review by
Chad Sapieha, Common Sense Media
Pneuma: Breath of Life Game Poster Image
Vexing puzzler is safe for kids but could prove frustrating.

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A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this game.

Educational Value

Kids can learn about puzzle solving, practice their reasoning skills, and learn a bit about classic philosophy in this challenging puzzler. Players must approach puzzles logically, examining the puzzle elements and their surroundings to discern potential solutions. Some puzzles require players to test possible solutions, by pressing buttons and throwing levers to distinguish a pattern or understand the mechanics of a given object, such as a cube that rotates in different directions. Kids also will be introduced to a variety of philosophical concepts, including the notion of solipsism and Rene Descartes' famous proposition "cogito ergo sum." Pneuma: Breath of Life can be frustratingly challenging at times, but patient puzzle solvers will come away with a good mental workout. 

Positive Messages

Encourages, rewards systematic logical thinking. Prompts players to consider a variety of existential, metaphysical philosophical concepts.

Positive Role Models & Representations

The player's character believes himself a god with the power to alter reality, though there's some doubt as to his true identity. He's good-natured and seems to enjoy solving problems with his mind.

Ease of Play

Early puzzles pretty simple once you figure out the game's shtick of looking (or not looking) at objects to make things happen. Later puzzles prove much more tricky, and there aren't really any hints beyond the babblings of the player's character.

Violence
Sex
Language
Consumerism
Drinking, Drugs & Smoking

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Pneuma: Breath of Life is a downloadable first-person puzzle game with little iffy content. Kids assume control of an entity that awakens in an empty mansion filled with puzzles and immediately assumes he's some sort of god. The puzzles are completely innocuous, requiring players simply to press buttons or look at glowing blue eyes. There's no violence or anything controversial. The story encourages players to be observant and use systematic logical thinking to work out answers to each conundrum while broaching some complicated philosophical subjects, including existentialism and metaphysical problems. Note that while the game starts off pretty easy, puzzles in later chapters become very hard and could prove frustrating.

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What's it about?

PNEUMA: BREATH OF LIFE begins with an entity without a memory or history injected into a world he doesn't quite understand. He finds himself in an ornate but sparsely furnished mansion. It's filled with curious puzzles, which he begins to solve while musing about what he might be (he's pretty sure he's a god of some sort), the nature of the world he inhabits, and the meaning of it all. The story plays out over half a dozen chapters, each containing a handful of contextual puzzles that need to be solved to unlock doors and open gates. Most of these puzzles are based on the idea of observation. The player needs to either stare or avoid looking at specific objects -- often a glowing teal eye -- to make things happen. Other brainteasers involve simple interactions with the world, such as pressing a switch or pulling a lever to alter the environment in various ways. Puzzles start off fairly easy, but by the time players reach the third of six chapters they'll find a pretty significant spike in difficulty.

Is it any good?

To say Pneuma: Breath of Life has niche appeal is a bit of an understatement. It will turn off different types of players for all sorts of reasons. Its puzzles are almost ridiculously easy to start, then suddenly become confoundingly challenging. Its motor-mouthed, British-accented protagonist's relentless ramblings about heady philosophical concepts can be difficult to digest. And a range of technical problems -- including a super slow default camera speed, music that can overpower key sound effects, and a lighting effect meant to mimic pupil constriction when moving from bright to dark areas (which ends up just making it hard to see anything) -- will leave some players gritting their teeth.

However, those who hang in there -- and who enjoy puzzle games that require patience, observation, and a bit of lateral thinking -- might have a delightful time. Some puzzles (especially those in the later chapters) are inspired and unlike anything most players will have come across before in a game. Plus, a surprise ending that perfectly ties all the protagonist's long-winded babbling together in a clever and perhaps even slightly disturbing way serves as a satisfying reward for all the hard puzzle-solving work it takes to get to the final scene. It's not likely to win any awards, but there's no denying Pneuma: Breath of Life has a spirit and flavor all its own.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about learning with technology. Do you feel as though you learned anything new or practiced your reasoning skills while playing this puzzle game? Do you think games can help people learn new ideas? 

  • Families also can discuss rudimentary existentialism. How do you know you exist? How do you know the world around you and other people exist? 

Game details

  • Platforms: Mac, Windows, Xbox One
  • Skills: Thinking & Reasoning: analyzing evidence, defining problems, logic, solving puzzles
  • Price: $19.99
  • Pricing structure: Paid
  • Available online? Available online
  • Developer: Bevel Studios
  • Release date: February 27, 2015
  • Genre: Puzzle
  • ESRB rating: NR

For kids who love puzzles

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