Intelligence is a complex thing, and the proper way to gauge it is not easily performed, or even clear. Everyone has heard about IQ tests and whether or not they're valid—cultural issues come into play, the value of one kind of intelligence over another, and several other factors make estimating such an intangible thing a sticky proposition better left to intellectuals and specialists. However, people who own a PSP are now in luck. Thanks to D3 Publishers, PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient is here to cut through all of that lofty scientific stuff and get right down to what matters most: stacking blocks and avoiding laser beams.
Instead of pen and paper or trying to fit puzzle pieces together, this "test" has players taking control of a stylized avatar and negotiating it through a series of increasingly difficult 3D puzzles. The game's manual states that the research of a professor of psychology at Kyoto University was used to create the content of PQ, and even asserts that this professor believes the game will transcend classic intelligence tests. I'm not sure whether or not the developers seriously think of this game as an intelligence test or if that's just a new spin on marketing, but it's an interesting premise.
After entering a name and country, the game's tutorial walked me through the different types of challenges that would supposedly measure my "practical intelligence". Best described as being a cross between the spartan aesthetics of Metal Gear Solid: VR Missions with some of the color and energy of Rez, PQ's enigmatic, symbolic visuals are a perfect match for the subject matter.
The game's challenges mostly consist of activities that measure spatial relationships and test a person's ability to memorize. Stacking, unstacking and re-stacking blocks is something that must be done in almost all of PQ's 100 levels, but there are also mazes in which the correct path must be remembered before entering and obstacles that require certain weights to be calculated. There are also conveyor belts, escalators, revolving doors, color-coded locks and the laser beams that I mentioned in the opening. I'm not sure how many of these elements can actually be called "practical" (I personally don't seem to encounter lasers on a daily basis) but I was eager to see where it led.
Things started out well. The levels come in small, bite-sized chunks, and I found that it was very intuitive to figure out what the game was asking and get into the flow. However, although the first third or so of the disc went down smoothly, it wasn't very long before poor design choices and technical issues started to wear away at my enjoyment.
I find it odd that for something supposedly testing logic and intelligence, the developers didn't think it was important to work on a camera system that was user-friendly and effective. Since visual analysis of each area is key, not being able to get a good view is an automatic handicap that became more annoying and problematic as the puzzles got tougher. The truly baffling thing is that the analog nub goes completely unused, so maybe the developers should have done a little intelligence testing on themselves before going ahead with this inadequate system.
Another thing holding the game back is that each level has a stringent time limit. The quicker you solve each puzzle, the more points are added towards your "PQ." It makes sense, but some areas are complex and require performing steps in specific sequences. I may not be Einstein, but I'd say I'm not too shabby when it comes to this sort of thing. That said, a significant amount of my time was eaten up by trial and error, and it was very common for me to finally figure out a solution, only to find that I didn't have enough time to actually perform it.
What made this problem a serious issue was that the game simply stopped me and moved on to the next area if I took too long. I would have preferred to be left in each stage until completion and wouldn't have cared about points being deducted since most of my enjoyment came from simply solving each challenge. The kicker is that the levels come in sets of 10, and unless I completed all 10, I couldn't go back and work on puzzles that stumped me without re-doing all 100 levels. Can we say "discourage replay"?
This distasteful choice might have been made to preserve the integrity of the "test" results, but the argument doesn't hold because there are several ways to cheat and improve scores. The easiest is simply to go through and muck around until you learn the solutions, then delete the data and start over. If you already know what to do, scores can double or triple easily. It's also possible to pause the game and visually examine a troublesome part, thereby defeating any accurate measurement of the time it took to solve it. There are a few other workarounds, but the bottom line is that the developers would have been better off slanting PQ towards a friendlier game structure instead of the rigid "test" system that's in place now.
PQ appealed to me because it wasn't wrapped up in any kind of story or adventure—from the start, it's clear in positioning itself outright as a series of brain teasers. This kind of thing seems like a perfect fit for squeezing in a few minutes on a portable system, not to mention that it's a brand-new game and not a spin off or sequel to something found on the PS2. Although the problems present are significant enough to keep it from rising to the top tier of PSP offerings, PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient does have a certain appeal; players interested in putting their gray matter to the test might not put it at the top of its class, but it does get a passing grade.