No one asked for the Pong Cinematic Universe, but the PC game qomp is here to provide it anyway. It may be one of my favorite games of the year so far.
I was mesmerized by the game’s opening moments. It looks like a clone of Pong, but I wasn’t in control of either paddle. I did realize that I could hit a button and change the direction of the ball, however, and that became my first challenge: making sure the ball got past those paddles, because I was sick of being hit back and forth.
It’s time to escape, and that escape is going to take up the rest of the game, which can be beaten in two to three hours, depending on your skill level.
The world of qomp is a mostly black-and-white maze of obstacles and enemies, and the only way the player can interact with it is by hitting that one button to change the direction of the ball. That’s it. It’s a matter of timing, patience, and visualizing angles. Everything comes down to where the ball is headed, where it will go if you hit the button to change its trajectory, and where it needs to go next to stay on the path to freedom.
In a world of forever games and constantly updated releases that all but require you to play every day to keep up, qomp is a welcome respite, the sort of game you can play for a few hours, have fun, and then put it down. The game has perfected its own limited scope. It’s not about being big; it’s about being good.
“qomp contains no secrets or hidden areas,” the game’s designer, who goes by Stuffed Wombat, wrote in a blog post. “After completing the game, players get access to a more challenging version of each level. Completing all challenges will unlock nothing.”
The reason to play? Because video games are fun. There is no grind, and no reminders about showing up tomorrow. If you “die,” there’s nothing lost except a little bit of time. Even so, there are difficulty settings, and they’re a wonder of clever design. For example, you can choose to zoom the camera out to see the entirety of each level, or you can give yourself a line that shows where the ball will go when you hit the button. There’s also an option to just … turn on invincibility if you don’t want to worry about it. You can toggle any of these settings at any time.
qomp is modest in scope, but precise in its ability to execute on its goals of being a simple, clever, enjoyable game you can buy for a few bucks ($6.99) and finish in a few hours. At least part of the game’s taut levels and control may be due to Stuffed Wombat’s constant revisions and re-creations of the game. He made, remade, and honed it for years; Stuffed Wombat estimates that this is his seventh version of qomp.
The game’s rocky journey involved business deals going south, a lack of resources, unhappiness with previous versions, and some welcome support from Stuffed Wombat’s parents. Yet its prolonged, painful-sounding period of transition hasn’t made qomp feel fussed over or over-designed. Instead, it feels perfected, as if it popped into existence this way.
In his explanatory blog post about the game, Stuffed Wombat was also careful to note that qomp was not just his work. “I could not have made qomp without Clovelt, Britt Brady and Miroko and I would kindly request that you credit all four of us, if you cover qomp,” he wrote.
He then detailed each of their contributions to code cleanup, art, and audio.
In addition to these collaborators, Stuffed Wombat had a support system to help him through the game’s rough development, and he credits that as well. “Now, three and a half years after starting, qomp is finally getting released,” he wrote. “The main reason for that is that I have access to a very strong and very forgiving support system.
“My parents encouraged me to follow my dreams. When my dreams broke me, they encouraged me to set them aside. They helped me recover. Then, they encouraged me to try again … qomp would not exist without them.”
And we should be very happy qomp exists.
qomp is out now on Linux and Windows PC. The game was reviewed using a download code provided by Stuffed Wombat. Vox Media has affiliate partnerships. These do not influence editorial content, though Vox Media may earn commissions for products purchased via affiliate links. You can find additional information about Polygon’s ethics policy here.