Puzzle

Tidalis

It's a Casual Game. No, It's a Puzzle Game. No, It's a Dessert Topping

Type:
Demo Download
Developer:
Arcen Games
Suggested By:
regnared

Tidalis is a casual game (strike one) using match-three (strike two) and falling-block (strike three) mechanics. Yer out, we never review crap like that.

But... wait a minute. Actually, it's a difficult, involved puzzle game with novel mechanics and real challenge. The basic setup is this: on a square grid are arrayed blocks of different colors. Each block contains an arrow, and you can rotate the direction it points in. If you click on a block, it sends out a "stream" in the direction of its arrow that affects only blocks of the same color. When it hits a block of the same color, the stream continues in the direction that this block is pointing (some blocks are double-arrowed and continue the stream in two directions simultaneously). Streams "peter out" if they pass through three squares that are either empty or contain different color blocks; but if a stream passes through three or more blocks of the starting color, they all disappear, scoring points. Also, since this is a "falling blocks" game, the blocks above them fall down the grid -- and the bottom-most block on each falling stack now sends out a stream that can, in principle, cause a chain effect with multiple block groups of multiple colors disappearing.

In the game's "puzzle" mode, in fact, you typically may initiate only one stream, and must clear the board. These are not timed (and have no Tetris-like influx of blocks that could cause you to lose through slow play), so they are pure abstract puzzles -- and at higher levels, very difficult ones. It's notable that the 'tutorial' is in several segments; what seems like an initially simple, Bejewlled-like system is actually a profoundly intricate system with many nuances.

But... wait another minute. Tidalis is still a brain-dead casual game. Consider it's "adventure" mode, which subjects you to a wholly irrelevant "story" between levels and contains noxious saccharine music that must appeal to the casual game demographic because it surely makes my skin crawl, along with pretty scenery graphics behind the play window that are equally irrelevant to play. And in this mode, blocks do fall, Tetris-like, and you can and almost certainly will win if you play it the way you play Bejewelled -- that is, without worrying too much about the nuances of the system, and simply line things up to get three or more of the same color at a time. In fact, if you ponder too much and try to set up a really cool cascade of streams, one of your stacks will hit the top, and you're done.

In other words, this game doesn't know what it's trying to be, or perhaps is trying to be all things to all people -- both the kind of casual game where the difficulty is minimal and you play it just to kill time and watch the pretty images on the screen, and also a sophisticated puzzle game with challenging brainteasers.

So my advice is sure, play this thing, at least in puzzle mode, and turn off the damn music.


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Minecraft

Mine of Worldcraft

Type:
Shareware
Developer:
Markus Persson

Over a year ago Greg reviewed this game in its earlier form and criticized it for being aimless and gameless, now the aim has been given, and it's a bull's eye hit. I watched the crafting/build-a-house tutorial and I was compelled to go buy the thing for 10 EUR or $14 (if only I had waited for yesterday's brief dollar rally I could have saved a buck). If you click through on some of the other videos, such as a scale replica of the Starship Enterprise ("it's actually pretty fucking big") or the planet earth, and so on. But that was old Minecraft, the paidic Minecraft, a game has since been added, and what a game!

This is the most fun I've had playing a game all year, hands down. It rewards every creative impulse, and these impulses are now structured. A crafting system has been introduced, instead of just placing blocks as you will, there is a resource hierarchy with its attendant, diminishing fractals of probable availability. For example, wood and stone are plentiful, with the prior you can make a wood pick to harvest the latter, then you can start building all kinds of tools and a home. You'll need to the stone pick to harvest coal, fairly abundant if you dig 10-20 blocks down, and iron, which is harder to come by. A stone smelter with some coal will allow you to refine that iron into pure bars. With an iron pick you'll be able to harvest the occasional gold ore, which really is pretty useless other than as a monetary instrument (as of this version central banking has not yet been simulated) as well as slightly more common bloodstone that you can use for setting up wire-systems capable of rigging mine cart tracks or calculators, and diamonds which make for the best gear.

To give some constraint, you have health and every several minutes night will fall and unleash undead who plague the land, giving a bright engineering fantasy a nice compliment of survival horror ala LEGO. Somehow, ugly, blocky zombies scared me more than normal mapped ones in Resident Evil perhaps because using a door to make myself safe involved two cumbersome clicks with a move-and-turn in the middle, instead of a single button-press. There's a combination of chill and chill that you may experience as you look down from your lofty castle and see fields full of shambling undead, so distant, enveloped in the mists, safely away from you, insulated by some manifestation of your will and design. Then when day-breaks you'll begin again; what at first is a desperate venture toward survival becomes a triumphant cycle of mastery, after all, you've got access to your own private mine built into your house, and you may be tempted to build a tower to heaven as well. These vertical pursuits will keep you busy at night until you forgot about the whole evil-curse dynamic, save for the moaning sound effects you hear toward the surface.

The game has a tremendous amount of potential for new objects, more focused macro-objectives, social features, and most of all: whatnot. But as it is, it's a great value, especially for those who relish the petty joys of manipulating ambient systems and trying your luck for novelty, digging through aimless stone until you stumble onto an underground river-vein, all procedurally generated, and fight your way through it, digging a short-cut back to the surface, and maybe building some kind of landmark to offer reference on the return. The kid in you will learn engineering again, and if that doesn't make sense then you haven't been playing much.

In my first game I made a petty house and then decided to dig straight into the earth, stumbling onto a deep cave. The cave had a monster spawner, after many respawns I managed to destroy it, finding some diamond and gold. But woe, I dug some more and lost it all to the lava. My second game had a more hilly environment, I picked the biggest one and built a little fort on top, dug myself a garbage chute in the corner with an exit out the side of the mountain, and then built stairs around this chute that lead to a branching mine. Then I built a spiral stair to the highest level that you can build on, and started building a sky-path over the map, risking death with each edge-strafe to place another row of stone plates, before realizing that I was wasting my time (it took me that long). My third game was more of a land-o-lakes, where I built a multi-basement home into a steep cliff on some water-front property; I placed soil on the roof of my little workshop and then built a path out to a tree growing off the edge of the cliff, I then built a multi-story house on top of that tree with another roof-top path back to the newly grow trees off the roof of the original structure, upon which I built my master bedroom. Below my third basement, with another door leading out to a private marina where I kept my boat, I started mining, which is another enterprise in itself.

I'm telling you, this shit is the geeky male version of girls decorating their virtual pets on Facebook, it's the same kind of self-expressive vanity, but to the exponent of physics and engineering. It's grow-and-show to the power of power tools.

Not surprisingly, the sheer torque of possible agency in this game has translated into tremendous sales success. For having the audacity to charge 10 Euros, the game's creator has single-handedly amassed over 6 million dollars in revenues that he's reinvesting a bit of into a new game studio, which will support this game and a new one. Your purchase acts as a sort of investment in this company, as you'll get free updates on all future versions of the game. As far as I'm concerned, this is game of the year 2010.


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Manufactoria

Turing Incomplete

Type:
Flash
Developer:
Nicholas Feinberg
Suggested By:
duerig

Manufactoria is obviously inspired by the idea of a Turing machine; in fact, the game almost is a Turing machine (it is not, because the tape can never be reversed in direction, and because symbols can only be written at the 'back' of the tape, not at any arbitrary position).

The conceit of the game is that you are building machines to test robots. Your machines consist of conveyor belts and logic gates, and 'robots' are spawned at one side of a square grid, and ones that "pass" must be delivered to the other.

Each "robot" is actually a linear tape printed with blue and red (later, green and yellow are added) dots. Each level has a different set of conditions; for instance, in the Robofish level, you must pass only robots with alternating blue and red dots; two of the same color fail. An unstated (but important) concern is that "no more dots" must be handled correctly -- in the Robofish level, it would mean "deliver this robot, but if the condition were "only first red", then it would fail.

From a programming perspective, one visual pun of the game is that a "loop" is literally that; if the "continue loop" condition is fulfilled, you want to build a loop of conveyor belts to bring the 'robot' back to the logic gate again.

One tricky feature (not stated in the game, at least that I noticed), critical beyond the first few levels, is that conveyors can "bridge" over each other; place the second level by holding shift as you place a conveyor.

In toto, Manufactoria is an excellent, brain-twisting puzzle game that, like the best, combines a few elements to spawn many possibilities -- no great surprise, given that we're in Turing territory here. It's also visually pretty dull, and the classical music is equally dull, but as a brain-teaser it has a lot to recommend.

There's a walkthough should you get stuck.


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Probe L

Stylish Puzzler with Interesting UI

Type:
Free Download
Developer:
Tadeon
Suggested By:
Tadeon

Probe L is a stylish puzzle game with an original control system, neon-against-black graphics, and an excellent techno score.

In each level, you must move your "probe," a blue circle, to each of the "energy diamonds" (yellow parallelograms) in the level. You do not, however, control the probe directly. Instead, scattered about the level are some number of "beacons" (red circles). If you move your mouse cursor over a beacon, the probe begins moving in the beacon's direction. Click to have it stop at its current location.

In other words, you can think of the 'beacons' as attractors turned on by your cursor, with only one active at any given time; maneuvering your probe to an energy diamond is thus often a matter of triangulating, moving first one way, then another, trying to line things up right. Of course, the beacons on each level are placed strategically, often to make things more difficult for you.

Purple lines 'kill' you (which just restarts the level); and there are a number of 'enemy' types, including ones that move in a set path and ones that are restricted to moving in one dimension, but follow you along the line of motion -- making it impossible to pass them in that direction. There are, however, some power ups, including ones that 'stun' an enemy and a teleport.

Although this is a puzzle game, figuring out the solution is generally less of a problem than being able to perform -- avoiding enemies by moving at a critical moment, maneuvering to the energy diamonds while avoiding killing lines, and so on.

It's tricky, level design is tight, the UI scheme is something I haven't seen in a game like this before, and both the graphics and score seem well suited to the game.

Quite nice, really.


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Rabbits For My Closet

Out Of The Closet... and Into Our Hearts

Type:
Flash
System Requirements:
A Heart - 1.2ghz or better, latest version of Flash
Developer:
Ezekiel Heyn and his Purple Tree posse

Argentine designers are artistic by default, this has to do with magetic poles and ancient archetypes of the South. Think about it, why is the most successful developer in North American named "Blizzard" while South America offers lots of guys who make art games based on poems? It's all foretold in the four winds.

This one is based on a short story by Julio Cortázar about a girl who vomits up creatures representing her repressed anxiety, which she summarily tries to repress (it seemed like a good idea at the time). In Eze's own words (I worked with this guy in 2009, full disclosure) the game "attempts to merge Cortazarian passages with a more ludic, popular, up-to-date experience." Let's see how it did.

The gameplay suffers from a few dusty corners, the focus is on using the arrow keys to push dust bunnies into the closet, but the collision detection could use a few exceptions for corners and dealing with furniture. The flow could be improved by a wall-bounce to get those bunnies out of corners and a bit of gamma in the push function so furniture could be more readily moved without flinging it all over. But whatever, maybe those rough edges are intentional, because while the game initially poses itself as another frictionless amusement for the web-surfing mainstream, it doesn't take long to start playing tricks on you, which seeks to serve the Cortezian dualism of the late author's modernist literature.

As you go about your business of flowing under a time limit, the game will periodically, randomly and without warning warp you to a mirrored version of the very room you're working in, the size of these psychological manifestations shrunk or increased, your process disordered. As you proceed through the levels the linear challenge escalation of content arrangement, which you're surely used to from decades of tradition, is augmented and spun by the increasing use of warp effects. The text between levels serves to prime you for these phantasmal spooks in the same way that Braid's text tried to prime you for its spooks, which should give you an idea of how much you'll appreciate it.

Maybe my Yanqui sensibilities cause me to over-dissect what should be enjoyed with quiet appreciation like a nice gouda melted over a milanesa.


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Creaky Old Memory

Beautiful Imagery, Ho-Hum Gameplay

Type:
Free Download
Developer:
Students at Det Danske Akademi for Digital Interactiv Underholdning

Creaky Old Memory's gameplay is in itself somewhat jejune, but the art style and emotional tone are compelling. It's a platformer, sort of, except that being a creaky old lady, you cannot actually leap gaps. Instead, your house is equipped with many sliding ladders, and figuring out how and where to drag the ladders to get to your goal is part of the puzzle-solving.

In each level, there are a number of brightly lit pictures, which you must get to. Once you have collected them all, you must then get to an organ, which becomes a combination lock to unlock the next level. While at the organ, you may examine the pictures you collected, each of which has a number. The combination is determined by figuring out which of the pictures you collected are part of a chronological sequence, and arranging them in the correct sequence, then inputting the resulting numbers.

This gets repetitive after a while, but the art itself is stylish, collages of early 20th century imagery, some of it quite disturbing. The thematic connection to the puzzles is that Tatjana, the protagonist, has a 'creaky old memory,' and must assemble her thoughts to recall elements of her past. Since she is Russian, and lived through both the Nazi invasion and years under Stalin, it's not surprising that some of her memories are disturbing, although the imagery never falls over the border into the truly horrific.

It's enough, in fact, to pull you through the game, despite the moderately tedious gameplay; narratology triumphs over ludology, here. One note that might be considered a spoiler but is actually pretty critical to completing the game; the final combination puzzle is not based on pictures encountered on that level, but on the sequence of images shown "between levels" as Tatjana takes the elevator to the next (literal, apparently) level of her house. You'll need to note them as you play.

Creaky Old Memory is a finalist in this year's Indiecade festival.


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Ricochet Robots

Tabletop Tuesday: Massively Multiplayer Offline Puzzle Game

get red robot to red plus sign
Type:
Tabletop
System Requirements:
Tabletop and Literacy
Developer:
Alex Randolph

Ricochet Robots is a brain burning, group speed, puzzle boardgame. It can accommodate any number of players: as long as one can see the board, one can play. The board is set up up randomly, one of four colored robots becomes active, and a goal token is randomly selected. The goal is to get the active robot to the right token by ricocheting off walls and other robots that you move strategically in the path of the active robot.


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Fishbane

Type:
Flash
Developer:
Droqen
Suggested By:
Droqen

At first glance, Fishbane is the kind of game we've seen a lot of; a retro platformer with NES-, or maybe even 2600-level graphics and pretty good chiptune music. What makes Fishbane memorable, however, is the introduction of one novel mechanic, and the way the puzzles of the game are built around that mechanic.


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Transformice

Multiplayer Puzzler

Type:
Other Web-playable
Developer:
Tigrounette
Suggested By:
sebastian sohn

Transformice is all about the cheese, or rather, about how to get the cheese and return home safely. You are a mouse navigating 2D levels with pitfalls, obstacles, and the chaos of having up to two dozen other players all scrambling for the prize; the faster you are the more points you get. Play is in a familiar physics-based platformer style, with gravity judging if your mouse can make that jump.


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Rumis (Blokus 3D)

Tabletop Tuesdays: How Spatial!

Placing green blocks.
Type:
Flash
System Requirements:
Spatial reasoning and table space
Developer:
Stefan Kögl

Rumis or Blokus 3D in the US, is a 3D building block, board game. Your goal is to have the most of your color pieces seen from a bird's eye view. Simply, cover your opponents pieces upwards while positioning your blocks in a manner that is difficult from other players to cover.

Although a casual game, strategy is hard to grasp for many gamers because it uses a part of the brain that many games ignore: spatial reasoning. Spatial reasoning is a right brain skill, while logic and puzzle solving involve the analytical, left brain.


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