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Puzzle games

Review: Pokemon Picross

Dec 03 // Darren Nakamura
Pokémon Picross (3DS)Developer: Jupiter CorporationPublisher: NintendoReleased: December 3, 2015MSRP: "Free to start" (but actually $30) "Picross" is the term Nintendo uses for the logic puzzles more commonly called "nonograms." The puzzles have an elegance to them; they are built upon just a few simple rules, but those rules result in a network of tips and tricks for finding the solutions. The solutions themselves are typically more interesting than a sudoku, kakuro, or ken ken. Rather than ending up with a grid filled with numbers, a well-built picross puzzle creates an image, adding an extra reward at the end. Not only is there the intrinsic satisfaction of having found the solution, there's the bonus of having created a monochromatic, pixelated piece of art. Pokémon Picross capitalizes on that reward at the end even further. Not only does it offer the usual puzzle goodness, but completing a puzzle also nets the player a Pokémon. It doesn't matter how many times and in how many forms I've caught 'em all, the drive to catch 'em all here is just as strong. [embed]323769:61340:0[/embed] The Pokémon confer special abilities to use in puzzles. Some automatically reveal a section of the puzzle. Some provide real-time hints or fix mistakes. Some manipulate the timer, slowing it through a run or stopping it entirely for a short period of time. For the picross purist, it feels strange using these abilities at first. Indeed, it's entirely possible to go into a puzzle without setting any Pokémon in the team. For a while I did just that, playing classic picross; it was just my wits versus the puzzle challenge. However, another addition threw that off for me soon enough. Most levels include bonus missions past completing the picture. Some of the missions are simple: use a certain type of Pokémon or activate a certain ability. Those vary from puzzle to puzzle, but every level has a timed challenge. While many are easy enough to surmount unassisted, some would be downright impossible without abilities. One time, I went up against a 15x15 grid asking me to finish it in less than a minute. I set up my team carefully, bombed a huge chunk out immediately, activated a time freeze, and highlighted important clues. I finished with the timer reading only four seconds, and it felt awesome. A potential downside to the mission structure is that it requires backtracking in order to fully complete everything. Some missions will pop up that ask for a certain Pokémon that hasn't been encountered yet. On the one hand, it adds replay value for completionists, but on the other, solving the same puzzle multiple times isn't as fun as taking on new puzzles. One of the reasons to go back and complete missions is another cool addition to Pokémon Picross. Some challenges will award a mural piece. These are small 10x10 puzzle grids, but they come together in an 8x8 mural, creating a much higher resolution image over a much longer period. I haven't finished a mural yet, but I'm looking forward to seeing it come together. The last big tweak is the inclusion of mega rows and columns. These only appear in a separate path, which mirrors the main path exactly. These add a new mechanic to the nonograms, with numbers that span two rows or columns describing an amorphous chunk of pixels rather than a neat line. For picross enthusiasts, this is a huge change. After doing hundreds (thousands?) of these puzzles, the process can become rote. Even with ever-changing target images, certain number patterns can emerge and a general algorithm can be followed. The mega rows throw a wrench into that, forcing the player to actively reason through it and use more advanced logic than usual. I welcome the new mechanic, but I can imagine purists shunning it. By far, the biggest psychological hurdle players will have to surmount with Pokémon Picross is its pricing presentation. It is advertised as "free to start," which some might interpret as free-to-play. Indeed, there is an energy mechanic and a separate currency (Picrites) that can be purchased with real money. It looks and acts like a free-to-play game at first glance. It is (probably) technically possible to play it in its entirety without spending a dime. Picrites are required to unlock new sets of stages, and after exhausting the available missions, Picrites can be earned indefinitely through the daily challenges. However, Picrite income is dwarfed by spending. Early on, a single daily challenge awards about five Picrites and level sets can easily cost in the hundreds. One single Mega Pokémon level costs 500 Picrites, which would take ages to grind out. Thankfully, Pokémon Picross does what I wish most free-to-play games did. After spending enough money -- about $30 -- on Picrites, the currency supply becomes infinite. With those infinite Picrites, players can make the energy bar infinite as well. Essentially, putting enough money in turns it from a free-to-play into a standard-style retail game. There's no more waiting for a timer or being gouged by microtransactions, just playing. To look at the pricing scheme another way, you can download the Pokémon Picross demo for free, but the full game costs $30. With that in mind, I have no qualms about recommending Pokémon Picross for those willing to pay full price. I got a code to download it a few days early, dipped my toes into the microtransactions, then soon decided it was worth purchasing the infinite Picrites with my own money. The only difference between this and Picross DS is the $30 I paid for this came after I already knew I liked it instead of before. Picross with Pokémon. That's all this needed to be, and that's what this appears to be at a glance, but further inspection reveals much more. The murals provide long-term motivation. The missions provide short-term reward. The mega rows encourage nonstandard nonogram logic over rote processes. Aside from the strangely disguised pricing scheme, the new additions to Pokémon Picross exceed expectations. [This review is based on a retail build of the game essentially purchased by the reviewer.]
Pokemon Picross review photo
Gotta swatch 'em all!
I thought I knew exactly what to expect with Pokémon Picross. Picross, but with pictures of Pokémon. Sold. That's all I need. Give it to me now. I even joked with our reviews director Chris that I could probably...

Monument Valley photo
Monument Valley

Escher-esque puzzle game Monument Valley is currently available for free


Get it while it's free!
Dec 02
// Ben Davis
Monument Valley, the peaceful isometric puzzle game with a visual style reminiscent of Fez, is currently available for free on iOS devices and on Android devices through Amazon Underground, dropping its previous $4 price...
Pokemon Picross photo
Pokemon Picross

Pokemon Picross will launch on December 3


In the west
Nov 26
// Chris Carter
Pokémon Picross was kind of announced out of nowhere on a recent Nintendo Direct, and it didn't have a set date outside of "December." Thanks to a recent site listing though, we now know that it will hit on December 3 ...
The Witness photo
The Witness

A tranquil moment with The Witness


The so-called 'long screenshot' returns
Nov 19
// Jordan Devore
We're not far from the January 26, 2016 release of The Witness (PC, PS4), but going off this latest blog post from designer Jonathan Blow, there's plenty of work left to be done on the puzzling adventure. The first test readi...

Review: Typoman

Nov 19 // Ben Davis
Typoman (Wii U)Developer: Brainseed FactoryPublisher: Headup GamesMSRP: $13.99Released: November 19, 2015 In Typoman, the player controls a small hero made out of the letters that spell the word "hero." This little guy must navigate a treacherous landscape riddled with puzzles and traps, all of which are also made out of words and letters, in a quest to reclaim his lost arm. It's your basic puzzle-platformer, with the main draw being that all of the puzzles and platforms are composed of letters. Pits are filled with pointy As, ladders are built out of Hs stacked on top of each other, and traps are created around words like "gas" and "crush." Meanwhile, enemies formed from the words "hate" and "evil" roam the land looking to put an end to the hero's adventure. In order to solve puzzles and bypass traps, the hero must rearrange letters to spell new words. See a raising platform that won't move? Try to form the words "up" or "on" out of the letters nearby. Stuck in front of a flooded pit full of rainwater? Maybe the problem can be solved by adding another letter to the word "rain." The first area of Typoman (what you see in the trailers and demo) is full of simple, clever puzzles such as these, easy enough to solve without help but fun enough to make me smile. [embed]321539:61169:0[/embed] To make spelling easier, the Wii U GamePad can be used to quickly rearrange any nearby letters into new words, provided that the letters are all touching each other. The hero can also rearrange letters manually by picking up individual letters and pushing, pulling, or throwing them into place, but this takes a lot longer than using the GamePad. As the game goes on, the puzzles start to become a lot more complex, but not always in a good way. By the third and final area, almost all of the puzzles involve a "letter dispenser" which provides the hero with nine or more different letters to choose from in order to form a solution. Not all of the letters from the dispenser are necessary, and sometimes a puzzle might require choosing the same letter multiple times. I found these puzzles to be a bit too unintuitive for my liking. Usually, the area would be set up in a way where I wasn't exactly sure what the game even wanted me to do, what type of end-goal action I was looking for, so I ended up just sitting there staring at the letters on the screen for about twenty minutes trying different words that never did anything. Typoman does provide a hint system for these difficult puzzles, which essentially tells the player which word will help them out through vague inspirational quotes. The puzzles become so difficult, though, that it's really hard not to just give up and take the hints after standing around doing nothing for a long time. And even after the solutions were revealed to me, sometimes they still didn't make much sense. For these longer words puzzles, I would have liked for there to be multiple solutions. For example, one puzzle that had me stumped for a long while had a very simple (if illogical) four-letter-word solution to be created out of a possible eight letters. Other words such as "stairs" or "raise" seemed like they could have possibly helped, since the puzzle involved platforms of various heights and distances which needed to be connected, but they did nothing. Instead, each puzzle seems to be looking for one very specific word in order to perform a very specific action, and it's the player's job to try and figure out what exactly the game is looking for. The problem is, neither the word nor the action required is usually very obvious. Puzzles aside, the platforming segments also needed a lot of work. Jumping is very sluggish, and the player is often required to time jumps at the very last possible moment in order to clear pits. On top of that, many of the traps have no warning at all until they have already been triggered, leading to a lot of trial-and-error gameplay. Deaths often felt like they weren't my fault at all, since I usually had no way to know that death was imminent until it was too late (don't even get me started on the final boss, by the way). Luckily, there are no lives and dying simply brings the player back to the beginning of the last puzzle, but it's still frustrating since these types of things happen throughout the entire game. On top of the confusing puzzles and poor platforming, Typoman also had long load times, a surprisingly short length, and a strangely serious, eerie atmosphere which I felt clashed with the otherwise quirky nature of the game. In the end, I was left wondering exactly what type of person Typoman was meant for. As someone who loves words and word games, it wasn't very satisfying to try and figure out which exact words and letters I was expected to use. Getting creative never helped, and instead I usually had to resort to guessing blindly until something worked or simply relying on hints which was no fun at all. And for other people who aren't great at word games or simply don't enjoy them, I can see Typoman becoming very boring very quickly. The beginning of Typoman showed promise, full of amusing and creative moments, something that anyone could enjoy. But unfortunately it wasn't able to hold that momentum for very long and quickly devolved into tedium and confusion, and lots of standing around doing nothing. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Typoman review photo
Not grate
Word games have always been a passion of mine. Looking at a group of letters and trying to form new words out of them can be fun and intellectually stimulating. So what if we took a word game and combined it with a platformer...

Puzzle & Dragons X photo
Puzzle & Dragons X

X comes after Z as far as new Puzzle & Dragons is concerned


Puzzle & Dragons X coming to 3DS
Nov 17
// Steven Hansen
Puzzle & Dragons X is confirmed for a 2016 3DS release in Japan. The money-printing series' (50 million downloads as of a couple months ago) next dedicated console entry is a follow up to Puzzle & Dragons Z, which was...
Pokemon Picross photo
Pokemon Picross

'Free to start' Pokemon Picross is coming in December


Got your puzzles, got your Pokemon
Nov 12
// Joe Parlock
In the first Nintendo Direct in a long time, Nintendo has announced that the popular puzzle series Picross will be getting a Pokémon-themed makeover in early December, with the release of Pokémon Picross digital...

Review: Poncho

Nov 02 // Laura Kate Dale
Poncho (Mac, PC [reviewed], Vita, Wii U)Developer: Delve InteractivePublisher: Rising Star GamesReleased: November 3 (PC, Mac), TBA (Vita, Wii U)MSRP:  $14.99, £10.99Rig: Intel Core i5-4690K @ 3.5 GHz, with 8GB of RAM, Nvidia GeForce GTX 960, Windows 7 64-bit Having witnessed the end of the world, robotic protagonist Poncho sets out in search of a gigantic tower, in the hopes that tracking it down will allow the world to be saved. Poncho is a side scrolling, pixel art, 2D platformer with a twist. While parallax layers are generally only aesthetic, in Poncho you play an adorable robot who can leap at will between foreground and background environment layers. Jumps between layers take into account your vertical height. Momentum is conserved during the layer jump, so the challenge is getting yourself into the perfect gap at the perfect time. The biggest problem with Poncho, as well as the biggest strength it had going for it, is the way puzzles are designed to incorporate switching layers. When the puzzles work they are fantastic. Jumping off a foreground platform, timing your layer switch perfectly so you land on a background platform, continuing your movement to leap and mid-jump switch again to catch yourself in box, before switching forward one layer further to drop a small distance to safety. When layer switching puzzles are well thought out, they are a joy to play through.  [embed]318651:60965:0[/embed] When those puzzles fall apart in execution, the game tends to become a frustrating mess, where progress is arbitrarily slow, and lengthy twitch challenges are presented with minimal safety nets. Vertical jump puzzles that go on far too long, with failure resulting in starting from scratch. Horizontal jumping challenges where numerous platforms switch layers at differing speeds, without the ability to study all of them in advance of attempting the challenge. Solid platforms that incorrectly register as having been landed on, causing infinite falling loops. A good chunk of Poncho's level design stopped being inventive and ended up simply frustrating. Also of note, often Poncho feels like its reaction-based platforming and slow, methodical exploration gameplay are at odds. Keys hidden through the world need to be collected to progress, but often I missed hiding places in the world because I was too concerned with managing to complete a lengthy, safety net-free challenge. When the only chance to collect information on a puzzle is while half way through it, searching for progression-unlocking keys was the last thing on my mind. Ultimately I'm left at a little bit of a loss with Poncho. It's a great concept, and when it's working it's a great inventive challenge, but when it goes downhill, it put a huge damper on my experience as a whole. I wanted to like it, but it was tough given some of the rough puzzle and level designs on show. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Poncho review photo
Adorable concept, poor execution
The first time I played Poncho was at EGX around two years ago. Its unique visual identity, compelling set of gameplay mechanics, and endearing protagonist drew my attention among the crowd of other indie games playable at th...

WayForward photo
WayForward

One of WiiWare's best games is now on mobile


WayForward's Lit is back on iOS, Android
Oct 29
// Kyle MacGregor
WiiWare may not be fondly remembered by many, but for years Nintendo's old digital platform was one of my favorite places to discover hidden gems. In fact, some of my favorite games from the last generation (Lost Winds, ...
Gardevoir in Shuffle photo
Gardevoir in Shuffle

This is not a Beedrill: Gardevoir now in Pokemon Shuffle


On 3DS
Oct 20
// Darren Nakamura
In yesterday's update to Pokémon Shuffle on the 3DS, new main stages were added, finishing out the Albens Town area with Mega Medicham as its boss. You don't care about Mega Medicham though (especially since we already...
Mushroom 11 screenshots photo
Mushroom 11 screenshots

Mushroom 11's world is beautiful desolation


Have some screenshots
Oct 17
// Darren Nakamura
Every so often a game comes along that lends itself to a big ol' screenshot gallery. To fit the bill, a game obviously needs to look good, but it also helps if it has a simple control scheme that allows easy access to the F12...

Review: Mushroom 11

Oct 17 // Darren Nakamura
Mushroom 11 (Linux, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: UntamePublisher: UntameReleased: October 15, 2015MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Creation through destruction is a central theme in Mushroom 11, represented both in its story and its gameplay. Here, players control a green slime mold with a peculiar trait: it will always try to maintain the same number of cells at all times. If one dies, another one grows anew. The kicker is that the new cell can appear next to any other currently living cell, so long as there's space for it in the environment. It can show up near where the original cell died, appear on the other side of the organism, or manifest in a totally different location if the mold has been split into two or more chunks. Instead of direct control over the blob, players are given what's basically an image editor erase tool. Click in a spot to designate a circular area that will destroy any cells within. Right click for a smaller circle and finer control. That's all there is to it. What results is a reversal in thinking in terms of movement across the desolate landscape. You don't have control of where it goes; you have control of where it doesn't go. Destroy in one place so you may create in another. [embed]316036:60766:0[/embed] The control scheme sets up for some great physics-based puzzling. Early on, the challenges are in reaching high objects, climbing steep walls, and clearing small gaps. Most are small feats of engineering, requiring the creation of towers and bridges with the ooze. Sometimes, this brings about a sort of "leap of faith" situation, where it can take ten or more minutes carefully constructing a shape that fits a puzzle's needs and very nearly clears an obstacle, but for the last push it requires a quick erasure of everything but the tip. It's a huge relief when it works, but an incredible bummer when it fails. Those who err on the side of caution may spend a lot of time tediously trimming cells one by one, hoping with each destroyed square, the new one will pop up in a desirable location. That example is a subset of one of my biggest problems with Mushroom 11. The cardinal sin of a physics-based puzzler is when the player knows the solution but cannot manage the execution. The tedium of the slow approach is one thing, but a small handful of puzzles get downright infuriating due to the semi-random nature of the cell growth. There was one in particular in the seventh stage that had me second-guessing my solution after almost an hour spent on it. I had the right idea, I was just not quite fast enough. When I finally did complete it, I didn't feel like I had done anything fundamentally different that time than I had during the hundred previous attempts. In broader terms, the difficulty of Mushroom 11 was a surprise. The first couple levels can be easily completed in less than a half hour. The next few clock in at under an hour. The seventh stage took me as long to complete as the other six combined. It is not messing around. Early on, a lot of the greater challenges are optional, rewarding players for exploration or going the extra mile. At the end, some of the mandatory challenges almost made me quit and the optional ones seem damn near impossible. I eventually had to take a break because my finger was sore from how hard I was holding down the mouse button. It's almost as if Mushroom 11 transitions from being a puzzler to an action game during the final act. Not only do some of the sections require precision, they also demand speed. The control scheme can provide for either on its own, but having both at the same time can take a bit of luck. The world this all takes place in is strangely beautiful. It paints a picture of an earth after humanity, full of desolation and decay. Each level has its own look to it, but the trend is toward less machinery and more nature as the game progresses. Humans may be gone, eradicated or forced to flee, but life still goes on in their wake. Again, creation from destruction. Overall, Mushroom 11 is a worthwhile experience. It has its missteps, most notably when its puzzles favor brute force over elegance or when it doesn't play to its unique control scheme's strengths. But its uniqueness is its greatest asset; there isn't anything else quite like it out there, and it takes a different kind of thinking to get through. I wouldn't be surprised to hear some may abandon it before finishing due to its difficulty, but I also wouldn't be surprised to see diehards pop up, going for the no-death and the 100 percent runs. For me, I'm totally happy with my single playthrough. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Mushroom 11 review photo
Doesn't quite go to 11
From the beginning, Mushroom 11 establishes itself as something different. Though it has been done before, the whole concept of traveling from right to left in a 2D game can still be jarring simply because of its rarity. It s...

Mushroom 11 release date photo
Mushroom 11 release date

Mushroom 11 spreads its spores on October 15


National Mushroom Day
Sep 28
// Darren Nakamura
Back when I first played Mushroom 11, more than a ago at PAX East 2014, it was a cool concept. Judging by the launch trailer below (and Brett's preview from earlier this year), Untame has really expanded on that concept, work...
Free game photo
Free game

Grab Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee while it's free on Steam


24-hour deal is in effect
Sep 23
// Jordan Devore
Now through September 24, 2015 at 10:00am Pacific, Oddworld: Abe's Oddysee is free to download and keep on Steam. It's free free -- not one of those only-good-for-the-weekend promotions. Naturally, this deal is a way to get O...
The Witness photo
The Witness

Almost none of you could 100% The Witness according to Jonathan Blow


Some really darn tough puzzles
Sep 23
// Laura Kate Dale
Do you like your puzzle games tough? Well, Jonathan Blow has laid down the gauntlet and challenged you. According to an interview with the EU Playstation Blog, Blow has included a puzzle in The Witness which is so fiendishly ...
Pokemon Shuffle Mobile photo
Pokemon Shuffle Mobile

Of course Pokemon Shuffle Mobile's leaderboards are hacked


Because why wouldn't they be?
Sep 21
// Darren Nakamura
There are already a lot of reasons why Pokémon Shuffle Mobile is inferior to the previously released 3DS version, like the increase in item prices, the removal of Jewel rewards for beating Mega evolutions, and the...
Mondrian photo
Mondrian

Arkanoid meets Art History in Mondrian


Piet a peck of pickled puzzles
Sep 20
// Jonathan Holmes
I grew up watching my mom master two video games in particular, Super Break-Out and Pengo, both on the the Atari 5200. Sadly, they don't make many games like either of them anymore. The brick-breaking action genre pretty muc...

More Quick Tips: Pokemon Shuffle Mobile

Sep 17 // Darren Nakamura
First things first: the time-sensitive stuff If you read nothing else of this guide, this is what you should take away. Enter the code 65607110 under Settings > Code for Lucarionite. This code expires on September 30, 2015. Lucarionite will let you Mega evolve Lucario, which is a huge help throughout the game. I'll explain why in detail later. Your first long-term goal should be to capture Groudon. Groudon is currently part of a special event set to expire on September 25, 2015. Opportunities for both of these are likely to show up in the future, but obtaining them now will be a great help for getting through the early, mid, and late game. Matches The game explains the basics of making matches, but leaves a lot of nuance for the player to discover. Moving a Pokémon on the board almost always involves swapping two Pokémon. On a board with few disruptions, you can frequently make matches on both ends of the swap. Taking the above into account, double-ended matches do not occur simultaneously. The Pokémon being dragged into place matches first, while the one swapped back by default matches second. This can come into play if you want to control how surrounding tiles fall. In general, by swapping from the bottom up, you can increase your chance of getting lucky as the dust settles. When matching a single Pokémon both horizontally and vertically, precedence is given to the larger match (for example, a match of four will clear before a match of three). When the horizontal and vertical matches are equal in size, the horizontal match will take precedence. This can be very important when matching certain Mega evolutions. Abilities Short descriptions of abilities are given, but some could use more explicit explanation. With a few exceptions, abilities are usually activated for only the first Pokémon matched in a single combo. Exceptions include powering up a Mega evolution and activating a Mega ability. These will occur no matter how far down a combo the match occurs. Power of 4 (Bulbasaur, Charmander, Squirtle, Kangaskhan, and more) will activate every time a match of four is made for the first match of a combo with the corresponding Pokémon. Most other abilities activate some fraction of the time, with bigger matches (fours and fives) increasing the chance the ability will activate. Before playing a round, take the time to familiarize yourself with your Pokémon's abilities. When making a double-ended match, it's better to take a chance on a random ability like Opportunist than waste a first-match-in-the-combo on Block Smash when there are no blocks around. Types The Pokémon Shuffle type chart follows the X/Y type chart. Here are some important notes. Unlike classic Pokémon, Shuffle has players building teams of four specifically to fight a single type at any given time. Instead of taking a team that covers a wide set of types, you want a whole team of Super Effective (double damage) Pokémon for the task at hand. Fighting-type is the only type Super Effective versus Normal-type. This is partially why obtaining Lucarionite for Mega Lucario is so helpful. Thus far, Lucario is the only Fighting-type that can Mega evolve. Ground-type is the only type Super Effective versus Electric-type. This is partially why capturing Groudon early is so helpful. With Groudon, you can build an all-Ground team after Stage 101. Without Groudon, you can't have an all-Ground team until Stage 136. All other types have at least two types that are Super Effective against it, so it is much easier to build an appropriate team. Some levels feature weak Pokémon as a fixture and are easier to complete if those Pokémon are brought along as part of the team. Togekiss is easier to beat with Togetic along. Milotic is basically impossible without bringing Feebas to the party. Don't forget this is an option; several stages use the trick. Mega evolutions Mega evolutions are a big part of Pokémon Shuffle, but strategy is key. Several of the early Mega evolving Pokémon (Audino, Kangaskhan, Lopunny) are Normal-type. They are not Super Effective versus anything. Due to its higher base attack power, Mega Lucario is preferable to the Normal-type Megas unless fighting Poison-, Flying-, Psychic-, Bug-, or Fairy-types. If you hit the Optimize button repeatedly when building a team, it will cycle through different Mega evolving Pokémon. It is up to you to determine which one is actually most appropriate for a given level. In shorter stages (10 moves or less), it is often advantageous to leave out a Mega evolving Pokémon entirely. Since it takes time to Mega evolve, it is generally better to bring a Super Effective regular Pokémon as opposed to a normal damage Mega. Sometimes it can even be better to switch a Super Effective Mega out for a different Super Effective Pokémon with a greater attack power. Mega abilities are not created equal. Mega Gengar is great for stringing together big combos, but terrible for taking out unbreakable blocks. Mega Aerodactyl is great for taking out blocks, but useless in stages without those disruptions. Don't just take what Optimize gives you. Grinding In general, you won't want to grind, but here are some tips for when you should. Usually, the path to greater power is to capture stronger Pokémon. A single Pokémon's power can increase up to 20 points by leveling up to MAX, but base attack power can range from 30 to 90. Capture Pokémon with a base attack power of 60 or above instead of grinding your 40s and 50s. You can reasonably make it up to Mega Glalie (Stage 120) without grinding or using items. If you haven't already, this is a good time to switch to Expert stages to catch some of the upper tier Pokémon. Moltres, Blaziken, and Entei would specifically help against Mega Glalie. Getting S ranks on Main stages unlocks Expert stages. I can be worthwhile to go back to previously completed stages in order to bump the ranking. Experience is awarded in proportion to the number of moves a level contains. Buneary (Stage 21) is the best stage for grinding experience until Ampharos (Stage 130). Snorlax (Stage 183) technically awards the most experience of any main stage, but it is much more difficult to complete than Ampharos. An uncompleted stage still awards experience, but it's less than if the stage were completed. Meowth (Stage 37) can be played repeatedly to grind for coins. You only keep the coins if you beat him, so you have to be able to balance matching coins and attacking, but not attacking too quickly. Spending You can still play Pokémon Shuffle Mobile without spending a dime, but you'll have to be smart about it. Check in every day for 500 coins. Make sure to play the Special stages during the weekends for Meowth's Coin Mania. When making coin matches, a match of three is worth 100, a match of four is worth 300, and a match of five is worth 500. It is more profitable to get one match of four than two matches of three. Patience is the greatest asset in Pokémon Shuffle. You will be tempted to use a Great Ball often, but it is almost always better to save those coins. Even something as low as a 10% capture rate means (on average) ten tries to get it, or five hours of waiting. A single Great Ball on Mobile costs 3500 coins, or seven days of checking in. One thing I keep in mind when going for captures with low percentages is a comparison to a standard six-sided die. If you have a 17% catch power, that's like rolling a 6 on the die. It's not exactly likely, but if you roll the thing enough times you're bound to hit it eventually. The best time to use a Great Ball is when it triggers Super Catch Power on a particularly difficult battle. If you can't consistently beat a stage and you get Super Catch Power, it's probably worth it. Save your coins for the competitive events. These are often the only ways to get certain Mega Stones, and they are only awarded to a fraction of participants. Attack Power+ is an easy way to make sure you're in that group. When you do spend your coins, spend them wisely. Some stages are only difficult because of disruptions. Use a Disruption Delay on these. Some begin with a huge obstacle but get easy once that is cleared. Use a Mega Start (and an appropriate Mega Pokémon) on these. Determine the main problem of a level and use the tool best suited to tackle that problem. For the Main and Expert stages, you should not need items at all until you start going for S ranks. Be patient with your captures, be smart with your matches, and wait for that one really lucky run. So there you have it. Now that I have this all written out, it might not really be a set of "Quick Tips," but you should now be better prepared to take on the addiction that is Pokémon Shuffle. Good luck!
Pokemon Shuffle tips photo
Let's diglett deeper
Earlier this year, Pokémon Shuffle released on 3DS and Chris Carter handed out some tips for success in the free-to-play match-three puzzler, despite the fact that he didn't care much for it. He's so magnanimous. Pok&e...

The Witness photo
The Witness

At last! The Witness releasing in January 2016


The island of Jonathan Blow
Sep 17
// Jordan Devore
We've been patiently awaiting Braid designer Jonathan Blow's next game for years, and it shouldn't come as much of a surprise that we'll have to continue being patient a while longer. The Witness has locked in a seemingly fin...
Relativity photo
Relativity

So long Relativity, hello Manifold Garden


Name change alert
Sep 16
// Jordan Devore
I like one-word names, a lot, but Manifold Garden is far more memorable than Relativity. According to designer William Chyr, among other things, the title "didn't fit the direction the game was going." So, there we go: when y...
One Upon Light photo
One Upon Light

One Upon Light coming to PS4 in October


Stay away from the light, Carolanne!
Sep 15
// Vikki Blake
The very beautiful, if weirdly titled, One Upon Light will be coming to the PS4 in Europe and North America in October. The "devious" top-down puzzler inverts your natural inclination to move towards the light, making the bri...
Q.U.B.E: Director's Cut  photo
Q.U.B.E: Director's Cut

Q.U.B.E: Director's Cut arrives on consoles next month in US


Already out in EU
Sep 07
// Chris Carter
According to the game's official Twitter account, Q.U.B.E. Director's Cut on Wii U will be out next month in the US on September 10. If you want to pick it up in the EU, it's available now, and the Xbox One and PS4 editi...

I wish my dreams were as delightful as Dropsy

Sep 06 // Zack Furniss
Dropsy was once a beloved clown and hometown celebrity, and his discomforting visage was overridden by his ability to bring joy to all. He performed with his parents in a Big Top circus not far from a small town, until a horrible fire tarnished his life and reputation. Following his mother's death, Dropsy, his dog Eughh, and his father live in the remnants of the circus tent, trying to scrape together change via odd jobs to stay alive. Now that I've got you all good and sad, I want you to know that despite the tragedy Dropsy has endured, his primary motivation is to love everyone the way he wants to be loved. Even though he looks like an overall-clad specter caked in greasepaint, he wants to go around town and hug anyone who will let him. Problem is, most people aren't receptive to a damp, creepy clown getting any where near them. Dropsy's inability to speak to humans doesn't help, either. This is where the point & click puzzles come into play. Each character you meet has small cartoon bubbles over their heads that give you some hint as to what they want. A little girl might be upset that her flower isn't growing, or a homeless woman might be cold and starving. After interpreting these hints and solving a light puzzle (usually involving handing someone the correct item), you'll be able to hug them. I get the warm fuzzies each time I figure out what someone wants and earn that damn hug that Dropsy so desperately deserves. Surreal dreams and initial objectives (starting with placing a picture on your mother's grave) provide context for Dropsy's actions. A game where you're earning hugs might seem directionless to some, but the non-linear exploration in Dropsy punctuated by meaningful story beats was enough to keep me going through this beta. Whether I was getting closer to my father and learning how to deal with our new lives or fist-bumping a bouncer to earn his respect, my time as a clown felt well-spent. A day/night cycle brings in new people and challenges to interact with. I'm already becoming intimately familiar with these digital strangers as I find out what they want most. The lack of dialogue and text (which makes the game playable in any region!) add to this dreamlike world. Instead of listening to vocal perfomances, I'm interpreting people's needs based on small pictures and my surroundings, and so far the solutions always feel within reach and never far-fetched. Dropsy definitely isn't The Longest Journey, but I don't think I'd have it any other way. Chris Schlarb's music deserves special mention, as I rarely feel as optimistic as I do while playing Dropsy. The musical styles change from area to area and range from smooth jazz to a sort-of prog rock. Regardless of genre, it's always brimming with the earnestness you feel when you're about to tell someone you love them for the first time. The corners of my mouth felt like magnets of the same polarity of my chin, where no matter how bad my day was, a smile was going to happen. I'm probably a tad more than halfway through Dropsy now, but I'll have more to say in a review after the game's release on September 10.
Dropsy photo
More hugs, please
Dropsy: A Point & Click Hugventure is impossible to play without thinking of the phantasmagorical adventures we embark upon when we go to sleep. Its technicolor dreamscape and overwhelming positivity just might negate any coulrophobia you might harbour. There's a certain sentimentality that makes Dropsy a more compelling adventure game than I would have suspected.

La-Mulana 2 will probably break me

Sep 05 // Zack Furniss
Since the interface and overall graphical style of La-Mulana 2 looks almost identical to the original, it's appreciated that the new character is distinctive enough that you'll know which game you're playing. Instead of inhabiting the Indiana Jones-alike Lemeza Kosugi, you'll be playing his (maybe) daughter Lumisa. Skill-wise, the only major change I noticed is Lumisa seems to have slightly more air control; instead of being locked into a forward jump, you can ease off a bit. Though I eventually acclimated to the strict leaping rules in the first game, I immediately felt more comfortable exploring the ruins in this demo. That comfort was obliterated in approximately one minute. While a jovial PR rep was telling me that puzzles aren't necessarily easier, so much as they have better signposting, I stumbled through trap after trap and wandered up to a boss. I was supposed to whack him in the face, but he kept charging through and knocking me down, killing me in a few quick blows. This happened about four times, until I gave up and went in a different direction. Another change is that there's a more noticeable sense of depth (at least in the stage that I played). La-Mulana 2 is built in 3D in the Unity engine, as seen above. Though this first area didn't play with this too much, I imagine the late-game ruins will use this newfound depth to their advantage. I'll be damned if clues to certain puzzles won't be hidden in the background. With such limited time and access to the demo, it's hard to get a sense of whether the signposting has actually been improved. The first game played a sound effect when you had advanced a step in a puzzle, but there was often no clear way to figure out what exactly had changed. The platforming and bosses still feel as tough as ever, but a series like La-Mulana really demands at least a few hours to see just how inextricable the labyrinthine ruins will end up being.  The PR rep ended our meeting by saying that when they polled players about difficulty, Japanese players overwhelmingly wanted the sequel to be easier and the Western players wanted it to be harder. They're trying to strike a middle ground here with tricky riddles that still require a sharp eye, and more forgiving platforming. We'll see how that turns out when it launches early next year.
La-Mulana 2 photo
And I look forward to it
I only recently finished La-Mulana, Nigoro's "archaeological ruin exploration action game." It tried its damnedest to make me quit at every turn; with its obtuse puzzles and tricky platforming, I don't feel it's hyperbole to ...

Pokemon Shuffle Mobile photo
Pokemon Shuffle Mobile

Pokemon Shuffle Mobile squeezes more out of players


A mathematical analysis
Sep 04
// Darren Nakamura
When I started playing Pokémon Shuffle Mobile earlier this week, I noticed a weird discrepancy between it and the 3DS version. When the option to use a Great Ball came up, it was asking for 3500 coins, up 40% from 2500...
Pokemon Shuffle Mobile photo
Pokemon Shuffle Mobile

Here's how Pokemon Shuffle Mobile stacks up to the 3DS version


Pros and cons
Sep 04
// Darren Nakamura
After about my 50th hour into Pokémon Shuffle for the 3DS, I regretted getting into it late. When it released, I did what most people do when they hear "free-to-play;" I tuned it out without giving it a second thought....
Pokemon Shuffle photo
Pokemon Shuffle

Pokemon Shuffle is hitting iOS today in the west (Update: Android too now)


Much better suited for mobile
Sep 01
// Chris Carter
[Update: it's also available on Android too.] If you haven't tried Pokemon Shuffle yet, now's your chance -- it's hitting iOS today in North America and Europe. It was always better suited as a mobile game anyway, one th...
 photo
Win one of 10 copies!
The fine folks at Guru and Gambitious were kind enough to bestow 10 copies of Magnetic: Cage Closed upon me, so that I may give them to you fine folks! Magnetic: Cage Closed is a cool looking puzzle/platformer game, and if yo...

Mighty Switch Force photo
Mighty Switch Force

A new Mighty Switch Force appears...for PC-only...on Early Access


Lame
Aug 26
// Chris Carter
My excitement for the recently teased Mighty Switch Force! game went from a "hnnngh" to a "meh" in one swift blow, as WayForward has announced Academy for PC, currently in Early Access. It's billed as a "part p...

Review: Nova-111

Aug 25 // Darren Nakamura
Nova-111 (Mac, PC [reviewed], PlayStation 3PlayStation 4, PlayStation Vita, Xbox One)Developer: Funktronic LabsPublisher: Funktronic LabsReleased: August 25, 2015 (Mac, PC, PS4)MSRP: $14.99Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Conceptually, it's a little hard to wrap one's head around at first. Thankfully, Nova-111 eases players into the ideas a little at a time, introducing new mechanics throughout the six-hour campaign. Some science experiment has gone wrong and messed up time. Now it's all wonky (that's the technical term). Set on a square grid, each player movement counts as a single turn. For every turn taken, any enemies also get a turn. So far, it sounds pretty standard, but here's the wrinkle: some objects act in real time rather than being set to a schedule of turns. The first example are the stalactites. If the player bumps one from the side or travels underneath it, then it will begin to fall at a steady rate, whether the player (and enemies) are moving or not. It sets up a particularly satisfying scenario: get chased by an enemy, run under a stalactite, then stop dead and just watch as it crushes the pursuer. [embed]307759:60125:0[/embed] As it progresses, Nova-111 adds more and more combinations of real-time and turn-based gameplay. Some enemies' movement is turn-based, but when attacked set off a countdown timer before exploding. Some will grab the player and must be defeated quickly. Eventually, some enemies move in real time, independent of turns taken. It's a real brain bender at times. Just when I thought I had a good handle on the situation, taking things slowly and flawlessly taking out the dangerous aliens, I'd get thrown into a situation where I needed to react quickly and I'd fall apart. The combination of real-time and turn-based gameplay forces me to think differently than I ever have before. It takes two ideas I've known for years and turns them into something that feels totally new. Nova-111 doesn't stop with that basic idea. Through the course of the game's three main areas, new enemies, terrain, and mechanics are presented. There are doors, switches, sliding blocks, oil, teleporters, fire, stealthy bits, and more, each interacting with the weird time scheme in its own way. While tactical combat and puzzles are the main points, exploration also plays a role. The overarching goal is to collect the 111 scientists scattered across the game, most of whom are in fairly well-hidden locations. At first most of the secret areas are accessed by passing behind false walls, but the best are in plain sight but require solving a more taxing puzzle. The art design supports the exploration aspect well. At the beginning of a level, most of it is covered in a sort of fog of war. Any square in line of sight and within a certain range is uncovered, and the uncovering effect (and environments in general) look fantastic. I spent a lot of time in the early levels moving very slowly, just taking in the artwork as more of the world was revealed. The exploration aspect isn't all rosy. Individual levels are broken up into several smaller areas, but each area cannot be played independently. It isn't obvious which area a missing scientist may be in, so going back through old levels for 100% means replaying a lot unnecessarily and wasting a lot of time bumping into walls. The levels take between 20 and 30 minutes apiece, which is just too long for me to want to replay. I would have preferred if each bite-sized area were shown on the level select screen, with its completion statistics displayed. Those who aren't daunted by having to replay entire levels will enjoy the New Game+, which is essentially the same experience but with several cheats available to be toggled on or off. Where previously some care needed to be taken to conserve abilities, New Game+ allows players to go wild with them. Even though I don't see myself replaying Nova-111 for full completion any time soon, I liked what was here. It has a sharp look, some chuckle-silently-in-my-head comedy, and gameplay unlike anything else I have experienced. It forced me to think in a totally new way, which is increasingly uncommon with most established genres. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Nova-111 review photo
Champagne supernova
Genres and mechanics have names for a reason. When something comes up often enough, it's worth developing a shorthand and grouping things together that feel alike. In the past few years, mashing up genres has become the new i...


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