hot  /  reviews  /  videos  /  cblogs  /  qposts

Puzzle games

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...

Review: Snakebird

Aug 24 // Ben Davis
Snakebird (PC)Developer: Noumenon GamesPublisher: Noumenon GamesReleased: May 4, 2015MSRP: $6.99 At first glance, Snakebird isn't all that intimidating. It's made to look cute and appealing, with bright colors, simple cartoon graphics, and adorable bird/snake hybrid characters which easily bring to mind more casual games like Angry Birds. But be warned: this is far from a casual experience. On one hand, the cute art style helps by drawing people in and keeping them calm and relaxed while they fail again and again at the puzzles, impaling their adorable snakebirds on spikes and throwing them off of cliffs. But I do worry that the simple graphics might turn some players off to the game too soon. It's definitely not the type of game that it appears to be, but I kind of like that it subverts expectations like that. [embed]307530:60107:0[/embed] The goal of every level is simple: eat all the fruit and get each snakebird into the portal. No snakebird can be left behind, so if one makes it into the portal but the other one can't reach, you might have to start over from the beginning (or at least backtrack a few moves). Eating a piece of fruit increases the snakebird's size by one segment, usually making it easier to navigate certain puzzles. But be careful! Just because a piece of fruit can be reached doesn't mean the puzzle has been solved yet. Most puzzles involve finding the correct path to the fruit, which is not always the most direct path. In fact, the most direct path more often than not will lead to a snakebird getting stuck or dying, but keep in mind that you can easily backtrack in case mistakes are made. If a snakebird dies, the game immediately resets to the last move before death, and you can keep backtracking from there if need be. Once all fruit has been eaten, the portal will open, creating an exit from the level. One of the largest sources of difficulty comes from simply figuring out the physics and abilities of the snakebirds. While there is a tutorial level, it really only covers basic movement and how to open the portal. Everything else is up to the player to figure out, and it's not always obvious. Here are a few mild hints for new players who find themselves getting stuck really early on (possibly even on the second or third levels). Normal physics don't really apply to snakebirds. They always hold their current shape while falling. They can sit on top of floating fruit without eating it. They can push other snakebirds and certain obstacles (or multiple things at once), sometimes even in ways that might not make a whole lot of sense when you think about it. Snakebirds that are pushed will always maintain their current shape. Also, it's usually a good idea to try and figure out what position they will need to end up in to reach the portal, in order to plan out your moves accordingly. Eventually, through trial and error, you'll develop skills and moves that you wouldn't have even dreamed of at the beginning of the game, and you'll start flying through the puzzles, only to get stuck again a little while later on a puzzle which requires a new skill to be discovered. This might leave some players overly frustrated, but options for each level are not endless, so players are bound to figure out a solution as long as they keep trying new things. Snakebird does a good job of keeping things interesting by introducing new mechanics every so often, including the addition of multiple snakebirds in a single level, spikes, movable platforms, and teleportation portals. Each themed area introduces something new, and then there are the special star levels which will test your abilities to the fullest. There are a total of 53 levels, and the difficulty of each level will probably vary from player to player. The map is also non-linear, so beating one level might open up several more to choose from. It took me about 13 hours to beat every level, although I had a particularly tough time figuring out a few of them (a couple that come to mind include level 20 and level 44, both of which took me WAY too long to figure out). Usually, I would have to sit and stare at a difficult level for a while, or even stop playing entirely and just take some time to ponder the level and all of the possibilities, and then come back later with fresh ideas. But the feeling of finally completing a seemingly impossible puzzle after so much failure is just so wonderfully satisfying! Personally, I think Snakebird could have benefited from a few extra features. Including statistics such as the amount of time it took to finish a level or the number of moves used would have added a bit to the replayability. As it is now, once a puzzle is solved, there's really no incentive to go back and try it again. Leaderboards would also be a welcome addition, since I'm sure many players out there figured out way more efficient methods of solving certain puzzles than I did. Snakebird is not for everyone. But for those puzzle-lovers out there seeking the ultimate challenge, definitely give Snakebird a shot. You might be surprised by how often this game will leave you stumped, but that just makes the feeling of overcoming challenges so much sweeter! [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.]
Snakebird review photo
Delightfully challenging
Well-designed, challenging puzzle games can be hard to come by these days, but they are out there. Games like Antichamber, English Country Tune, and Splice are a few Steam titles that come to mind for providing particularly h...

Pokemon Shuffle photo
Pokemon Shuffle

Pokemon Shuffle hits iOS and Android in Japan


Perfect fit
Aug 24
// Chris Carter
With its focus on energy and microtransaction-heavy core balance, Pokemon Shuffle felt like a mobile game that happened to be released on 3DS. Naturally, it has made the shift over to the actual mobile arena, by way of A...

Review: Alphabear

Aug 22 // Darren Nakamura
Alphabear (Android [reviewed], iPad, iPhone)Developer: Spry Fox, LLCPublisher: Spry Fox, LLCReleased: July 8, 2015MSRP: Free (with microtransactions) The core mechanic in Alphabear is easy to pick up, but it bears an elegance upon close inspection. Letter tiles are placed on a variable-sized grid, and players are tasked with forming words with those letters. Using a letter clears it from the board, replaces it with a bear, and reveals new letters in any adjacent spaces. Bears can grow in size as long they have a full rectangle of cleared tiles to fill. Each tile has a countdown on it, decrementing by one for each turn taken. If any countdown reaches zero, that letter turns to stone, removing it from the pool of usable letters and taking up valuable real estate where bears could live. The end goal is to score the most points, which come from two main sources: words formed during a game and bear size at the end. Each letter's value decreases with its counter, so word values are calculated from both length and how close each individual letter is to expiring. For bear size, the aim is to create the biggest bear possible; one full-board bear is worth more than two half-board bears. [embed]307196:60082:0[/embed] All of these mechanics come together to make a game that isn't just about showing off vocabulary and anagram skills. For one, there is focus and direction. Tiles with low counters are shown in increasingly alarming colors, where those one turn away from fossilization pulsate with a deep red but those with four or more are a placid green. Instead of dumping upward of two dozen letters on the player and saying, "make some words," it makes using certain tiles more urgent, bringing them to the forefront. Maybe I could make a ten-letter word with these tiles over here, but I really need to use this J that's about to expire. It also causes the player to think ahead: not only does one want to use all of the tiles showing a one this turn, but he should also make sure he can deal with the tiles showing a two for next turn. Another important result of the base mechanics is the idea of spatial importance. The tiles all have a location, and clearing a tile in a certain area might be more beneficial than doing so in another. Some spaces are marked with a star or a skull, signifying the letter set to appear there will either have an unusually high countdown or an especially low countdown. Setting off a skull when there are several twos left in play is a bad move. The mechanics make the center of the board more important too, because a stone in the way there will prevent having a screen-filling bear at the end, but a stone along the edge or in a corner will only decrease its size by a small amount. The boards aren't all the same; the layout of a particular board affects how players will attack it. The last bit of significance that emerges from Alphabear's mechanics is a strong risk/reward scenario. Forming long words is worth more points right away, but it opens up more tiles at once. It brings more opportunities for even larger words but also more opportunities to miss using a tile in time. Play it safe, unlocking only a few new tiles per turn and banking on a large bear at the end, or go big on word scores at the risk of losing out on bears? There isn't a definite answer. In a word, Alphabear brings strategy to a genre that has severely lacked in it in the past. Considering the countdowns, board layout, and the available letters brings much more nuanced decision-making than the typical directive of "make the biggest word you can think of." Sometimes it's better to make a weaker word in the moment in order to pull ahead in the end. Every single turn presents this mental exercise. Outside of the main meat of the gameplay, there is also an almost Pokémon-esque collection mechanic. Completing a level above a par score nets the player a bear; completing it above a gold score gives a chance for a powerful rare bear. Each of these bears has its own costume and consistent with Spry Fox's modus operandi, they are all adorable. Look at Milky Bear (below)! It's a bear dressed up as a carton of milk. So cute. Each bear has its own powers to bring to the levels. Some only affect score, some have a noticeable impact on gameplay. By collecting the same bear multiple times, it levels up, increasing its multiplier. This makes high scores for future runs of the same board easier to attain. Not only does Alphabear inject strategy into a word puzzle, it also uses these light role-playing game elements to keep me playing. A particular level might be too hard now, but I can come back to it later with some beefed up bears and try it again. At the end of a level, the newly hatched bear will form a series of phrases using the words played during the game. You might have seen these on social media already. It's a silly little touch, but it adds another bit of meta to the experience. Not only do people go for high scores, they also go for words that would make for funny sentences to share with friends. The one big sticking point for many is Alphabear's free-to-play scheme. It uses an energy mechanic (honey), allowing for only a couple of games before honey is depleted. It builds up over time or can be accumulated by watching ads. Personally, I loved the gameplay so much I paid the five bucks for unlimited honey and haven't regretted it. Even then, the bears each have cooldown periods and the other currency (used to wake up sleeping bears and to play special levels) suffers from diminishing returns over the course of a day, so players who buy unlimited honey may still feel stifled. Spry Fox wants players to come back day after day; I'm fine with that, but I know there are many out there who aren't. Indeed, I'm still playing Alphabear on a nearly daily basis. I couldn't say how many hours I've put into it already (I'd estimate maybe 20?), but I'm not even halfway through all of the chapters. The injection of strategic concerns to a word puzzle is such great design. I would like that enough on its own, but the collection aspects, cute bears, and social media meta elevate it further. [This review is based on a free game with microtransactions purchased by the reviewer.]
Alphabear review photo
Word
If you had told me three months ago there was still untapped potential in the genre of using letter tiles to form words, I probably wouldn't have believed you. If you would have told me a word puzzle game would end up being o...

Review: Fingered

Aug 21 // Nic Rowen
Fingered (PC)Developer: Edmund McMillen and James IdPublisher: Edmund McMillen and James IdRelease Date: August 18, 2015MSRP: $1.87 Fingered, is a deduction game made by Edmund McMillen (Super Meat Boy, The Binding of Isaac) and his frequent collaborator James Id. Which means its a messed up deduction game. Fingered casts you as a detective/executioner determined to clean up this city by taking the shaky, confused, half-contradictory descriptions of criminals from a bunch of weirdo busybodies and fingering somebody with them (in the accusatory sense of the word). Find the person who fits the description best, put them in the chair, and throw the switch on them yourself. Give due process the finger. You start with a line-up of scumbags and shady characters. They all look guilty of something. Look at them, shuffling nervously under a flickering light, holding tiny number cards in front of them like flimsy shields. Who could it be? You can practically smell the flop sweat, the fear.   You go over the witness's clues again confirming the most important facts, what they know they know. The suspect is definitely a heavyset man, so you can let the skinny-boys go. He was probably wearing something hippy-ish (what counts as a hippy these days? Does the witness mean “hipster?”) He's maaaybe kind of a jock? (a fat hippy jock? The hell does that look like?) You do your best to ignore the “um's” and “er's” of indecision, the inherent haziness of memory. It's only a man's life on the line. NBD, right? Try to knock this out before lunch, it's nachos and wings in the cafeteria today -- finger food. One by one you winnow it down, until there’s just two suspects left. They both fit the profile, they're both so similar. But there is at least one big difference between them, one is going to go home while the other will never breath free air again. Which one is up to you. Pick one. Damn one. FINGER one. Whoops, wrong guy.   You get one freebie in Fingered. Sending a single innocent man to the chair will be swept under the rug, but fry up a second one and it's time to turn over your badge and finger gun. This is the likely outcome for most games of Fingered, there are 21 randomized cases to close (the suspects and clues are different each time out) and its so easy to finger the wrong guy. Especially since each witness throws their own curve ball into the mix. Negative Nancy describes everything in loopy double-negatives to trip you up. Bigot Barney has some obvious prejudices you should probably factor in before taking his testimony at face value. And forget about the non-human witnesses, those guys just don't get it at all. After about the tenth criminal, your job gets significantly harder. The witnesses clues get more confusing while external pressures like time-limits and vision obscuring accidents hinder your investigative efforts. The line-up of bizarre, procedurally generated suspects grows longer and stranger. It will take a sharp, quick eye to spot out the telltale details to make your case. It wouldn't be a game by Edmund McMillen if he didn't slide in a few cheeky references to some of his other games. Eagle eyed detectives will spot the occasional guest star or celebrity cameo in the line-up ranging from Meat Boy himself, to other more vilified characters like Charles Manson and Phil Fish. Always a pleasure to finger a familiar face. It would be easy to write Fingered off as weird for the sake of weird. It has a bizarre premise and is presented with the kind of perpetually adolescent gross-out art style of a lot of McMillen's games. It's scored with positively hypnotic jazz and narrated by a guy who sounds like the protagonist of Dragnet strung out on painkillers. It IS weird. But, it's also darkly subversive. A gallows humor take on a kind of justice that really did imprison and execute a lot of innocent people based on dubious descriptions and contrived conjecture. It's not belabored, but there is a bit of a message behind the poop jokes and easy double entendres. It's smarter than you might think at first glance. The randomized criminals and clues combined with the idiosyncrasies of the various witnesses can result in some tricky logic puzzles, line-ups that will leave you stumped. But it never seems unfair. Despite the randomized nature of the game, the perp always seems obvious in retrospect and it never feels like the game is cheating (except possibly the last witness, but it's a joke I won't spoil). Fingered is a pinky-sized bit of fun. It's not hard to get everything you need from the game in a single night of sleuthing, but at the bargain price of $1.87, it feels worth it. A wonderfully weird, smart little game for less than the price of a cup of coffee: you could call it steal or five-fingered discount if that kind of wordplay tickled you. Really though, in all sincerity, I think you should get Fingered.  [This review is based on a retail build of the game purchased by the reviewer.] 
Fingered review photo
Up to my knuckles in justice
Up until very recently, eyewitness testimony was the single most persuasive form of testimony a jury could hear. If someone could stand up in court, jab their accusing little finger at a suspect and say they definitely (well,...

WayForward photo
WayForward

WayForward might be teasing a new Switchforce game


School edition?
Aug 21
// Chris Carter
Despite any shortcomings WayForward may have, they're pretty on point with Shantae and the Switchforce series. For the latter franchise we've seen heroine Patricia Wagon in the shoes of a policewoman and a fire...
Nova-111 photo
Nova-111

What does time even mean anyway in Nova-111?


Find out for yourself very soon
Aug 20
// Brett Makedonski
Funktronic Labs' Nova-111 was the highlight of my BitSummit in 2014. It blends turn-based movement with real-time elements to make an action puzzler of sorts. All of this is to rescue 111 scientists. Just trust us -- it...
Picross 3D photo
Picross 3D

Japan is getting a sequel to Picross 3D, with amiibo support


Nice
Aug 19
// Chris Carter
Picross is a series you don't hear about too often, but it has a rather loving fanbase. You're about to get some love back in the form of a new game, which is heading to the 3DS in October in Japan. Set to debut on the first of the month, it will launch for 3,000 yen, and will be available both digitally and physically. Hopefully it arrives overseas!
Volume photo
Volume

Volume delayed for Vita, PC and PS4 still launching today


Check out our review
Aug 18
// Chris Carter
Volume is out today on PC and PS4, and there's some bad news if you planned on jamming with it on the Vita -- it's been delayed a bit. Evidently it's being held up by a few issues and needs a re-certification, which will...
The Talos Principle photo
The Talos Principle

ESRB lists The Talos Principle for Xbox One


I'm probably not smart enough for this
Aug 17
// Zack Furniss
Though The Talos Principle released late last year, its particular brand of philosophy and puzzle-solving tickled Darren's scientific fancy. He's even said that it might end up on his personal Game of the Year list....

Review: Astral Breakers

Aug 06 // Chris Carter
Astral Breakers (PC, Wii U [reviewed])Developer: Intropy GamesPublisher: Intropy GamesRelease Date: August 6, 2015MSRP: $4.99 The gist of the story is that a Big Bang-style event creates "Astral Spheres," which the 12 Zodiac constellations then fight over as they vie for power over the universe. Kira, a helpful star, has tasked you with restoring order. It's cute but shallow, with very little in the way of world-building or exposition. It also doesn't help that the sidebar dialogue consists of uninspired meme-filled jokes. By the time you actually start up the game though, things get much more exciting. In essence, you're dropping orbs down in a straight line, trying to connect as many like-colored ones as possible. After dropping several orbs your cursor at the top of the screen will start glowing, which allows you to press a button to drop a "breaker," which will blow up any connecting orbs of that color. Think Puzzle Fighter, but you get to choose when to drop breakers. What's really cool about this system is that you control your destiny. Players can set up chains by preloading breakers at all sides of structures, all of which are easy to see due to their bold color schemes. It's fun to take risks and build massive combos (here's an example), which will in turn drop more trash (the puzzle term for orbs dumped on the opposing side's screen) on your enemy, screwing up their board. It's fast, and the controls are responsive. There's also another layer of complexity involved with said trash drops, as each character has a different style denoted by an "intensity" rating. High intensity characters will drop easy to solve trash but at a faster rate, changing up the way you approach the game, and forcing players to act quickly and make lots of smaller moves. On the flipside, low intensity players will rely on meticulous big combos. After playing for a bit, you'll also have the opportunity to design your own sign and style, which is neat. [embed]297134:59784:0[/embed] Solo mode is very limited, because after you've defeated all the opposing zodiac signs in combat, it ends. Naturally the difficulty ramps up towards the end where the AI will start putting up more of a fight, but since it only takes roughly 30 minutes to complete, the good stuff is over before it starts. Thankfully there is a versus AI mode on top of the campaign, but it also has the same crescendoing difficulty scheme which can get boring during that initial climb. To really enjoy Astral Breakers to the fullest, you'll need a friend, especially since there's no online play. To augment your standard versus mode there's also a co-op setting, which can get really fun as you attempt to score as many points as possible. Like most versus puzzlers, if you can find someone to share it with, you'll get a ton of leeway, especially given the strong foundation. I wish Astral Breakers had a more involved single player component and a smoother visual style, but for the most part, there's a serviceable core experience here. Just don't dive in alone. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the developer.]
Astral Breakers review photo
Gemini Man
I'm lucky that I've had a number of friends to play games with growing up. Before the dawn of online play (I didn't leave the house for a week when I discovered dial-up Diablo and Xbox Live), the only option was to pull ...

Unravel photo
Unravel

Unravel shows off live gameplay at gamescom


Make Martin Sahlin the King of Games
Aug 05
// Joe Parlock
The true star of E3 is back, now at gamescom. Nervously taking to stage once more, Martin Sahlin and Yarny showed off some live gameplay of Unravel while giving a heartfelt speech about what presenting at E3 really meant to ...
Hue photo
Hue

Hue uses color to solve its puzzle platforming


ROY G BIV
Jul 31
// Darren Nakamura
Making objects disappear and reappear at depending on visibility has been done before, but Hue multiplies that idea by a factor of four. Instead of it being a simple light/dark dichotomy, backgrounds in Hue can be one of eigh...
Spider versed photo
Spider versed

You're a spider in Spider and real-life weather changes the game


PlayStation 4, Vita, PC, and more
Jul 31
// Steven Hansen
I was going to get into my usual spiel about earning a subtitle, but Spider: Rite of the Shrouded Moon is actually a sequel to 2009's Spider: The Secret of Bryce Manor. So 2009's Spider gets a posthumous talking to for colon...
Astral Breakers photo
Astral Breakers

Astral Breakers, a competitive puzzler on Wii U, looks pretty neat


On paper at least
Jul 31
// Chris Carter
Astral Breakers kind of surprised me, as I hadn't heard about it before today. It will be released for the Wii U eShop next week, and it looks like a cool little competitive puzzle game, much like Puzzle Fighter. It'll s...
Unravel photo
Unravel

Adorable yarn adventure Unravel releasing in early 2016


I want him to live in my pocket
Jul 31
// Laura Kate Dale
Without a doubt, the star of E3 this year was Yarny, the adorable woolen hero of EA's upcoming faux indie release Unravel. He's just so gosh damn adorable, as is his nervously cute creator who we met at E3. For those of you j...
Roll Playing Game photo
Roll Playing Game

Roll Playing Game gets the ball rolling this fall


And other ball-related puns
Jul 30
// Darren Nakamura
We might just be in a new renaissance of "roll the ball to the goal" games right now. Super Impossible Road showed us the benefits of breaking the rules. Polyball took it to a trippy otherworld. Now we have word about Roll Pl...
Alphabear mad libs photo
Alphabear mad libs

Some of the best Alphabear mad libs out there


It's what's for dinner
Jul 28
// Darren Nakamura
Alphabear has been out for a few weeks now, but we haven't done much talking about it since its release. That's a dang shame, because it might just be one of my favorite games of 2015. On its surface it's just a word game, bu...

Review: Divide by Sheep

Jul 24 // Darren Nakamura
Divide by Sheep (Android, iOS, Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Victor Solodilov and Denis NovikovPublisher: tinyBuildReleased: July 2, 2015MSRP: $2.99 (Android, iOS), $4.99 (Mac, PC)Rig: AMD Phenom II X2 555 @ 3.2 GHz, with 4GB of RAM, ATI Radeon HD 5700, Windows 7 64-bit Like many well-designed puzzle games, Divide by Sheep starts out with a simple premise, which it builds upon as the player progresses. Groups of sheep in numbers ranging from one to nine are spread across platforms whose sizes can vary within that same range. Sheep can be moved between adjacent platforms, but if a group size ever exceeds the destination platform size then the excess sheep are thrown into the water and drowned. The goal is to load life rafts with sheep, but only in specified numbers. Too few and the raft won't launch, too many and the raft will spring a leak and sink. Hitting one numerical goal for a level will unlock the next, but mastering a level requires three quotas to be met in a specific order. In the beginning, there isn't a lot to think about. The options for adding and subtracting sheep from a group are small: combine two groups together to increase the number or throw more sheep than a platform can hold to decrease. It might sound complex in writing, but it's an easy concept to pick up after a few minutes of play. [embed]296494:59650:0[/embed] Not far in, Divide by Sheep introduces new elements to use toward the end of filling up life rafts. Fences block movement between adjacent platforms. Dynamite platforms explode and disappear if they have no occupants. Laser fields will slice sheep in half so one divided sheep takes up two spots on a platform. (This is where the name of the game comes in.) The first major change comes with the introduction of wolves. If a wolf and a sheep share the same platform, the wolf will eat the sheep and become so obese it cannot be moved or fed again. Wolves have their own life rafts and the two species can never commingle on rafts. It almost reminds me of the old fox/rabbit/cabbage puzzle; there are constant calculations for when and how to feed the wolves in order to get the right number of animals to safety. A wolf can be fed to completion on half a sheep, so one sheep sent through a laser can feed two wolves. With all of the mechanics put together, there are several ways to add and subtract from groups of sheep and wolves. What I like about the setup is that even though there is often only one three-star solution to a puzzle, there are several different avenues to mentally attack it from. In some levels when the quotas are high, it's important to note exactly how many animals can be safely sacrificed. Others require a different kind of foresight, forcing one initial move since all others would lead to failure. Still more are so complex that a sort of trial-and-error can reveal the path to the best answer. The next big wrinkle comes in the Dark World, where Death finally shows up. He has rafts of his own, and he is collecting souls. It doesn't matter how the animals die; they can be drowned, sliced, eaten, or burned and he will take them. It eventually gets to a point where sheep can do double duty in terms of raft occupancy. The sheep can be cut in half to fill Death's raft, then duct taped back together to fill a sheep raft. That highlights the odd tone of Divide by Sheep. At a glance, it looks like an average cartoony mobile title. The soundtrack is bouncy and upbeat. So the juxtaposition of that G-rated presentation and the graphic slaughter with copious amounts of blood is funny in the same way the fictional cartoon The Itchy & Scratchy Show is. It would be disturbing if it weren't also adorable. Divide by Sheep hits the perfect level of difficulty, where every stage makes me think for at least a few seconds (and often for several minutes), but each one is also small and self-contained enough that persistence and critical thinking can always lead to victory. It has never felt too easy nor have I ever been permanently stumped. It's smart, it's pretty, and it never dwells on any one idea for too long. At its heart is a quality math puzzler, but what makes it shine is the dark comedy found in killing cartoon animals just to satisfy some arbitrary numerical requirements. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Divide by Sheep review photo
Not baaad
Death is lonely. Death wants some company. So naturally he would flood a plain filled with sheep and wolves, then float rafts requiring very specific numbers of dead creature souls at a time. Obviously. Divide by Sheep is a math-based puzzle game and to that end it works well. What makes it noteworthy is the window dressing, a whimsical cartoon presentation of fairly morbid subject matter.

The Talos Principle photo
The Talos Principle

The Talos Principle: Road to Gehenna is out now


Watch the launch trailer
Jul 23
// Darren Nakamura
The more time passes since playing The Talos Principle, the more I think it's going to end up on my personal games of the year list. Releasing late last year, it just missed the cut to be considered for 2014, so it will be g...
Never Alone photo
Never Alone

Nuna and Fox have another Never Alone adventure in them


Foxtales, Woo-oo!
Jul 16
// Brett Makedonski
Last winter, Upper One Games introduced audiences to a piece of Iñupiat folklore through Never Alone. It told the tale of Nuna and her pet fox as they attempted to find the source of a relentless blizzard an...
Chime Sharp photo
Chime Sharp

Chime sequel Kickstarter has already hit its goal


Looking sharp
Jul 15
// Darren Nakamura
I mostly remember Chime as a game that had one super easy achievement worth 50 Gamerscore. It did a thing where proceeds went toward charity, so just buying the game was enough of an achievement, I guess. I was pretty bad at...
INFRAstructure photo
INFRAstructure

A spooky inside job is taking down buildings in INFRA


Jet fuel can't melt Stalburg beams!
Jul 10
// Jed Whitaker
INFRA is a first-person puzzle adventure game that has you playing as an inspector of a city's crumbling infrastructure. Sounds boring right? The spooky trailer above makes it sound like there is a mad millionaire plann...

Review: Spy Chameleon

Jul 10 // Steven Hansen
Spy Chameleon (Xbox One [reviewed], Wii U, PC)Developer: Unfinished PixelPublisher: Unfinished PixelMSRP: $4.99Released: May 22, 2015 (Xbox One) Spy Chameleon is a puzzle game with stealth flavorings that does one thing right. Its chameleon character changes colors in accordance with the four face buttons on an average Xbox 360 controller. To that end, I have no idea how it made it to Wii U before Xbox One. The palette swap ability is used for hiding in plain sight from both sweeping and stationary enemy vision cones. The cute mascot character works well with the colored rugs that adorn the first set of missions. Collectible flies lead you towards the best path for completing a level and you're rewarded for nabbing them all and coming in under time. A third chore is added once you've completed a level; you can go back and collect all the newly added ladybugs, too. In this retreading for things to do is Spy Chameleon's obvious flaw, which is that it is slight and tries to hide it. But it's not a good enough stealth game for that. [embed]294985:59452:0[/embed] The consistent aesthetic, albeit somewhat bare and not as lovingly detailed as the lead character, of the first mission gives way to repetitive, steel lab environments with mouse enemies and light-up floors that work against the jaunty Dreamworks lead. After those segments drag on, it tries to pick up, hurriedly introducing a few new mechanics (file cabinets to move and hide behind, paint cans to knock over, patrolling enemies you can eat from behind) and it just feels unfocused. The Metal Gear Solid cardboard box doesn't feel like an earned homage, just a disconnected reference. Spy Chameleon is a short game that feels too long. It's one good idea not fully realized and a reptilian mascot who deserves another shot. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
Spy Chameleon review photo
Complacent Bond
Did the Gex 3 ad with a grinning Gex cupping a human woman's bare breasts kill green lizards in games? I'm pretty sure that horny-teen embodiment of '90s edge ended the Croc series, cost King K. Rool chief villain spots in Do...

Origin freebie photo
Origin freebie

Log into Origin again for free Zuma's Revenge


Zen gaming
Jul 09
// Jordan Devore
Origin's last few On the House offers haven't done much for me, but this? I like this! Zuma is one of life's simple pleasures. That, and -- don't judge! -- Feeding Frenzy. For a limited time, Origin users can download the seq...
The Talos Principle photo
The Talos Principle

Tougher puzzles await The Talos Principle players this month


Expansion releasing July 23 on Steam
Jul 08
// Jordan Devore
Croteam is building on its philosophical first-person puzzle game The Talos Principle with an upcoming expansion, Road to Gehenna, which covers a different society and "some of the most advanced and challenging puzzles yet." ...
Planet Alpha 31 photo
Planet Alpha 31

Planet Alpha 31 has a fat buzzsaw robot


I missed the first 30 Planet Alpha games
Jul 08
// Darren Nakamura
These days it's pretty common to hear about a developer moving from working on AAA games into the indie space. Planet Alpha 31's Adrian Lazar is another example of that. After working at studios like Gameloft and IO Interact...

Review: 0rbitalis

Jul 07 // Darren Nakamura
0rbitalis (Mac, PC [reviewed])Developer: Alan ZucconiPublisher: MastertronicMSRP: $9.99Release Date: May 28, 2015 0rbitalis starts off with a simple goal: keep the probe from hitting a star or a planet for a set period of time. Generally, this can be achieved by finding just the right launch conditions to get the missile into a stable orbit. Soon after teaching that basic rule of thumb, it puts out levels in which stability is impossible and the surest course can be one with dangerous fly-bys and slingshot maneuvers, smashing into the surface of a star just moments after the timer runs down. That's just the first set of levels. Each set has only about five levels in it, with a progression that goes from introduction to experimentation to display of mastery quickly. Some levels can take a lot of time to complete as a result of their difficulty, but pacing is fast in terms of the number of conceptual tweaks. Long before a single idea feels played out, the next one is ushered in. [embed]293514:58888:0[/embed] These ideas can sound mundane, like having planets move along fixed paths, or they can sound fantastical, like anti-stars made of antimatter that produce antigravity fields. Either way, they bring something new to puzzle over. Other notable tweaks featured in certain level sets are pulsars whose gravitational pulls are variable over time, multiple star systems, and multiple rockets launching simultaneously from different locations. One major gameplay tweak comes with a total shift in goals. In certain levels there is a demarcated zone and the object is to spend a certain amount of time in the zone. Rather than surviving for as long as possible, the goal is to finish as quickly as possible. Instead of searching for a smooth orbit, the ideal solution often involves a high-power shot meant to break free and end once it has achieved its purpose. Personally, I prefer the more relaxed feel of the "survive as long as possible" levels. Since player interaction ends at the moment of the launch, there is a fair amount of downtime when the player isn't strictly doing anything other than watching the probe and predicting its path. That aspect in itself is almost a zen experience. With a mellow atmospheric music backing and a film grain filter over the simple geometric shapes, it's easy to be lulled into an almost catatonic state. I sat around just watching one orbit for about five minutes and it felt like it was only about thirty seconds. The visual effects work toward this as well. The subtle glow of space debris is calming, but the most striking effect is the trail following the probe. It fades slowly, so a long run over an interesting path creates an image reminiscent of those produced by a Spirograph. 0rbitalis has built-in screenshot functionality (in addition to Steam's), presumably because a good shot can result in some beautiful minimalist art. On the surface, 0rbitalis is a competent puzzle game with a simple central mechanic. It explores many facets with modifications and additions to that mechanic, and each new idea changes up gameplay enough that it never feels like its retreading ground. That's how one could describe 0rbitalis, but that doesn't really convey it. Finding the right groove and reaching a hypnotic state, that's 0rbitalis at its best. Fire a shot, have it smash into an asteroid. Fire another, have it slingshot off into deep space. Fire another, then contemplate the nature of the universe as it bends and loops around for minutes at a time, leaving behind a trail of where it has been. [This review is based on a retail build of the game provided by the publisher.]
0rbitalis review photo
Hypn0tizing
A lot of ideas come out of the 48-hour game jam Ludum Dare, but only a small handful of them gain any appreciable notoriety past that. Every now and then a submission will get enough attention that its creators decide to deve...

Renoir Kickstarter photo
Renoir Kickstarter

Noir puzzle platformer Renoir on Kickstarter


Now with gameplay footage
Jul 02
// Darren Nakamura
A few months back we got our first look at Renoir and I expressed some cautious optimism since the film noir genre is underused in games but the reveal trailer had no information on gameplay past the puzzle-platformer genre ...

Auto-loading more stories ... un momento, corazón ...