Category Archives: Puzzler

REVIEW: 2048: Xbox 360 Edition

Oh, poor Mobile Gaming Pop Culture. After losing Flappy Bird to the great Bird Nest in the Sky (though it’s destined to be resurrected), it needed a new craze to bide its time during the long workday. Enter Threes! and 2048, bringing number matching / stacking to the forefront of the Internet’s consciousness. 2048: Xbox 360 Edition ($1.00) is the classic bandwagon game, looking to pry loose a quick buck and strike while the iron… er, numbers table, is hot.

2048 - Xbox 360 Edition - Screen

For the uninitiated, all of these games follow a simple, but strict code of operation; slide and match similar numbers in a grid to pair them together, constructing them into ever-increasing values until the board eventually fills up and you have no more moves to make. Your ‘goal’ is to get the highest score. Threes! centers around adding values of… well, you know, while 2048 (and this Xbox version) asks you to work around the number 2, joining tiles in an attempt to reach the elusive… you guessed it, 2048.

You can move the tile set in any direction but diagonal, so long as an open space or possible pairing exists. And while your initial moves can be made without much thought, sliding together matches late in the game can be harmful if you paint yourself into a corner. Higher values are harder to match, introducing a fair amount of thought and strategy to your moves.  Call it Tetris inbreeding mixed with a Rubik’s Cube, call it a time-waster and / or a passing fad, but it’s incredibly-addicting, if you’re not careful to watch the time.

2048 - Xbox 360 Edition - Screen2

See, letters. That’s totally different, right?

This game continues where Gabriele Cirulli’s original left off, and adds a slight ‘twist’ in the form of pairing letters. This merely dresses up the gameplay, of course, giving you something different to look at without breaking any new ground. Personally, if we’re brainstorming clones here, I’d like to see a Jim Carrey version based on stacking The Number 23. But we can’t always get what we want, can we?

Bottom line, 2048: Xbox 360 Edition offers nothing new to fan the flames of the originals it so blatantly follows. Even with a spot-on impersonation, global leaderboards, and the letter-based secondary mode, there’s little reason to invest in this game, or any of the other recent and future bandwagon titles for that matter, so long as an official, free version exists somewhere.


Oh, and if anyone’s looking for a challenge to beat, I posted my best of 5432 on the leaderboard. Not much to some, maybe, but I considered it a pretty impressive run. Be gentle on my ego.

REVIEW: EscapePod

You should know by now. Always rushing around, whoring yourself out to the highest bidder just to get a meal or pay off perpetually-increasing debts, Life is a rat race. Or, to put it another way, a mad dash to a limited number of exit ramps, just to be one of the lucky few to live (and complain) another day. Though it doesn’t actually use this depressing view of human existence for its background noise, EscapePod ($1.00) is basically the digital equivalent of the idea in the purest form…

EscapePod - Screen

…as no matter the stage number or the pieces placed on the ‘board’, the objective remains steadfastly the same; get to the lone escape pod before the smiling alien does, in the (preferably) fewest amount of steps as possible. Think of it like Spaceballs’ escape sequence (minus the man in the bear suit) on repeat. The tiles in each level represent a potential path, and each path is one move in a grander game of chess.

Don’t let that simple requirement or the banal graphics lure you into a false sense of superiority, though. EscapePod may not be much (or, really, anything) to look at, but underneath its lackluster surface is some truly cunning, deceptive puzzle design that rivals the best on the service, in terms of making you appear stupid. Follow this free advice— The shortest and / or most obvious route is not always the right route, and watch as its complexity spirals outwards from there.

EscapePod - Screen2

While the first set of levels keep it relatively simple, asking to you to occasionally race towards a key or a spike-swapping switch to throw your alien pal off his own route, later worlds introduce new considerations, such as one-move escalators, running lava, eventually-exploding fire barrels, etc., each with their own unique properties and pitfalls. All of this needs to navigated with you on a running timer, naturally, but the game has unlimited sympathy for your inevitable mistakes, allowing you to retry (or skip) the more frustrating sequences.

With 120+ reasons to prove yourself unstupid, the game has plenty of intelligent puzzles on tap, or there’s a level editor to try your own hand at designing. If you can forgive the trite visuals (its overly-affective doting on the color yellow is disturbing) and barely-there audio, EscapePod is one smart cookie.

REVIEW: Vacation Vexation

Except for small forays into zombies or a Metroidvania, developer Nostatic Software is chiefly known to me for its old school adventures. The studio’s newest essentially completes and cordons itself off as the ‘quietest’ trilogy on XBLIG, now that Vacation Vexation ($1.00) has joined Quiet, Please! and Quiet Christmas in continuing its puzzler / adventurer’s quest to find a moment’s peace.

Vacation Vexation - Screen

Exactly like the previous games in the series, it has you playing as a young girl seeking silence. This time, she’s on vacation with her family at some nameless seaside resort, and all she wants to do is read a book without any distractions. To achieve that goal, she goes about it the way that any other American youth would do these days; commit a series of crimes stretching from vandalism and destruction of property, then on to retail theft and all the way up to aggravated assault. No, I’m not kidding. The protagonist is a regular Problem Child.

Puzzles and their (sometimes esoteric) solutions will routinely see you preying on others to get your way, though it’s all in lighthearted fun (getting a cat to chase a wind-up mouse, tricking the hotel’s front desk staff into running errands, etc.). Most will involve you carrying a certain object from one spot to the next, with some items / locations closed or walled off until you’ve progressed deeper into the story.

It’s the little things here that ultimately make the game, like your obnoxious little brother following your every move, scooping up quest items and quickly becoming bored with them, or getting shit on by one of the resort’s many birds, seagulls, etc. Some humorous dialogue and comedic sequences help out as well. It’s all part of the game’s charm, and does more to sell the world than you think.

Vacation Vexation - Screen2

Games within a game? Cue the Inception theme.

How much you enjoy that world is dependent upon how much you enjoy some trial-and-error puzzle solving, though. While a lot of the solutions are apparent or soon discovered, there are others that will have you scratching your head and trying every item combination (who would think to add suntan lotion to chemicals, for instance, or use a bathtowel as a rope to board a truck?). With no real hints given or implied, it can start to feel like busy work, and it can be argued that the in-game arcade, full of familiar remake / demakes like Space Invaders and Frogger, is sometimes more fun than the main game.

Still, Vacation Vexation is a unique experience with a solid, cutesy core, once you get past some of the more obscure puzzle designs. All my squabbles will mean little to fans of the series anyway. It offers more of the bizarre adventures of a very sensitive girl, and that seems to strike a chord with certain gamers.


Review on Fate of the Game

REVIEW: The Useful Dead

The Useful Dead ($1.00) is all about leading adorable critters to the exit, working around obstacles and hazards, solving the puzzle, and sacrificing your pals for the greater good when required (hence the title). There’s been some discussion as to its originality, and it’s true that other games like it exist, notably the free-to-play SeppuKuties. The closest relative in the XBLIG family tree would be Cute Things Dying Violently (the title really tells it all there), though The Useful Dead does offer direct control, placing it more in the platformer genre.

Regardless of inspiration, puzzler / platformers are ultimately judged by their ingenuity and design. Here, variety starts and ends in the way your unfortunate partners-in-treasure-seeking die, be it by impalement, fire, falling from great heights, etc. Morbid as it is (if you really stop to think about it), those bodies then become valuable currency within the level, ‘useful’ as stepping stones to higher platforms, weights for switches, or as fodder for the stampers, happily taking the no-longer-painful ‘squish’ on your behalf and allowing you to pass freely.

Though you start with a large reserve of critters at your service, it doesn’t stay that way for long. Each stage comes with a ‘par’ number of allies that can (and usually, must) be deaded during the course of finding a solution. Completion need not be flawless, with ten of the creatures listed as expendable, and opportunities to collect ‘additional lives’, if you will, by coming in under par on certain levels. Any mistakes can be reset by restarting the current stage, too, making it more about personal satisfaction than a pressing issue you need to constantly be aware of.

It can also be argued that a lot of the game’s levels are rather easy, and the goal doesn’t change; all involve the death of a few cute creatures. In most, the solution is either immediately noticeable or soon apparent, and experimentation will get you the rest of the way to that ‘a-ha moment’. They’re not all pushovers, mind you. A handful of stages will require some thought, but The Useful Dead is definitely not as taxing to the brain as it could have been, more about timing and placement than prolonged head-scratching. You’ll either enjoy that change of pace or wish for something sterner. I appreciated the balance.

The Useful Dead - Screen

The only ‘good’ friend is a dead friend.

Whatever camp you fall into, The Useful Dead is an enjoyable experience. Its tricks may be telling to some at the outset, though there’s enough clever design in the puzzles to keep others on their toes. Much like in the previously-mentioned titles, you’ll gladly kill off plenty of cute things with a smile on your face.


Review on Indie Gamer Chick

REVIEW: Magnetic By Nature: Awakening

The highlights of playdead’s Limbo for me (and there were many) sometimes had nothing to do with the twitch-heavy puzzles or their memory-based solutions, but rather the ‘wrapping’ that the game came in. The black and white and foggy grays, the signs of humanity amid a crushing feeling of isolation, ingenious use of sound (and lack thereof), or any one of the ancillary elements that combined to make that impressive whole. Tripleslash StudiosMagnetic By Nature: Awakening (80 MSP) is quite a different beast in comparison (less depressing, more Journey-ish), yet that same sense of ‘wrapping’, of all the supporting parts coming together and melding a coherent, exquisite game, is readily apparent.

For MbN, this is less environmental and implied (though there are plenty of dark colors to match the sparseness), with more focus on its gameplay and puzzles. Needless to state (the title should have clued you in), magnets will factor heavily into those solutions. Our nameless Robotagonist finds itself in an underground world of abandoned ancient structures, with no way out, or so it seems. There’s no one else around, but the robot can use its powers over polarity to stick to and repel away from the various magnets / boost pods in the environment… that were conveniently left behind. Hmm, how very deus ex machina of that forward-thinking civilization, wherever it went.

Contrived plot device aside, the gameplay is better for it. MbN features 36 stages across three worlds, separated thematically by their visual style and musical score. While the initial set of levels are glorified tutorials (kudos, however, for the ’hands on’ nature of the learning process, as opposed to boring text), the stages soon open themselves up to some unique layouts and dynamic navigation, frequently requiring your powers-at-odds to be used in tandem in order to carry you to a safe landing or reach a distant exit flower. The routes will increase in difficulty as you venture forth, forcing you to weave through tight columns, activate switches by lugging magnets, and cross a pit of merciless saw blades purely by slinging yourself around (trust me, this is handled better in practice than I can possibly explain).

Magnetic By Nature - Screen

Like kicking a field goal… with magnets.

You will inevitably die, quite a bit, but checkpoints are well-placed and offset most of the trouble without holding your hand. Repeated plays will often show you a faster path and / or shave seconds off your time anyway, working to continually hone your magnetic personality. Despite some suffocating lag in the latter half of the game (solvable for now by restarting the level; a fix is forthcoming) and ill-advised ‘chased by a laser beam’ stages (only two, but they’re jarring and cause some unnecessary frustration), there’s a lot to admire here.

The Art Deco visuals shine, which, when combined with the clever use of magnetism and its inherent momentum, makes for quite the attractive (yeah, that’s a pun) product. Don’t let the current lag and performance issues dissuade you. With some brilliant puzzle design and beautiful art and aesthetics, Magnetic By Nature: Awakening belongs in anyone’s collection of puzzle / platformers.


Review on Indie Gamer Chick