Category Archives: Puzzler

REVIEW: Twenty Twelve

December 21, 2012 has a large portion of the planet on edge, what with doomsday cults predicting all manner of plagues, magnetic pole reversals, certain elements of my family wishing to arm themselves and go renegade (sadly true), the list goes on. I for one think it’s a bit of an overreaction. Then again, I know exactly where I’ll be on the big day; hundreds of feet below the Earth, reflecting on subterranean living in my luxury apartment, watching the John Cusack movie and smiling like a man that’s just dodged a Mayan bullet. That’s my thing. I’m sure everything’ll be fine for the rest of you, though. Bring a towel and don’t panic.

Twenty Twelve (80 MSP) and Sugar Pill Studios aren’t taking any chances, however, getting their game out well before the apocalypse, to properly enjoy the success now and tell us all they told us so later. The game finds Mayan debunker Serena Silva (think Dora the Explorer for XBLIG) hot on the trail of yet another Mayan temple to disprove, her progress slowed by the nefarious Dolores (not the usual name you think of for a villain) and her robotic creations.

That premise makes way for the game’s moveable puzzle pieces. The Mayans apparently built charmed trash cans (read: stone spirits) before the world snuffed them out, ingenious group that they were, even though they failed to share that secret as well. Called tun-ways by the game, these little guys respond only to certain rings and outfits (peacock feathers?) that Serena finds while exploring.

Each room in the game is a puzzle onto itself, with various tun-way (good and bad) presenting themselves as ‘keys’ to unlocking the next door. This can be as simple as having them pull a lever or hitting a floor switch in sequence, or, with later models, jumping gaps, chasing down evil tun-way like dogs, and severing floors to create entirely new paths. While there’s just one solution to each room, the getting there is fun and does allow for some improvisation.

Stopping at that, this would have been an easy title to push. All is not well in Twenty Twelve, though. For the most part, advancement is linear and a non-issue. This is a puzzler. Once you collect a powerup that controls a different color of tun-way, though, the game abandons its linearity, leaving it up to you to find the next set of puzzle rooms. Even with a sort of ‘central hub’ and plaques by each door cluing you in, the game should have opted for more deliberate text or indicators.

And a word to the wise; if you do find yourself lost and / or backtracking, careful with the ‘skip room’ feature. This caused a few Code 4s for me, including one right near the end that permanently barricaded the exits, unable to skip or retrace steps due to the auto-save.

You’d think having the power to control stone creatures would come with a cooler outfit.

Ultimately I’m still recommending Twenty Twelve, despite my time with it being a mixed bag. On the one side, excellent puzzles with interesting, proactive solutions, and adorable tun-ways doing my bidding. A strong showing. Then the opposite; vague explanations, confusing stage progression, and game-killing glitches that I know others won’t be as quick to forgive.

The Code 4s I experienced (six in all) may have been headaches, but weren’t catastrophic to my fun. The glitch that locked away the ending and potential Mayan Truth from me? A bit more severe. The developer has been kind enough to look into the issue, but I’m not starting over. Looks like I’m waiting for Decemeber 21st with the rest of you.


I’m sure I don’t need to tell you, as you’ve likely been celebrating through the night, but what the hell… Happy Pi Approximation Day! If you’re not in a drunk tank somewhere, a toast then, to numbers without end. And how better to mark the occasion than to watch Aronofsky’s artistic take on numbers and paranoia, and review the recent XBLIG, Pi (80 MSP). This is more personal anecdote than review, I’m afraid, as the game is shit for anyone other than diehard mathematicians or boring introverts like me.

Pi is the ratio of a circle’s circumference to its diameter. That measurement is impossible to approximate, giving you the endless but non-repeating string of decimals we all don’t know and don’t love. Yes, most of us know the first few numbers, 3.14 (marks Pi Day, yet another drinking date on your calendar, no doubt). I was extreme at some point in my life, as I’ve forever etched 3.14159 into my mind, for no important mission in particular. I used to know more. It’s not 10 trillion, sure, but it’s a start.

The only reason it’s relevant to me at all is the extra credit (and candy that’s contributed to my current shape) I earned in fourth grade. My teacher was a bit of a Pi fanatic. In what I now realize was an attempt to indoctrinate us and introduce us to cults, she used to hold Pi races, where two students would first memorize a sheet of Pi decimals, then face off at the chalkboard to see who was, theoretically, smarter. My win / loss record was impressive. Clearly I wanted that candy. And yes, I went to school when there were still chalkboards. It was messy; you whiteboard kids don’t know how good you’ve got it.

Exhilarating, isn’t it?

So, what does Pi the XBLIG have in store for you? A rather paltry lineup, consisting of the first 1,000 digits, a mode to type out as many numbers as you can remember, and a ‘repeat after me’ function. That’s the extent of what Pi offers. I’d say it’s hardly for the hardcore. 1,000 for a buck? Pfft. How ’bout a cool million, for free? Wait, you want to make a game out of it? We can do that too. Come at me, bro.

Just in case it wasn’t readily apparent otherwise, you shouldn’t waste your time or MSP on Pi. It’s a numbingly-basic memory game at best, with instant regret on tap, even on its big days of 7/22 and 3/14. Then again, it could be I’m a simpleton, and the answer to everything in the universe is right in front of me… hey, look! Pi in dominoes!

REVIEW: Puzzle Cubicle

Puzzle Cubicle (80 MSP) has a title with an uncanny knack of putting people to sleep. You’ve got ‘Puzzle’, that immediately turns off more than three quarters of the gaming population with the promise of too much prefrontal cortex, then adds ‘Cubicle’, which sucks the fun out of everything not Office Space-related and wipes out another 24% This leaves a solitary percentage point that can be fractured into a further two groups; one half, which didn’t understand the title to begin with, and the other .5 that loves to spend their free hours smartypants-deep in anything resembling a jumbled jigsaw puzzle.

This .5% is Geek Mode Games’ target audience, and sadly I can’t count myself among them (too much thinking and I start to smell burnt hair). Straight-up puzzlers are not my genre, at all, and that’s what you get in Puzzle Cubicle, void of any flourish. Given a clue (sometimes more, sometimes less) as to a puzzle image’s design and layout, you’re then asked to build it via walls and open-ended cubicle shapes. No, really, that’s all there is.

Games like this don’t appeal to me, but I can soldier through them if they’re fast-paced or visually-arresting. Unfortunately, all the pixel characters and cars walking / driving along the border can’t disguise the blandness of shifting colored shapes around. Forunately, the music is good (and available on Bandcamp) and the puzzles, when the idea is not completely boring you into an uneasy, dreamless sleep, provide some serious head-scratchers in the Medium and Hard categories.

It plays well enough for a puzzler, but there are a few minor complaints, such as the lack of a credible tutorial. You are told the basics, and you see the intention quickly (close off each puzzle, match piece colors and location according to the clue, etc.) but it could have afforded a better explanation. It’s also an odd choice and somewhat of a hassle that you don’t automatically move on to the next puzzle after completion, instead having to re-select difficulty and cycle to the puzzle you want.

Neither gripe breaks the game, though they do tend to stand out when Puzzle Cubicle doesn’t have much else going for it. Again, if you’re part of that .5% that lit up after watching the trailer, you don’t need me to sell you on its worth. For the rest of us, though, there’s just nothing to get excited about here.