enfrdeitptrues

Puzzle

  • Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time
    Developed by: M2
    Published by: Sega
    Release date: October 17, 2019
    Available on: Nintendo Switch
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single player, online and local competitive multiplayer
    ESRB Rating: E
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you, Sega, for sending us a review key!

    I can’t prove that Columns was intended to challenge Tetris. I can’t prove that Columns I, created in 1989, was inspired by Tetris’s release onto the NES the prior year. What I can say is that the tile-falling, stack-building gameplay of Columns II: A Voyage Through Time made me think of Tetris constantly. Columns is distinctly its own game, closer to match-3 puzzlers or Puyo Puyo than the venerable block stacking giant that is Tetris. To that extent, it is an interesting experience. If you know of and are already a fan of Columns, this edition is great, and I highly recommend it. If you are interested in the direction tile-falling gameplay could have gone, then it is also worth a look. Just keep in mind that more of you know about Tetris than know about Columns, and there’s probably a reason for that.

    Columns II adds a competitive multiplayer component to Columns I, which is included with this game. The sequel also adds themed sprites and music vaguely selected from jungles, deserts, and factories of the past and future (the titular “Voyage Through Time”). Most importantly, perhaps, in Columns II the screens are not empty by default. Every level starts with flashing gems that must be cleared to move to the next. In this Sega Ages edition, every five levels unlocks a sprite of an anime-style girl from another game to view on the pause menu. If that feels odd to read, I assure you that it was odd to play a game in which the most obvious extrinsic rewards are pictures of young and slightly underdressed cartoon girls.

    Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good presentation and options; responsive controls; includes Columns I as well; quick to restart after a game over
    Weak Points: Hard to the point of frustration at times; often reliant on luck
    Moral Warnings: Some scantily-clad anime-style characters

    Columns is played in a grid with falling multicolored pieces. Each piece is a vertical stack of three colors styled as gems, stones, or something similar. The colors can be cycled (bottom to top, middle to bottom, and top to middle) until the piece reaches the bottom. When three or more of the same color match up, they disappear and the whole stack drops to fill the gaps. If the stack reaches to the top of the grid, the game is over. The strategic implication, pointed out by the in-game manual, is that setting up diagonal lines of colors is more effective than vertical or horizontal since it moves pieces around in a wider area. The practical downside is that the game depends on randomness. There is not a lot to do with colors that don’t match any of the exposed pieces already in the stack, and three-high pieces fill up the play area quickly. I will be the first to tell you that I am not exceptionally good at Columns, and that knowledge does not shake the feeling that most levels were cleared by my luck more than my skill. In my defense, the in-game manual acknowledges that Columns is hard and suggests starting on Easy mode.

    After a game over, it is easy to hop back into a round. Columns II can certainly be compelling. That is not necessarily the same as fun, and since the piece distribution felt so random, I often did not feel like going one more round would develop more skill. Skill is involved; one can get better at Columns. But there is only so much to do with undesired blocks, and Columns is unforgiving of individual poor placements. It is hard to start from scratch half-way up the grid. Some levels start with the grid almost completely full. Skill will enable you to survive longer under those conditions, but without helpful colors in the randomly-generated pieces, it is hard to make progress downward through the stack.

    Sega Ages: Columns II: A Voyage Through Time
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 8/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Columns II is enough of a classic to receive this rerelease. As a retro game package, this Switch downloadable should be commended. It includes Columns I, keeps the original resolutions, uses original music and sprites, and even includes an old school high score table where the player gets three letters to put next to their score. It also includes an online competitive mode, though I have been unable to find an opponent. Local competitive multiplayer works well; the simple controls are perfect for the Nintendo Switch’s Joy-Cons. The game runs well and the controls are tight. With no moral concerns aside from the anime banner girls, if one enjoys the game, this is a great way to play it.

    I could never remove that other block-falling game from my head, but perhaps that says more about me than it does about Columns II. Like I said, it is a hard game. The presentation is great and the gameplay is as solid as it ever was. Columns II is not to my taste, but it may be to yours.

  • Semblance (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Semblance
    Developed by: Nyamakop
    Published by: Good Shepherd Entertainment; Gambitious
    Genre: Adventure, Puzzle, Platformer
    Release Date: July 24 2018
    Available on: Switch, Windows, MacOs
    Number of Players: Single Player
    Rating: E for Everyone
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you to Good Shepherd Entertainment for the review copy!

    Quite often, the greatest innovations come from the smallest of companies. New ideas have always been key to success in the video game industry, where everyone always desires something new. The first game from a South African studio to arrive on the Switch, Semblance, looks to keep up this track record. It takes the idea of platforming literally, with the main action of the game being the formation of platforms. Will this create steady ground for the company, or will it simply miss its jump?

    Semblance is a game focused on the manipulation of platforms to solve puzzles. The story is very abstract, resulting in it being as malleable as the world it is set in. A crystal menace is taking over, corrupting the soft, flexible world you live in. You play as an unnamed blob, who has the ability to manipulate the terrain that he is on, in combination with his flexible body. He sets out to save the world, collecting orbs and restoring the balance of nature. Once again, there isn’t much to say about the story, as it is rather basic. If this was a design choice, it was quite subtle, yet clever. There are other parts of the story told throughout the levels, though nothing groundbreaking is revealed. While the story is cliché, it’s not the reason one should have purchased Semblance in the first place, so it’s forgivable. If one bought Semblance, they bought it for its unique gameplay.

    Semblance
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great visual style; lovely music; clever gameplay
    Weak Points: Occasional glitch left me stuck in a wall
    Moral Warnings: Minor violence, potentially disturbing plot points

    Semblance is a platformer, though I could never figure out if it should be classified as puzzle or action. It certainly blends a bit of both to create a unique experience. Hazards are dotted throughout the levels, which require skill to dodge and advance past. However, it’s nothing compared to “twitch” platformers, such as Super Meat Boy or Slime-san. In place of difficult platforming is the puzzle system of Semblance.

    In Semblance, most floors and walls have the same color. This indicates that the material can be modified through the protagonist’s powers. The blob can force floors to rise or depress, leading to many possibilities for puzzles. Later on, the blob can also flatten itself like a Frisbee, opening up many new paths. These abilities felt like Semblance‘s main progression system, as each area gradually became much more complex. The real challenge of Semblance occurred within these puzzles. While few puzzles left me stumped for too long, many puzzles often required a plethora of failures in order to find a relatively simple solution. Of course, some puzzles could be solved in multiple ways, but it seems like there is always an intended method. Immense satisfaction was always felt immediately after clearing these puzzles. I enjoyed the majority of the puzzles, simply because the idea behind them is so flexible (literally). The game was never too punishing for mistakes, so I am encouraged to always try again. Despite introducing new concepts, all the puzzles always felt like they still were made with a simple premise in mind: reshape the world. Sure, the blob can become flat or slender, but even the puzzles that use these features always focus on how players change the landscape. By always remembering the main idea, Semblance‘s puzzles managed to be creative, unique, enjoyable, and never convoluted.

    I love Semblance‘s gameplay. I feel that it never lost sight of the original concept of molding the world to win. I feel that many great games forget what made them great, instead focusing on extra fluff. While this works well in many cases, it leaves some dissatisfied with the experience. Semblance made it clear what the focus was, and stuck to it. In a sequel, I would love to see new manipulations, but still continue the idea of no new powers for the blob. Right now, I feel the difficulty curve was mostly done right, with only a few grievances here and there. This made Semblance much more fun to play than some other puzzle/action platformers, which had difficulty spikes, then stagnated. I feel that Semblance‘s gameplay had just the right difficulty, while always maintaining the original focus very well. For that reason, I love it.

    Semblance
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Semblance‘s soundtrack and artistic choices are quite interesting. I’ll admit, at first, the simplistic style was off-putting. I assumed it would get boring extremely quickly, and would become an eyesore to play. Luckily, Semblance‘s team never intended for this in the first place, and gradually change the look of the game as the player progresses. Each world has very different background music and imagery, which is quite enjoyable to look at. Both the soft natural world and the dangerous crystalline lands are simply gorgeous, and I’m glad I didn't dismiss Semblance originally. Semblance‘s soundtrack and art style are quite fitting and well made, even if the first impression didn’t convey that.

    From a moral viewpoint, Semblance is very safe, as is expected from platformers of its nature. The minor violence in the game is neither graphic nor emphasized, so it's as safe as a Mario Brothers game. There isn't a trace of language or sexual content included. Some may be unsettled by the idea of a crystalline plague devouring the gelatinous world, but I personally didn't find much wrong with it. Semblance has a bit of an abstract storytelling style, which helped it stay morally straight throughout the entire game.

    Semblance is quite a pleasant surprise. The gameplay is definitely the highlight of the experience, being properly balanced, innovative, and simply fun. The simple concept of molding the levels turns out to be a flexible one, leading to many fun experiences. The game also sounds and looks great, using a style that grew on me as I played. There are other platformers I would recommend over it, but if you are tired of traditional platformers, Semblance may be just for you.

  • Solar Flux (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Solar Flux
    Developed By: Firebrand Games
    Published By: Firebrand Games
    Released: Oct 24, 2013 (Steam/Mobile); Dec 11, 2018 (Switch)
    Available On: Android, iOS, Linux, macOS, Switch, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle, Strategy
    ESRB Rating: E for everyone
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Firebrand Games for sending us a review code!

    A solar flux can go by a few names: solar constant; solar cycle; solar irradiance (even though the latter is a bit different, but related); What it means is the measurement of solar electromagnetic radiation per unit area. Even with our Earth being around a massive 91 million miles away from the Sun, we still very clearly feel the effects, and that is because of this energy produced by that big ball of plasma.

    Now that the very brief science lesson is over—Solar Flux is an intriguing puzzle game created by Firebrand Games. The main goal of this game is to replenish the energy of the suns across various solar systems. You control a ship in zero gravity, navigating through the vast reaches of space to collect loose plasma and save the dying suns. When the game begins, it goes through a rather informative tutorial explaining the controls and mechanics such as what fuel and shields are for, as well as the methods to replenish them. If you decide to play with the Joy-Cons or standard controller, you will use the left control stick to move around and A button to use fuel, the right control stick to aim and the R button to shoot when you have plasma available. The ZL and ZR buttons are to zoom the camera in and out, and the minus button pauses the game.

    When using touch controls however, movement is inverted. Touching the screen will push the ship in the opposite direction. Touching the sun in a level will automatically have the ship fire energy in that direction. You control the camera with pinching or expanding two fingers on the screen, like a smartphone. Pausing is accomplished by touching the screen with three fingers. I personally prefer the standard controls because a game like this requires precision to get good at, which I just can’t do with touch controls. Oddly enough on the Switch, when undocked, the only choice you have for controls is for the touch screen, which was a bit annoying for me when I wanted to play the game in bed.

    Solar Flux
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Simple to play, yet challenging to master; nice aesthetics and UI
    Weak Points: Annoying sound effects; Switch version is a bit unstable, sometimes crashing when going back to the menu from a level; some levels are a bit ridiculous to three star
    Moral Warnings: The ship that you control explodes when out of fuel, out of shields, or collides with an asteroid, sun, or body

    Four galaxies in total are in Solar Flux: Helios, Oceanus, Hyperion, and Cerberus, all named after figures in mythology, specifically Greek mythology. Each galaxy has around 15 to 28 levels. Excluding the tutorial levels, each level has certain requirements to earn up to three stars. On one level, you’ll have to beat the level under a certain amount of time to earn three stars; another level may require a specific amount of fuel used (if any); another level makes it so that you may not sustain too much shield damage. There are some clever ways to complete levels such as utilizing the gravitational pulls of planets to move around and save fuel, using the solar flux of the sun to break out of a gravitational pull, and plasma shots to collect other plasma. In an interesting twist, your game is not immediately over if your ship is destroyed as long as a plasma shot is active. Some of these levels may call upon a Hail Mary pass to complete successfully—I had to rely on it a few times.

    Solar Flux has a simple approach. I personally feel that anyone can simply beat the game, given enough time and patience. There are some levels that are pretty difficult to just complete (and I see myself as someone who is bad at puzzle games), but the real challenge comes from earning three stars in all the levels. Some of these requirements are brutal or borderline obnoxious as for some levels I can’t even fathom how to earn three stars. If you earn a certain number of stars in a galaxy, three extra levels are unlocked, which are more or less the most challenging levels of said galaxy. I’ve only unlocked the extra levels for the Helios galaxy—like I said before, I’m not very good at puzzle games.

    With the game taking place in space, the background is filled with the twinkle of stars and the foreground boasts the radiance of the sun. In general, the graphical aesthetics are very nice, and the UI works well and looks clean for the touch interface. Each sun in the galaxy have a distinct color from the other galaxies. Helios is orange, Oceanus is cerulean, Hyperion is teal, and Cerberus is red. The cursor when aiming is red, which can present a problem when using standard controls as it can blend in with the orange and red in the Helios and Cerberus galaxies respectively. All galaxies have certain gimmicks attached to them, like how Hyperion has an asteroid gimmick where you only have a limited time to complete your objective before the asteroid pulverizes the sun. Cerberus on the other hand features black holes, which continuously expand and have their own gravitational effect, which may mess with your shot trajectory. The graphics and the set pieces overall look fine and do their job.

    Solar Flux
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 64%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7.5/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 2.5/5
    Controls - 3/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Capturing the ambiance of space, there isn’t music when playing the levels, with only one notable music score in the main menu and level select, and a jingle when a level is completed. In ways, the menu music reminds me of Mass Effect’s title music.  Instead of a soundtrack, Solar Flux makes up for it with sound effects, or at least attempts to. Some of the sound effects do sound alright, like the sound effects of the sun radiation and the jet expulsions of the ship, but others are really annoying, like the asteroids in Hyperion (which is a shame because that is my favorite galaxy). Overall, I feel the sound effects do the game a disservice as most of the sounds don’t really invoke a space-like feel.

    There are a few issues in stability that I’ve came across. I noticed when completing a galaxy in docked mode, there is a completion screen that prompts the press of the A button, but it doesn’t do anything. The only way to pass it is to undock the Switch, use the touch screen controls, and then dock it again. It’s not a huge issue, but can be annoying. There is also a 1-in-4 chance that the game will crash if you exit a level back to the main menu. If you play this game in one go you'll probably never run into this issue (though it did crash on me during the final level as it had to go back to the main menu for the credits so I had to complete it a second time), but when retrying levels, I'm sure it will happen a half-dozen times. At least the levels themselves are stable and I ran into no issues when playing through them.

    I would say the only moral concern about this game is that the ship you control can explode, either by running out of fuel, sustaining too much solar radiation, or knocking into certain objects like mines or planets. The main goal is to restore dying suns so there aren't any bad guys to face and the story is kept to a bare minimum.

    Solar Flux isn’t exactly the type of game for me; I prefer a bit more action or a faster pace in my puzzle games, but I still see in its core that it is a decent game in the puzzle genre and it does have an appeal for those who seek a dexterity challenge. To 100% the game is still something way beyond my reach. For a cheap price, you can get a decent amount of hours out of it. There are control issues with the Switch version, it crashes a bit too often, and the SFX are pretty underwhelming. However, it does get the brain juices flowing, the aesthetics are pleasing, and there were a few moments that I really enjoyed. Solar Flux is safe for kids to play, but I wouldn’t buy it for a child on a whim. I would first get an understanding of the genres the kid likes to play, or see if they get frustrated easily by other games before buying it for them. If you like using your hands for precision, I would give Solar Flux a try.

  • Something Ate My Alien (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Something Ate My Alien
    Developed By: Rokabium Games
    Published By: Rokabium Games
    Released: Jun 18, 2020
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle, Platformer
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: single player
    Price: $16.99

    Thank you, Rokabium Games, for sending us a review code!

    Something Ate My Alien... Usually, the titles of media would be the name of the main character, or an object, or a meaningful blend of words. This is just a statement, but believe me, it does make more sense in context. Something Ate My Alien (SAMA) by Rokabium Games is a 2D puzzle platformer where the main plot is that some kind of pirate alien tentacle creature hijacked your ship and is forcing you and your many alien buddies to loot planets of its resources.

    Your unwelcomed guest is not the kindest individual. It is very demanding of your services and requires a “ransom” of a specific amount of materials. The four difficulties ranging from easy to insane do change the amount of materials the pirate requires for each planet. Any items collected that the pirate does not care for or has more than enough of can be hoarded for yourself, to either upgrade your weapons or suit to make future voyages easier.

    Something Ate My Alien
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Thoughtful block-pushing puzzles; worlds are massive
    Weak Points: Can feel monotonous for some players
    Moral Warnings: Alien violence

    The player alien goes underneath the crust of the planet to gather many types of minerals, gasses, fossils, and energy. Your main weapon is a mining tool in which you will blast away the ground and you jump around with your jetpack. This mining tool is only for excavation so your starting offensive weapon is a blaster meant to fend off the creatures that lurk below. Controlling your alien is pretty simple as you move with WASD, and aim around with the mouse. (The mining tool and weapons require aiming around.) Although SAMA when first starting up recommends the usage of keyboard and mouse, it will prioritize a gamepad if plugged in. Unlike many games that immediately switch the button prompts depending on what control method you use, the display will always show gamepad prompts even when using KB+M. Fortunately, all bindings can be remapped to your choosing if the default controls are awkward.

    One of the main objectives of each planet is to collect ten tokens, because throughout your voyage you’ll come across giant serpent creatures, appropriately named “Somethings”. They will swoop by interrupting your progress every once in a while breathing fire and causing a general ruckus and can only be harmed when all ten tokens of each planet are collected. I also found out why the title is named as such, when the Something did in fact, eat my alien in one bite!

    The aforementioned tokens are acquired by completing puzzle rooms. Basically, all of the puzzles in this game will consist of pushing color-coded blocks into the correct spots. These puzzles are simple enough when starting, but they do get a bit complicated as more planets are unlocked. I enjoyed these puzzles as each world introduced new gimmicks and patterns to keep them from feeling stale.

    Something Ate My Alien
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 75%
    Gameplay 13/20
    Graphics 7/10
    Sound 8/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence 8/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    SAMA puts you into a rhythm because each planet is huge in size. Your alien will dig around looking for various loot until you’re either running low on oxygen or weight capacity. Scattered throughout are teleporters to send your alien back to the ship to store any resources gathered, as well as to replenish your health and oxygen levels. This pattern will pretty much repeat right until the credits roll. Strangely enough, the gameplay loop ends up being rather relaxing, although monotonous at points. Blasting away aliens is cool with the half-dozen weapons you can use, digging and the sense of progression is there, and the atmospheric music compliments it all.

    However, on a negative note, the planets can start to feel similar to each other as enemies start to repeat patterns and the Somethings fought at the end of each planet don’t change enough to feel engaging after the second meeting. Playing for long periods of time is probably not the best choice to make unless digging and exploring is something you crave.

    Morally, there really isn’t much to scoff at. The only notable aspect is the violence. The environment and alien design do lean more towards the cartoonish side and most enemies explode in a puff of dust. Even the alien simply dissolves into particles when killed.

    Something Ate My Alien is a simple experience that may just surprise you. This adventure can take anywhere between 8 and 24 or more hours as each planet can range from 2 to 6+ hours of content depending on your playspeed. It doesn’t set out to defy the genre, but what it does, it does pretty well and is generally safe for anyone to play. If only the worlds had a bit more variety in them but taking your time to experience these underground alien worlds will prevent it from feeling too repetitive.

  • Splat The Difference (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Splat The Difference
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release Date: September 15, 2016
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Up to four
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code!

    Almost everyone has played a spot the difference puzzle before and they’re fun to play in small doses.  The object is to see how many differences you can detect in two nearly identical images.  Splat the Difference utilizes the two 3DS screens perfectly by showing the original image on the top screen and the altered one on the bottom.  When you detect one of the differences, you get to splat it with paint by using the stylus on the touch screen.

    There are four game modes that can be played solo or with up to four people.  Your friends don’t have to own the game to join in, they can get it via Download Play.  The host gets to choose the game mode which includes:

    Classic – In the multiplayer mode there are nine matches to see who can spot the most of the three differences in the pictures. There is no time limit and tapping all over the place is permitted though there is a slight cool-down period between taps.   The single player mode has a time limit and tapping in an incorrect place results in losing some valuable time.  As you progress through the levels you’ll get less and less time to spot all of the differences.

    Splat The Difference
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Hundreds of pictures with changing differences to splat; download play makes it easy to play with others
    Weak Points: Some of the differences are hard to detect in time; my kids did not enjoy this game
    Moral Warnings: Halloween themed pictures

    Casual – If you don’t like being timed then this is the mode for you!  There are three differences to find at your own pace.

    Frenzy – There is only one difference and not much time to find it.  Good luck!

    Mirror – If you’re looking for a challenge, this mode is for you.  You still have to find three differences but one image is reversed.

    No matter which mode you play, there are a ton of images with various levels of details and different themes.  Some of the images are holiday themed like Halloween and Valentine’s Day while others feature architecture or luggage or cars stuffed to the brim with various objects.  Though duplicate images are possible, they have different changes made to them so it’s hard to memorize the differences.

    Splat The Difference
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

     

    Not surprisingly, the more cluttered the image, the harder it is to detect the anomalies.  There is a hint button that will point out a difference for you.  However, it has a recharge time between uses and you may not even have enough time to use it in fast paced levels.  There’s also a Refresh button, but I never figured out what its purpose was.  Pressing it just made one of the images flicker briefly.   

    The game's interface is very colorful and fits the splat theme.  The background music is pleasant to listen to and is neither memorable or annoying.  I had no problems running this game and sharing it with others.  

    While I was able to set up a multiplayer match against my son, he quickly got bored and wanted to play something else (Gotta Protectors).  Even if this game isn’t for him, I’m sure that there are many kids and adults who will enjoy this title.  The asking price is a reasonable $5 and the download play makes it easy to set up matches with those who don’t own it yet.  If you enjoy spot the difference challenges, then you should consider adding this game to your 3DS library.

     

  • Splotches (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Splotches
    Developed by: Jolly Crouton Media, Ltd.
    Published by: Jolly Crouton Media, Ltd.
    Release date: December 3, 2018
    Available on: Windows
    Number of players: Single player
    Genre: Puzzle game
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $9.99

    Thank you Jolly Crouton Media, Ltd. for sending us this game to review!

    Splotches is a challenging single-player puzzle game with 120 uniquely titled levels, published and developed by Jolly Crouton Media, Ltd. The controls are simple and easy to remember: left-click over a splotch to take hold of it; move the mouse to drag the splotch to another location (of course, it will trail more paint behind it). Each level contains a rainbow orb, which must be destroyed via “brownsplosion” so that its happiness can be released and make the world a better place. To create said “brownsplosion”, primary paint colors must be mixed (red, yellow, blue), and since brownsplosions have a limited radius, they must be created near the rainbow orb so that it may properly be destroyed with the least amount of brownsplosions possible.

    It is not just primary colors that can be mixed, though. Secondary colors can be mixed with primary colors that were not involved in their creation. To illustrate, orange (a secondary color) could not generate a brownsplosion when mixed with red or yellow (primary colors), because when red and yellow paints mix, orange is brought into being. Instead of making a brownsplosion, the secondary color would simply overlap whatever primary color it came into contact with. On the other hand, if orange was spread over blue (a primary color), a brownsplosion would occur, because blue did not contribute to the creation of orange. Pairings like this that create brownsplosions include yellow & purple, blue & orange, and red & green.

    Although primary colors can be combined with each other to make a brownsplosion, secondary colors cannot. Mixing two secondary colors will result in black, which is never necessary for the completion of a level. In fact, it is an obstacle that often calls for the restarting of the level; it can not be cleaned up in any way. 

    Splotches
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Colorful graphics; fun gameplay; challenging; players can custom-make their own levels
    Weak Points: Challenging; no multiplayer mode
    Moral Warnings: Mine explosions

    Sometimes, however, making a brownsplosion is difficult, because there may be filters throughout the level that only allow one specific color to pass through. That is not the only thing that may obstruct colors from uniting; walls with keyholes may be mandatory to unlock, and in order to unlock them, a brownsplosion must occur near the correct key (keys will only unlock the keyholes on walls that are the same color) so that the wall will move.

    Conveyor belts often exist (more in the later levels) to transport splotches to different areas of levels that may be inaccessible to them otherwise. Paying attention to the direction of the conveyor is very important in these levels. When a splotch of color is spread, it trails splotches behind it, which may make things more difficult, especially when space is scarce.

    Brownsplosions do not always do good, however. If a mine is in the brownsplosion’s radius, it will explode, and the level will automatically restart. By dragging a splotch part of the way into the next block, players can see how far the boom will go. The indicator will turn red if the brownsplosion will activate a mine, but it will turn green if the explosion will complete the level.

    Once a level is completed, a star rating will appear. The rating can show from one to three stars. One star is earned for completion, the second is earned if the amount of brownsplosions that occurred was the minimum, and the third star was earned if the level was completed within a certain amount of time. The amount of time it took to finish the level will be shown along with the star rating.

    Splotches
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Splotches sometimes are unable to spread. Bucket splotches are simply paint in a bucket; they mix and explode just like regular splotches, but they can not move around or spread like other splotches.

    As is the music in Splotches, it tends to get stuck in my head sometimes, but it is still interesting. The music seems to always fit the situation, and I believe it allows me to think better. Though it seems to repeat, I never find it annoying until it plays in my head hours afterward. The sound effects used are semi-detailed; comprehensive enough to tell just what they are trying to portray, but not exceptional.

    The art style used in this game is (as it should be, considering it is a game all about colors and paint) extremely colorful & bright. Splotches are somewhat realistic, as are most other items in Splotches. It is not the most descriptive style in the world, but it has enough detail to be appealing to the eye.

    Moral warnings do not go very far in this title. Things like explosions (from the mines) exist, but other than that, Splotches is an irreproachable game when it comes to moral issues.

    Though strenuous at times, I still find Splotches to be a very enjoyable title. I would recommend it to anyone who wants a pleasing puzzle game to play. Because Splotches is such a cute, convivial game, I look forward to future games by this developer.

  • Sudoku Party (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Sudoku Party
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: March 16, 2017
    Available on: 3DS, Wii U
    Genre: puzzle
    Number of players: 1-2
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code for this game!

    Sudoku is a fun puzzle game where each puzzle consists of a 9x9 grid, divided into nine, 3x3 sections. The challenge is to place the numbers one through nine in such a fashion that no number is repeated for each row, column, and 3x3 section. Some numbers will be placed in advance, and these numbers are what affects the level of the challenge. Many pre-placed numbers can make the puzzle very easy, while a sparse amount can make the puzzle extremely challenging.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 1,000 Sudoku puzzles and multiplayer support for $5.00
    Weak Points: Nobody playing this game online
    Moral Warnings: None

    In total, there are 1,000 single-player puzzles broken down into four difficulties.  The Easy, Medium, and Hard difficulties have three hundred puzzles each.  The Fiendish mode has one hundred challenging puzzles.  When you start a puzzle the timer will start and depending on your performance you’ll be awarded between one and three balloons.  You’ll get one balloon for completing the puzzle and another for not using any of the hints.  Last but not least, you’ll get another balloon if you can complete the puzzle within the recommended time limit.  Without using the hints I can complete an easy puzzle in less than thirty minutes while the recommended time limit is ten minutes.  Each harder difficulty adds five minutes to the time challenge.

    When using/abusing the hint system, completing the puzzle within the recommended time limit is not a problem.  I like how you can annotate the squares with potential numbers.  The game will automatically remove any incorrect annotations or final entries that intersect with the same number.   There have been many times when there are two potential numbers that could work and I don’t know which is the correct order.  By placing the numbers and tapping on the check puzzle/lightbulb icon the game will check for errors and remove them for you.  By using this awesome feature, you lose the chance of getting the no hint balloon though.  It’s worth it in my opinion.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 7/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - -10/10

    While the single-player puzzles are worth the $5 asking price, the real fun of this game is playing against other people.  Sadly, I couldn’t find anyone online to play against, but my daughters were willing to play a few a rounds with me (I won every time).  Playing locally is easy to do since you can send a limited version of the game to your challenger via 3DS’ remote play feature.

    Two players can work against each other to see who can complete more of the shared Sudoku puzzle.  Points are awarded for each correct answer and incorrect entries will restrict the user from guessing again for a short amount of time.   When the puzzle is completed the player with the most points wins.  

    Sudoku Party is quite fun when playing against others, but if you want to take your time (despite losing a balloon) the single-player mode will give your brain plenty of exercise.  If you enjoy Sudoku puzzles, then buying Sudoku Party for $5 is a no-brainer.

     

  • Tetris Effect (PS4)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tetris Effect
    Developed by: Monstars, Resonair
    Published by: Enhance
    Release date: November 9, 2018
    Available on: PlayStation 4
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single player
    ESRB Rating: E
    Price: $39.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    There must have been a time before I played Tetris Effect. I can’t remember it. More precisely, I can’t remember it without a Tetris playfield, called a matrix, superimposed over my memory. The matrix entered my mind when I loaded the first level of this game and it hasn’t left. The real-world phenomenon known as the “Tetris Effect” refers to people seeing the likeness of Tetris pieces in mundane, everyday objects. The game named after the effect does one better. Combining excellent reactive visuals, sound effects, and music with natural and engrossing Tetris gameplay, Tetris Effect draws the player into a world of color and beauty which simply doesn’t exist in most other games - or in most mundane, everyday objects. I had hardly played Tetris before playing Tetris Effect. I can hardly imagine stopping now.

    Tetris Effect is an “official Tetris product,” with all the gameplay implications that suggests. Boxy shapes called tetriminoes (the official misspelling used by Tetris) fall from the top of the play area, rotated and positioned by the player. Tetriminoes come in seven forms, each a combination of four squares: two Ls, two Ss, a large square, an I, and a T. When they horizontally fill up a row of the Tetris matrix, they disappear. Over time pieces fall faster. Clearing multiple rows at a time gives more points. If the pieces pile to the top of the screen, the game is over. That is Tetris, and it has been for three decades. In modern Tetris, a tetrimino can be stored and swapped in for later use. The point system of Tetris Effect recognizes tetrises (clearing four lines at once), all forms of T-Spins (a T tetrimino set by rotating it into a spot it would otherwise not fall into), all clears (clearing every line of the matrix), combos (multiple clears in a row), and back-to-back clears (chaining tetrises and T-Spin clears without intervening, less-valuable line clears). The game does not assume you know any of this, and the brief tutorial will bring you up to speed if you have never fit in a full game of Tetris before.

    Tetris Effect
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful and varied levels; engrossing music; sharp controls; flawless implementation of modern Tetris gameplay; variety of standard and creative modes
    Weak Points: On default settings, visuals obscure gameplay on occasion
    Moral Warnings: Spiritual imagery in the form of language about exploring the soul, yoga, and indistinct forms worshiping nothing in particular

    Tetris can be played for free on the Tetris Company’s website, so if this PS4-exclusive was only that I’d direct you there. As becomes apparent within the first five minutes, this is not the same Tetris. For starters, Tetris Effect adds the Zone. The Zone meter charges up as as you clear lines. It can be triggered at any time to stop the automatic falling of tetriminoes, allowing you to easily chain together line clears or recover from some bad placements. Lines cleared in the Zone rack up points without contributing to the total needed to clear a level. This is a hindrance or a feature depending on how good you are at Tetris. A pro can use the Zone to clear the entire matrix for free points at least once a level. I could not do this, but the Zone helped me get out of tight spots of my own making.

    Tetris is labeled a puzzle game, and it’s true that spatial reasoning - finding where the given tetrimino fits - makes up the smallest gameplay loop. I like to think of it as an exercise in making and living with poor decisions. While trying to set up a tetris, I might block off an empty square. Perhaps, moving too quickly, I drop a piece in the wrong spot. That’s one row closer to game over, and I need to burn the Zone or figure out how to start clearing lines again, fast. The difficulty levels scale well to whatever the player is comfortable with. Modes aside from the main “Journey” take away the Zone and give classic scenarios. Clear a set number of lines as fast as you can. Get as many points as you can in a set amount of time. There’s a Quick Play mode, with any level you want and no game overs. Some modes are explicitly puzzles, asking you to chain tetrises or achieve all clears. Playing Tetris is a joy, and it deeply engages the mind despite its simplicity. The core gameplay is as solid as it gets.

    Putting off the discussion of aesthetics for so long is surely burying the lede of Tetris Effect. This game is gorgeous. Voices might gently harmonize while you rotate falling pieces. Every line clear glows pleasantly, joined by a fitting musical highlight. The tetriminos take the form of coral, shells, fireworks, snow, gears, leaves, and more. The backgrounds show you the ocean, the stars, and the teeming life in between. Rhythmic hip hop backs one level. A soaring, triumphant song accompanies the hot air balloon ride. Not all tracks are voiced, but those that are were my favorite. Music and background evolve over the course of each level. In fire-themed stages pieces steadily speed up, but that is not always the case. Sometimes the game slows down with the music after a time of frantic speed. At all times the sound is responsive to player action. No words can describe how good it feels to experience the music choreographed to my actions as the more active part of my mind continues the rhythm of fitting tetriminos into place. If words could describe it, we wouldn’t need the game. Even the failure state of a filled matrix is treated well, with music fading out and pieces drifting away.

    Tetris Effect
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 96%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The game’s demo gives a good idea of what the rest of the game is like. Whether you play the demo or look up a video, you could see what you’re in for with Tetris Effect. I praise it highly because it executes its mission of engrossing beauty with excellence, but not everyone’s endorphins will be hit by this game in the same way. The credits end with a (perhaps) tongue-in-cheek, “Until the next trip,” and such trips might not suit your fancy. The music is typically understated, and the visuals are impressionist. Those who just want a game of Tetris could turn down the visual effects, but they could play that game for cheaper elsewhere. In fact, a more plain edition of Tetris might serve these people better; there are a couple levels which flash in such a way that, without changing settings, obscure the play area for a second or two. This is a game for people who are hooked by music matching movement and color. If that's you, this game will draw you in immediately.

    Once or twice a sensibility might be perturbed by the background action. An early level features vague human forms bowing in seeming worship. Yoga poses and imagery fill the menus. The game presents itself as an emotional experience and in doing so almost reaches for a spiritual experience that it obviously isn’t intended to be. Should the imagery cause no trouble, there is no moral reason to object to Tetris Effect.

    This game is worth playing on a PS4 Pro if possible. I don’t own PSVR gear, but Tetris Effect really makes me wish I did to experience the fuller immersion of color and sound. It is a blessing and curse that Tetris Effect is a PlayStation 4 exclusive. It can utilize the one system to its full extent, though I wish it were portable. Online Community Challenges ask the player base to complete certain in-game tasks in a limited amount of time, usually to unlock PlayStation community awards such as avatars. It’s a nice way to encourage engagement. I don’t need it. I’ve had images of this game floating in and out of mind since I started writing, and I think it’s high time I play some more Tetris Effect.

  • The Adventures of Perseus (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    The Adventures of Perseus
    Developed By: PixQuake
    Published By: HH-Games
    Released: February 27, 2019
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Match-3/Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: Not specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99

    First, my thanks to HH Games for the review key for this game.

    When people think innovation, Match-3 games aren't on the list, because there are only so many ways to make one, and when people think classical mythology, Grecian legends are the first thing most people think about. The Adventures of Perseus does not disappoint on the latter, but the success of the former we need to discuss in more detail.

    The game follows the Greek legend of Perseus, a demigod son of Zeus who was destined to kill his own grandfather. Said grandpa does what he can to avoid this fate, but eventually winds up dead due to Perseus one way or another, though this game goes with the accidental version where Perseus winds up being the unwitting killer. In-between cutscenes depicting this version of the Perseus legend, we get lots of Match-3 gameplay.

    Like most Match-3 games, this one revolves around clearing 3 or more objects that line up in a row until you fulfill the win condition, and it plays very much like An Alchemist's Tale (previously made by the same developer). In fact, it uses a modified version of that game's engine, so those who played that will be right at home with this for the basic gameplay.

    The Adventures of Perseus
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Innovative attempts at making a Match-3 game
    Weak Points: Tedious gameplay and poor engine stability
    Moral Warnings: Mentions of intense violence (a head is decapitated, a man dies after being hit with a discus); some references to adultery; polytheistic themes associated with Grecian mythology; references to magic

    However, the game is more than just predictable Match-3 levels (although it has so many of those it can get downright tedious). It also has little minigames where the genre shifts completely in some intermission scenes, generally "find the hidden objects in the scene" or some memory match style puzzles, and while these are skippable, they do provide an occasional welcome diversion from the hordes of Match-3 levels, which are so numerous as to be boring in their length to complete. There is also no "reshuffle the board if no moves are left" mechanic, forcing level restarts, further padding gameplay length.

    And that is one main thing about this game that may be a turn-off. It has so many Match-3 levels some feel like blatant padding, and if it gets to the point where you are fighting the urge to sleep instead of play another level, the developer is doing something wrong if you ask me. Again, there is no free play mode like the preceding game, which would have been better instead of cramming tons of extraneous levels in the campaign, but that's just me.

    Graphics are colorful with a Grecian mythos twist, and the cutscenes tend to use a style that resembles reliefs on Grecian pottery depicting the scenes from the legends of Perseus. These generally look good and fit the themes well. Sound, on the other hand, it not as varied. There are about three different soundtracks, and they will get boring fast, and while they sound perfect to the high fantasy tone of Grecian mythos with flutes and orchestral vocals, they get quite repetitious. Sound effects are also limited to some ambient background noises and the chime effect when you match up items in gameplay, and they do an adequate job of setting the mood if nothing else.

    Controls and stability go hand in hand, and unlike the previous Alchemist's Tale game, this game did get some ergonomic improvements, and the mouse feels very responsive, to the point it can be TOO responsive at times, as the game speed is rather fast by default. The menus allow taking breaks and saving progress more frequently even during some intermission scenes. On the bad side of the ledger, this game does not Alt+Tab well nor stay stable, as it's prone to occasional crashing.

    The Adventures of Perseus
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 3/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 64%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 6/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 6/10

    On the moral side of things, this is a game based on Grecian myth; and while the game creator went for a sanitized version of the Perseus legends, it still has some parts of serious concern.

    The violence depicted in the story sections is pretty low, aside from one brief scene where Perseus clearly cuts off Medusa's head, but they kept the graphical depiction rather sterile - no blood or gore depictions. The language is also pretty clean, and while there are mentions of sexual activity (Zeus, like usual, is described doing his usual "having a kid with a mortal" bit), they keep the description at "it happened" without going into details. In fact, this depiction of the Grecian legends even glosses over some later scenes of sexual content (the Nymph of the North is severely cut down to avoid covering that part), so while there are the unavoidable depictions of adultery, the game creator went out of their way to keep this pretty far out of the debauchery gutter.

    Like most Grecian legends, this covers a story about a polytheistic world with fantasy creatures, magical artifacts and powers, and a lot of supernatural events. The gameplay involves the various Grecian gods granting you blessings (which will clear the board to some degree if you collect a certain amount of game tokens associated with them on the board) at various parts in the game, but it's clear this is just a shorthand for a Match-3 game mechanic out-of-universe.

    On the cultural, moral, and ethical side of things, the game story defaults to the more sanitized and "nicer" versions of the Grecian legends of Perseus. So, while it still has some disagreeable moral scenes as mentioned above, it's about as tame as you can depict the original source canon without doing a downright Disney-level adaptation.

    From where I'm sitting, if you don't mind marathon like Match-3 games with long levels (although this seems ironically appropriate given the Greek theme), then one can enjoy the gameplay, even if it is a bit padded and unstable in execution. As for the ethical side of things, if you can live with a fairly clean depiction of a legend stemming from Greek mythology with its associated themes, then this should be worth your time.

  • The Enthralling Realms: An Alchemist's Tale (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    The Enthralling Realms: An Alchemist's Tale
    Developed By: e-FunSoft Games
    Published By: HH-Games
    Released: Feb 1, 2019
    Available On: Microsoft Windows
    Genre: Match-3/Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: None specified
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $4.99

    First, my thanks to HH Games for the review key for this game.

    Match-3 games (where one lines up 3 or more symbols to remove them from a game board) are a dime a dozen these days, being nigh ubiquitous in their commonality, Those that make them have to include something that makes them special or at least stand out from the numerous imitators. The Enthralling Realms: An Alchemist's Tale is an attempt to do just this.

    The story of this game is that you are Carol, a promising student in your alchemy class alongside your sister Iris, or you were until Iris died due to a foolish experiment as Carol tried to make a potion for eternal life. You were expelled, and you now seek the means to revive Iris and redeem yourself.

    The gameplay is 80/20 mix of Match-3 game and kinetic novel, with the latter providing story justification for the game progress, but the meat of the gameplay is lining up 3 or more items and causing them to disappear to fulfill level objectives, typically to get a certain amount of combinations of noted items shown above the game board. There are certain additional board clearing powerups one can unlock that are typical to the Match-3 genre, and later levels will require their use extensively, though early ones provide ample practice. There is no free play mode, unfortunately, but the campaign is replayable and can provide many levels of enjoyment, so it does have some limited replay value.

    The Enthralling Realms: An Alchemist's Tale
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good Match-3 gameplay
    Weak Points: No free play mode
    Moral Warnings: Some mentions of magic and alchemy; comedic violence against spiders

    Graphics are a pleasing choice of high fantasy artwork with mostly realistic proportions yet vaguely anime-style art design and compliment the generic Tolkien-esque fantasy motifs of the game setting. Sounds are soothing fantasy soundtracks that either inspire or sound relaxing during gameplay and go especially well with the graphical themes.

    Controls are quite good, primarily mouse-driven and responsive, but there is no way to exit the game smoothly unless one is already doing a Match-3 level, which is the only place the player can access the main game menu, which is a bit annoying. Game stability can suffer on Windows 10, but there is a provided compatibility mode for users of that OS, and the developer has proven responsive to user feedback for patching issues.

    Morally, this game has some issues when it comes to the occult and the supernatural. Alchemy is portrayed as a mix of magic and medicine, with some vaguely occult-like effects producible from the more fantastical creations, such as precognition.

    The Enthralling Realms: An Alchemist's Tale
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 7/10

    Conversely, the game does point out there is an in-game ethical system for alchemists in which certain things like necromancy (explicitly defined as evil) are considered beyond the pale and alchemists are regulated and trained to be responsible to others as well as refraining from meddling with powers they cannot comprehend. This is relevant to the main plot as that was Carol's moral failing that she is attempting to redeem herself from, and the plot has a strong moral about responsibility and selflessness, qualities Carol lacks at the beginning but begins to show an appreciation for as the story wears on.

    The biggest moral concern is that Carol seeks to revive her sister Iris from injuries that left her in a death-like state (in effect, a medical coma in which she is barely alive due to mortal wounds), essentially trying to circumvent death. Christians especially would find objectionable, but the story makes clear even alchemists cannot do so. While she finds a more mundane, medically-based alternative in the end that is far more morally suitable, it is something worthy of note for those who may be offended by such themes.

    Otherwise, the game is free of foul language, perverse themes, and the only violence is a cartoony effect that can cause spiders to fall off the game board if they get hit with a combination of symbols, but this title is otherwise bloodless and bereft of gore.

    An Alchemist's Tale doesn't exactly break new ground in the Match-3 department, but it is technically sound and fun during the reasonably long campaign mode. Morally, aside from some mentions of magic as noted above, it's otherwise a fairly clean-minded alternative to many other Match-3 games on the market, and any older child or adult would find it both fun and easy to play.

  • The Pedestrian (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Pedestrian
    Developed By: Skookum Arts
    Published By: Skookum Arts
    Released: January 29, 2020
    Available On: Linux, macOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Singleplayer
    Price: $19.99

    Thank you Skookum Arts for sending us this game to review!

    The Pedestrian is a 2.5D puzzle game rendered in stunning graphics and surrounded in beautiful music composed by Logan Hayes. The player leaps between signs and connects doorways to solve the many puzzles that are present as obstacles to their progress. The signs’ positions can be moved around to suit the needs of the puzzle, and it is sometimes required in order to solve them. There are many places that the character ends up traveling to, including a subway and a bustling city. There are ten Steam achievements as well, with mysterious names and descriptions, denoting the player's progress through the game.

    The game begins with the character being introduced as a splotch. Arrows around it guide the player to move forward, to a place where they can choose the gender of their character (which is male or female in this case). The characters are simple in design; they are merely the symbols that are seen on bathroom signs to show which bathroom is which. Puzzles take place on various types of traffic and warning signs, with various obstacles inside the environment. The character is moved to their first sign, where the game teaches the user how to play along the way, with subtle hints in the environment. Other than this, there is no visible plot or development, or if it is, it’s not noticeably developed due to the lack of text or other linguistic communication. While that does nothing to change the quality of the game, it’s definitely worth mentioning.

    The Pedestrian
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Engaging puzzles; incredible graphics and music; ten achievements to help show the player's progress; unique execution; tutorial as the game progresses; infinite lives
    Weak Points: No hints whatsoever for puzzles
    Moral Warnings: When the character dies, they transform into a realistic-looking splotch of what looks like blood

    The puzzles start out fairly easy, so that the player can get used to the feel of the controls, and slowly but surely begin to get more difficult. During this time, and throughout the course of gameplay, the puzzles not only increase in challenge level but also introduce new elements to work with and try to overcome. While the puzzles are challenging and sometimes get the player to think, they are often simple in concept and execution. Once a puzzle is complete, the character simply moves on to the next one. There is no loading screen or level system, so the gameplay is quite smooth and feels shorter. This changes as time goes on, and it tests the user’s visualization skills a little as well. However, not all of the puzzles are so easy to see the solution to, as I had to use a walkthrough twice.

    Many of the puzzles are nested puzzles, meaning there are parts that need to be obtained in order to move on, and those parts are hidden in other puzzles, waiting to be claimed as a trophy. To access the puzzles lurking on the other side of a door, sometimes the player has to pass through other ones. Some of the things the character ends up doing also affect the world around it, like fixing electronic devices with the use of gathered parts. All puzzles share the commonality of having the ability to harbor fatal obstacles such as lasers or spinning saw blades. The obstacles that present themselves as fatal to the character in-game are only there to deter the player’s life, as they do not cause any harm to other objects or walls. When the character is killed, their body turns into a splotch of what looks like some sort of blood, but is the same color as the rest of its surroundings.

    The Pedestrian has the feature of Steam Cloud saving, and there is no main menu. Upon launching the game, the user is taken directly to where they left off in the puzzle. There is a pause menu, where the interface is very visual, and the player can adjust many things there. One of the tabs is even bug reporting, so that if there is a problem with anything, the player can notify the developer immediately. On the side, there is a bar that shows what a certain picture represents in the menu, and that bar contains some of the only text in the entire game.

    The Pedestrian
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 97%
    Violence – 8.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics in The Pedestrian are immensely well done, and look extremely realistic. While the character and the puzzles themselves are in the whimsical style of guide signs, the area around the signs is rendered beautifully, and looks quite realistic. The environment around the signs is very well rendered, and I was incredibly impressed. The music is also impeccable, with a whimsical and jazzy but relaxed feel that permeates the atmosphere of the puzzles. It is composed by Logan Hayes and is available as DLC for $4.99 on Steam. The sound effects that are present are also realistic, and quiet enough that they’re not annoying whatsoever. Everything has a very refined feel, and it didn’t crash once.

    The controls are fairly easy to grasp, and there is full controller support ingrained in the game. Everything was very easy to grasp, and if ever I were to forget something, there is a menu in the settings with a panel showing the button configurations on the controller and the keyboard.

    The Pedestrian is a charming puzzle game full of simple and challenging puzzles, as well as everything in between. If you’re looking for a nice head-crunching game with great graphics, then this is the game for you!

    - Kittycathead

  • The Talos Principle (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Talos Principle
    Developed By: Croteam
    Published By: Devolver Digital
    Released: December 11, 2014
    Available On: Windows, macOS, Linux, Android, PS4
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E10
    Number of Players: Single-player offline.  No multi-player option.
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    In the beginning, you awaken to a garden world of ancient ruins.  A deep male voice emanates from the heavens, introducing himself as "Elohim."  Elohim, which is the Hebrew word for "God" in Genesis and elsewhere in the Bible, tells you that he has a task for you, to collect his sigils, and that success will earn you entrance into paradise.  You set forth on the only path open to you and soon discover one of the sigil chambers, which is an elaborate test designed by Elohim to measure your devotion.  Success earns you a sigil, the first of many.  What will you do next?  Will you persevere through the trials and collect all of Elohim's sigils?  Will you abandon Elohim and forge your own paths?  Will you discover the secrets Elohim has hidden throughout his garden?   Only you can decide.

    In The Talos Principle, you play as an android (a robot that looks like a human).  You experience "life" in a digital environment called "Elohim's Garden."  Throughout the garden there are various sigil chambers, designed to guard the sigil within from the unworthy.  The tasks and tools needed to complete these tests and retrieve the sigil within vary and range in difficulty from childish to ridiculous.  The bulk of the game is spent solving these puzzles, either by deducing the solution, using trial-and-error, or looking up the solution on a wiki (guilty as charged for some of the harder instances).  

    Beyond the solving of puzzles, there are computer terminals spread throughout the landscapes of the garden.  These terminals contain lore, memos, emails and other correspondence that provide clues as to the state of the non-digital world that begat the digital world you are experiencing. 

    Also within the computer terminals (which look and function a lot like the old Apple IIe or an IBM 486 running DOS) there exists a program called "Milton."  Milton functions as part Systems Administrator, part Satan, and part philosophy professor.  Throughout the course of the game, Milton will confront you through the terminal with a philosophical brain-teaser.  The purpose of Milton seems to be to plant doubts in your "mind" about following Elohim, or to make you think about the "world" in a broader sense.  Some responses to his theoretical questions generate a very "angry philosophy professor" response from Milton, often loaded with sarcasm or scathing commentary on your state of mind or logical conclusions.  Most of these responses stem from siding with Elohim, or when expressing the value of obedience to Elohim.  Other responses invoke a happy professorial response, but obviously only when Milton thinks you've reacted in a way that makes sense to him, such as the pursuit of free will, or the pointlessness of following Elohim.  If you're very good in dealing with Milton, you can eventually shut him down by causing a logical loop failure in his programming, similar to how the "War Games" computer figured out that there can be no winners in "Global Thermonuclear War."  There is an achievement for accomplishing this feat of logical prowess.    

    The Talos Principle
    Highlights:

    Strong Points:  Progressively challenging puzzles that enhance your skills as they teach you the different methods and tools for solving the puzzles.  Even so, some puzzles are ridiculously difficult later on.  Questions about God, morality, obedience to a higher power, and philosophy make the game about more than simply solving puzzles.
    Weak Points: If difficulty is a weakness, then some of the puzzles are definitely hard to master later on.
    Moral Warnings: There are turrets that fire bullets at the player and orbs that function as seeker bombs.  The philosophical nature of some of the interactions could lead some to question their faith in God.  The game presents the ideas of free-will and personal choice as one of their primary values, yet choosing to obey God is treated as a failure.

    In addition to the sigils and the computer interface, there are signs left behind by other wanderers through Elohim's Garden.  These appear as QR codes painted in white paint on various surfaces throughout the garden.  You appear to be able to decode these QR codes innately, as simply looking at one will display the message it conveys directly to your optical receivers.  They include the username of the entity that left it behind, as well as the "build number" of the entity.  You can even add your own QR code messages occasionally as you find white paint buckets scattered throughout the landscape.  Doing so will display your username as your Steam handle (on Windows, Mac and Linux, and presumably as your online profile username on PS4).  It will also display your own build number.

    Another batch of puzzles, beyond the sigils, are collectible stars.  In almost every garden there are stars that can be collected.  In general, the garden you are in will inform you of the number of stars present in that area by posting them on the signs that also tell you how many sigils are there.  These stars unlock special gardens that only the most dedicated completionists need accomplish.  Being one such person, I collected them all.  Retrieving the stars almost always requires some degree of "out of the box" thinking.  In some cases, there are stars in places that you would not expect them to be found (because they are not posted anywhere, or they are outside of a particular garden area) and these require you to do things that nobody would think to do, such as assuming there is a star to be found in that particular area in the first place, followed by base jumping from a ridiculous height into a tiny hole that you cannot even see.  I managed to collect them all by looking up several of them (the aforementioned one included) on a wiki.

    There are also Easter eggs aplenty to be found for those that like looking for non-necessary but amusing hidden content.  There are audio recordings from someone from the non-digital world, holo-videos from other wanderers, tombs of guardians, and even a cat.

    In terms of gameplay, the interface is very similar to first-person adventure/puzzle games like Portal, where you experience the game as if seeing the world through your own eyes.  The keyboard/mouse combination is generally preferred, but gamepad control is a viable option as well.

    Graphically, the game is nicely rendered.  The digital environments you experience betray their own digital nature with occasional glitches, in the form of static distortions and graphical corruption in places.  Borders of the worlds announce themselves by having an audio loop of Elohim begin quickly speaking some scripture-esque phrases over and over.  The volume of the loop gets progressively louder as you approach the border.  Once you reach the border you are immediately teleported back to the entrance portal for that garden.  My only nitpick is that much of the environment is recycled.  This may have been done deliberately by the designers, to reinforce the idea of the digital nature of the world you experience, but it's something I noticed that could have been improved.

    The Talos Principle
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 92%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 10/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 5/10

    The sound effects are really good.  There is some background music playing which is thematically appropriate.  When the graphical glitches occur there is usually a feedback pop or electrical distortion sound to reinforce the presence of a glitch and the reality of the digital nature of your world.  Elohim's tone and register sounds properly deific.  

    Christians or others with a strong belief in God should object to how the game presents obedience to Elohim as a failure of independence, and if you choose the obedience ending, you reboot into a new firmware version and start the game over, indicating that the game considers this path a failure.  In terms of morality, this is the greatest failure of this game.  When you take the situation the game presents in context, it is clearly demeaning both Christianity and Judaism deliberately, since "Elohim" is the Hebrew word translated, "God" in Genesis and elsewhere in the Old Testament or Torah.  In Genesis, Elohim creates man, puts him in a garden, and gives him both a task and a single thing to abstain from.  These same things are done by the "Elohim" program in The Talos Principle as well, only in this case obeying him, avoiding the prohibition and completing his task are treated as a failure (you "lose" the game and have to restart), while disobeying him (i.e. sinning) is the only way to experience the end of the game in any real sense.  I don't like philosophical bullies either, which is what the Milton program was, so while I took great joy in shutting him down with my logic skills, it was really a hollow victory because if you allow the end results to inform your conclusion, Milton ended up being right all along.

    There is a small degree of violence directed at you in the game, though there are no directly aggressive actions you can take, even in self-defense.  While you cannot technically "die" (or even cease functioning permanently) some of the tests involve evading mounted minigun turrets and roving smart bombs, both of which function like one would expect.  The difference being that when one of these devices would normally "kill" you, instead you just teleport back to the beginning of the instance instead of "dying." You never see an explosion, or experience any visual representation that implies that you were actually shot or exploded.  The closest thing you get is the sound of gunfire or of an explosion immediately prior to being reset to the start of the instance.

    The Talos Principle took me 31 hours to complete 3 different endings, which could be done in a single playthrough by reloading.  At nearly $40, this is not a bad price for a game of this length and complexity.  Also, there is a DLC available which I did not test called "The Road to Gehenna" available for $14.99.  ("Gehenna" is a Hebrew word used in the Old Testament usually translated "hell.") So, if you like puzzle games similar to Portal, like challenging logic puzzles, or are a fan of philosophy you will very likely experience hours of enjoyment from playing The Talos Principle.  

    -OrionStar1979

  • The Witness (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    The Witness
    Developed by: Thekla, Inc.
    Published by: Thekla, Inc.
    Released: January 26, 2016
    Available on: PS4, Windows
    Genre: First person puzzle
    ESRB rating: E for Everyone (alcohol references)
    Number of players: 1
    Price: $39.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    In 2009, an unknown game designer named Jonathan Blow created a platformer called “Braid.” The game provided a unique art approach and an innovative mechanic that impressed many players and reviewers alike, and helped to cement the concept that some video games could indeed be called “art.” In 2016, after years of hints and press releases, Jonathan Blow released his second game, “The Witness.” The game was entirely different, taking a first-person approach to the puzzle genre. But is it art?

    In “The Witness,” the player takes the role of a silent, unnamed protagonist who appears in a dark vault. A panel on the wall can be easily manipulated to provide an exit to the next area, and soon the player will emerge from the vault to find themselves on an apparently deserted island. They are greeted by more panels, which take on more of a labyrinthine puzzle approach. Indeed, this makes up the bulk of the game – find panels, figure out the rules that each panel requires, then solve the displayed maze by tracing a continual line from the starting point to the proper ending. The more panels that are solved, the more areas on the island will be unlocked. The player is encouraged to explore the island to try and solve the puzzles, and hopefully figure out what they are doing on the island in the first place.

    Exploration of the island is a thrill in itself. There are a variety of regions to explore, from abandoned quarries to lush jungles, and they all look wonderful. Aside from the sound of the water and the occasional breeze, there are very few noises to be heard in the game (and those that can be heard are typically clues to solving puzzles, or machinery that has been activated by solving puzzles). There is no background music to be heard at all. Your only companions in this lonely journey are the myriad of statues that can be found scattered about the landscape. There are plenty of things to be seen, though, and by carefully lining up their perspective, the player can discover a variety of fun scenes, such as a juggler with balls in midair, or a child reaching for her mother. In addition, there are no threats to the player while they explore – no monsters to fight, no traps to avoid, nothing that can cause damage or injury. Your character can’t even fall off ledges to get to lower areas. As a result, there is almost a zen-like approach to exploration. You can wander freely for as long as you’d like without having to worry about anything trying to kill you, including your own stupidity. This can be quite a refreshing change from many video games on the market, which use death as a punitive approach to incorrect actions.

    The Witness
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Beautiful world to explore; many puzzles to figure out; intriguing world 
    Weak Points: No background music; weak story; demanding graphics
    Moral Warnings: Minor language

    While the exploration provides an aesthetic experience, the puzzles provide an intellectual one. Some of the puzzles will seem impossible to solve until the player runs across an area that provides a bit of a tutorial as to what all the odd symbols mean. Part of the fun is learning about the rules and how they can interact – there are plenty of “aha!” moments to be had when a player can find a solution. Or solutions, as the case may be – a few puzzles have more than one solution, which can unlock other areas or provide shortcuts for getting around.

    Despite the fun of the puzzles and the exploration aspects, there are a few parts of the game that are flawed. One is in the story of the game itself. There are many abandoned dictation devices lying around the island, but most of these contain recordings of people reading various bits of literature – including at least one Biblical passage. There also is an abandoned theater hidden underground (finding the way to play the videos is another puzzle in itself) which plays short films about philosophy or odd, artsy flicks. But these almost seemed tacked on to the game, rather than a central part of the narrative. As a result, it feels almost as if there’s an attempt to give the game more meaning, but it’s a half-hearted stretch that leaves something to be desired. The story itself is quite lacking, with an unsatisfying ending which leaves more questions without any answers or explanations forthcoming.

    The Witness
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 90%
    Gameplay - 18/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Another flaw is in the demands the game takes on the computer. My laptop may be older, but it isn’t really a slouch when it comes to gaming – I can handle games such as Overwatch without any problems, for instance. But the Witness seems to tax my processor to the point where the audio files have a tendency to stammer and stutter, often repeating themselves with an odd, echo-y quality. This can be especially problematic in one area, where nearby audio clues are essential to solving the puzzles. Although the graphics in The Witness are very nice, they aren’t to the point where my computer should be working as hard as it does, even at the lowest settings. Those with much better gaming rigs may not experience these same issues, but it’s disappointing to those who may not have high-end machines. When I did compare my laptop to the recommended specs, I did find out that my processor is slower than recommended, which might be the culprit. Those with newer laptops may not experience the same issue. The game also can be slow to load, but at least I never experienced any crashes. The only other flaw I can think of would be that, even though you can spend many hours on the island, there is little reason to go back once everything has been explored and all the puzzles have been solved.

    On the moral front, there is little to be concerned about. As mentioned above, there is no violence at all in the game. Some of the hidden audio logs may contain some minor language, but that’s it. The ESRB indicates there are alcohol references, but I don't recall any – perhaps those are in one of the audio files that I haven't found yet.

    If it weren’t for its flaws, The Witness would be about as perfect of a game as one could find. It is definitely a game to pick up and explore. To get back to the question posed in the first paragraph about whether or not this game can be defined as “art,” my thought is that the game is good, but certainly doesn’t reach the high bar that Braid set. But for those who like quiet exploration in peace, and also like to challenge themselves intellectually, The Witness is a must-have experience.

  • Tic-Tac-Letters by POWGI (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tic-Tac-Letters by POWGI
    Developed By: Lightwood Games
    Published By: Lightwood Games
    Released: October 3, 2019
    Available On: Nintendo Switch, PS Vita, PS4
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1 offline
    Price: $7.99

    Thanks to Lightwood Games for a copy of the game to review for the Nintendo Switch. I enjoyed the challenge and how it slowly got harder along the way.

    Tic-Tac-Letters is a fun puzzle game that shares a few similarities with Picross, but also adds an interesting Tic-Tac-Toe twist. The goal is to fill in all the boxes, and have the exact number of X's and O's for each column and row, while avoiding 3 in a row horizontally or vertically. On the harder levels, no two rows or columns should be the same. Each level has different letters to represent the X's and O's, but if that's too confusing there's an option called "Use XO". After beating each puzzle, a joke or pun is given.

    Tic-Tac-Letters by POWGI
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Thoughtful level design
    Weak Points: Fast-paced background music; no quick way to reset a level
    Moral Warnings: None

    The game started simple. Look for two in a row and block them off at both ends. If there are no more O's in a row or column, they must be X's. Slowly, I noticed new tricks. If there are O's on both ends of a blank spot, the blank spot must be an X, to prevent 3 in a row. If there is only one O left to use in a row, that's a clue that I should be looking closer at that row. As the puzzles got harder, the tricks that used to be optional became necessary, building up to more and more difficult discoveries and more time spent solving each puzzle.

    Unfortunately it's hard to reset a level after making a big mistake. If a mistake is made, it is necessary to either clear each individual square or use the hint system to fix mistakes until the level is beaten. Gameplay gradually gets harder, but the learning curve is rarely too easy or too hard. The puns and jokes after each level would be a nice touch, but most of them fall flat or don't make sense. For example, one pun is  “A huge thank you to my neighbor for letting me borrow her large plastic sheet. Ta Pauline!”

    Tic-Tac-Letters by POWGI
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Controls are simple and easy to use. Control stick, d-pad, or touch screen to move the cursor, A and X buttons to place letters, and the rest of the extra controls are visible on the side panel at all times. All the background music is good, but one of the songs sounds like it doesn't belong because it is a bit too fast paced. The graphics are decent for a puzzle game and they don't distract attention from the game. The game is stable and bug free.

    While Tic-Tac-Letters by POWGI has small issues, few of them are big enough to distract from the gameplay and excellent puzzle design. There are no moral issues for this game. I'm glad I got a chance to try this, and I would recommend it if you enjoy picross. Tic-Tac-Letters has been seen as low as $3.99 on sale.

    -Sorrel

  • Tidalis (PC)

    Game Info:

    Tidalis
    Developed By:  Arcen Games
    Released: July 2010
    Available on: PC, Mac
    ESRB Rating: N/R
    Genre: Puzzle
    Single/Multiplayer
    Price: $9.99

    System Requirements

    * 512 MB RAM (1 GB recommended)

     

    * 1.4Ghz CPU minimum, 1.8 Ghz recommended for background animation or multiplayer

     

    * 600MB Hard Disk Space

     

    * 800x600 or greater screen resolution (32 bit color, 1280x720 recommended)

     

    * Internet Connection or LAN required for networked multiplayer

     

    * There are no particular graphics card requirements; anything from the last 5-8 years should be fine.

    Thank you GamersGate for giving us this game to review!

    I generally don’t consider myself much of a puzzle gamer but I was pleasantly surprised with Tidalis.  This is Arcen Game’s first attempt at a puzzle game and I think they succeeded.   It’s easy enough to draw in casual gamers and there’s enough strategy to stump veteran puzzle gamers.  Fortunately, there is a lot of variety and game modes so you’re not forced out of your comfort zone.    There are plenty of helpful tutorials and the adventure mode is a great way to gradually dive into the more challenging game modes.   It’s kind of silly to wrap a story around a puzzle game, but the characters are cute and the dialogue is funny.

    In the adventure mode, there are many winning conditions but in general the goal is to remove blocks before they stack up too high.  Each block typically has a color with an arrow on it.  You can rotate the arrows and then you can fire a light stream that will follow the direction of the arrows.  If this stream connects blocks of the same color before dying out, they will disappear and start a chain reaction stream.  If you get multiple rows of blocks with one stream you’ll get more points.  Some levels allow you to fire multiple streams, but typically you’re only allowed one.

    Highlights:

    Strengths: Customizable puzzle styles
    Weaknesses:No one online to play against
    Moral Warnings:Some mischief

     

    Adventure mode is my favorite since there is so much variety.  One levels goal may be to clear out a certain number of blocks in a short amount of time while the next level puts a cap on the score you\'re able to achieve. For that challenge you have to only get three in a row without chain reactions.  (Very challenging!) Each level has a different victory condition and if the condition is not met, you lose.  The levels gradually get harder and if you find that a level is too tough, you can skip it.

    In brain teaser mode, you have to clear all of the blocks and you have a limited number of turns to do so.  On the opposite end of the spectrum, there’s zen mode where the well is constantly filled with blocks and you can’t lose.  Many game modes have unique blocks with different effects.  Some of these blocks will not reflect the light stream and they all require a special way to be removed.   There are other level modifiers worth mentioning too.  Some levels will alter the way the light beam moves by imposing gravity or feather weight status on it.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Game Play: 17/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 4/5
    Controls/Interface: 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I’m just barely scratching the surface with the game styles, there are about twenty to play.  You can choose what level modifiers you prefer and customize a puzzle style of your liking.  Players can create and share their own level and puzzle creations as well.  You can play against other players locally, online or against the computer.  You can play competitively or co-operatively.  There are also ranked puzzle challenges too.  Unfortunately, I didn’t find anyone to play online against.

    Tidalis is constantly being updated and there’s talk about more content being offered via updates.  At first the built in game updater wasn’t working.  After I manually applied the first patch, the game has updated properly since.

    The graphics are colorful and the particle effects are good.  The characters are unique and remind me of the artwork from Sponge Bob for some reason. The tiles are pretty easy to distinguish and there are even accessibility options for those who are visually impaired.

    The character voices are gibberish and often repetitive.  The music is calm and peaceful and reminds me of hold or elevator music.  It too, is a bit over played.
    From an appropriateness stand point this is a squeaky clean game that my kids enjoy watching me play.  The zen mode is easy enough for toddlers to grasp and the bright colors will capture their attention.  The harder modes frustrate me at times but I keep coming back for more.
    If you enjoy puzzle games, check out Tidalis.  With a price tag of $9.99 for over 100 puzzles and more on the way, I can’t recommend this game enough.  At the very least, check out the demo.  There’s a ton of replay ability, it’s just a shame that I can’t find anyone to play online against…yet.
  • Tiles (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tiles
    Developer: Romans I XVI Gaming, LLC
    Published by: Romans I XVI Gaming, LLC
    Release Date: March 20, 2017
    Available on: Windows, macOS, Linux
    Genre: Action, Puzzle
    Players: 1
    ESRB Rating: Unrated
    Price: $0.71
    (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Romans I XVI Gaming for the review code.

    Simplicity can be a real breath of fresh air, whether you're playing bad or good games. Sometimes you just want to move a block along a line and Tiles definitely brings that home. While it is not a game with much longevity it is still a quality experience. Let's get back to basics with Tiles.

    Tiles is a simple puzzle game in which you must move a square from where you start to a red square. As you move on the pathway towards the end of the course, the square you are on will disappear after a few moments. There are certain squares that may have to be crossed over twice or squares that disappear and reappear at random. Aside from single player levels, you have a collection of user made levels to choose from.

    Tiles
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: A Simple to learn hard to master game that does bend your brain
    Weak Points: It's not a game worth remembering, great for quick sit downs, but not for long gaming sessions. Also some puzzles are a bit too twitchy for their own good
    Moral Warnings:None

    The game was clear and easy to understand yet the puzzles increased in difficulty at a very fair pace. As the puzzles got harder, I never felt that they were being unfair to me. Yet the game was definitely no easy walk in the park. I had to retry particular stages multiple times before I managed to succeed. Mixing twitch skill with puzzle games is no easy task but Tiles did it rather well.  

    The tools they gave level creators are easy to understand and follow. I made a few test levels that I decided not to upload. The levels felt as if they were part of the original game whenever I played a player created level. In the total package you'll have about 90 base levels with the game and around 100 or so user created levels.

    The game is a fun time waster when you have a few moments of free time yet this game does not have a lot of longevity. The weakness of mixing a puzzle game with twitch skill is that some puzzles can be solved just by moving fast enough. While this wasn't the case with all of the main game levels, I managed to beat some challenges by being quick in my movements. I can't tell if this was intentional on every level I did this. Most of the stages I found uploaded by other users seemed to be based on speed over logic.

    Tiles
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I can't see myself playing this game for long periods. It reminded me of the Brain Age games that Nintendo did on the DS. They were fun to pick up when you had idle time, but not what you would jump to for a hardcore gaming session. I see Tiles working more for the mobile game crowd over Steam. Part of the reason I might feel this way is a lack of response when you move your square or solve a puzzle.

    With no backgrounds, notable music, or sound effects, you rely on that sense of accomplishment alone from your users. The only music you get is the same one tune on loop over and over. While that may work some of the time, I won't be talking about that really hard puzzle I solved at the Noodle Bar.

    You won't have to worry about morality issues with this game unless you have a few issues with moving squares. It can be a nice game for kids just getting into gaming who need something simple to start with. You'll have plenty of challenges as an adult to.

    Despite being rather forgettable, Tiles is a cheap and fun time waster yet it won't be much more than that for most people. Give it a try when you want to stretch your brain.

  • Timelie (PC)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Timelie
    Developed By: Urnique Studio
    Published By: Urnique Studio, Milk Bottle Studio
    Released: May 20, 2020
    Available On: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle; Stealth
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: Single-player
    Price: $17.99

    Thank you Urnique Studio for sending us a review code!

    I didn’t know what to expect with Timelie. With many games that I end up reviewing, I look up very little on it before I complete it or feel like I’ve played enough to give it a fair and honest review. Sometimes you can end up with a surprise or with a disappointment. With Timelie, fortunately, it is the former.

    Featuring a 2.5D top-down view, your screen shows the entire layout of the level, as well as the character's position in it. The player controls an unnamed girl who is traveling through this fragmented world in search of something or someone. Developed by Urnique Studio, Timelie is a 3D game that has puzzle and stealth elements. The goal is to reach the end of the level without being spotted and within the given time limit. Timelie does something different from other puzzles, however. The player character has precognitive abilities and each level is played out in her mind before she takes action. From a gameplay perspective, this means you can stop time, fast forward, and rewind your actions to make sure you are making the most optimal decisions. The only controls available are keyboard and mouse. You’ll mostly control your character and the camera with the mouse, while rewinding, stopping, and fast forwarding are done with the keys such as A and D. After the correct decisions are made in practice, they are played out in real life. The scenes can be skipped, but some scenes do have a few surprises. Every action is repeated which can lead to some unintentionally funny moments.

    The concept of this unique gameplay makes me feel like I’m editing a video. Seeing the fruits of your labor in action gives off a nice sense of accomplishment, especially since I’ve been gaining interest in video editing. People who know or like the satisfaction of a job well done may connect with the experience more than others. Only one enemy type exists, being a type of security bot, but said enemy has different patterns on each stage. Some will follow a set pattern and others will have a specific destination that they are going to in which you’ll have to beat them to the punch or distract them. Although I would have liked to see more enemy types, what Urnique Studio does with the one type available keeps things fresh enough.

    Timelie
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Plenty of cute and fulfilling moments; the “playback” feature works wells for a puzzle-stealth game
    Weak Points: Some puzzles feel like you’re given barely enough time to complete; graphics and visuals aren’t very impressive
    Moral Warnings: Supernatural abilities by the main character

    Levels are divided into chapters, with five in total. Each chapter has its own set of gimmicks to prevent the experience from feeling repetitive. On one level, you’ll have to collect a glowing white cube to rebuild a broken path. In another level, you’ll have to collect these special purple cubes that reset time, adding a new obstacle and path that wasn’t there previously, but also a new pattern for the enemy to make. Some levels even have you controlling two characters at the same time. Controlling two characters at once is when things get spicy! Urnique Studio describes this as a “cooperative single-player experience” which can be a rather confusing statement, but it makes more sense the moment it is experienced. Both characters work in tandem, whether it comes to activating switches or distracting enemies. Going back to the playback feature and video comparison, you’ll even want one character to make certain actions and rewind to have the other character do another action. When time is rewound, any action you made them do previously will play out as you intended them to do. The only time they don’t is if you rewind and them make them do another action. I enjoyed the “co-op” experience, although some of the two-character levels can really feel like you’re cutting close for time as some puzzles require frame perfect decisions and no moment wasted.

    With a narrativeless direction (meaning not one word of dialogue is uttered), Timelie’s story is up to the player’s interpretation. It can feel a bit confusing because there are some time shenanigans in the plot, and timey-wimey stuff is already confusing enough even with people in other media attempting their best to describe it. With no one there to tell you how things work, it’s up to the player to fill in the boxes themselves. I personally found the story to be enjoyable overall, although bittersweet.

    Although I am left impressed with how Timelie functions and plays, two parts I'm not very fond of are the graphics and visuals. I don’t think they’re bad graphics, but I just found them to be basic. The character models are of a low polygon count, but the simplistic color pallets just make them feel like they are simply there. The visuals are also average for me as well. It’s strange as a shattered world aesthetic can really get the creative juices flowing and lead to a lot of interesting set pieces. Timelie doesn’t do much with it as the levels themselves start to blend together for me visually. In that regard, I was a bit disappointed.

    Timelie
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay 17/20
    Graphics 6/10
    Sound 7/10
    Stability 5/5
    Controls 5/5

    Morality Score - 97%
    Violence 10/10
    Language 10/10
    Sexual Content 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical 10/10

    The music set pieces fit for ambiance instead of a soundtrack. With a piano accompanying the background of the first few chapters, it does a good job to set the mood of an unknown and lonely setting but not much else beyond that. As the story tenses up in later chapters, the music uses more ominous sounds. There is a nice lyrical piece played during the credits. I don’t believe Timelie will be winning any rewards in the sound or music department, but it does its job.

    When the main story is completed, free DLC is obtainable, named Hell Loop. Hell Loop is DLC purely meant for people who enjoy the gameplay components. People looking for more insight into story or worldbuilding elements will be left pretty disappointed. It is a set of 35 levels that push the concepts of the gameplay up to eleven. Timelie’s DLC levels make the hardest of the standard levels look like child’s play in comparison. If hard puzzles frustrate you, you’ll be ripping your hair out when confronted with these levels. The DLC is purely optional so the hardcore puzzle consumers will feel right at home with this one. As for casual players, the journey ends here.

    In terms of moral concerns, there really isn’t much. Any supposedly violent action that could happen stops before the action is committed. When everything is interpreted to your own views and opinions, other “warnings” are subjective. The only objective thing I noticed is the supernatural elements. The unnamed girl uses telekinetic abilities to move and restore objects, and precognition itself can be viewed as supernatural.

    Timelie manages to be a strong entry. With its clever mechanics and usage of the “cooperative features” and time mechanics, it is a good game for the price of admission. The mechanics are forgiving so even if there are tough moments, they can eventually be conquered. Hey, if you bang your head against a wall enough times, a crack will soon form! Anyways, with the experience being about a five to ten-hour ride with the DLC doubling that time, puzzle and stealth lovers will see little wrong with it. The lack of moral concerns also makes it pretty family-friendly; however, keep in mind that some fairly difficult puzzles (especially when accounting for the DLC) may possibly be too stressful for an especially younger individual.

  • Tin & Kuna (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Tin & Kuna
    Developed by: Black River Studios
    Published by: Aksys Games
    Release Date: September 10, 2020
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle Platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone with mild fantasy violence
    Price: $29.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Aksys Games for sending us a review code!

    The Primal Orb is an ancient artifact that maintains order between chaos and balance. Upon discovering this relic, Kuna touches it. After making contact, the orb releases a spirit that possesses Tin. In order to restore order and save Tin, Kuna must roll the power crystal spheres back to their sunken bases throughout four worlds.

    Each of the four worlds has nine regular levels with the tenth one featuring a time attack stage where Kuna attempts to free Tin from the evil spirit. Thankfully, you can take your time completing the other levels though they all have a recommended completion time. You can earn a star/award for completing it under par. (I have yet to earn this!) Other awards are given for not taking any damage or by finding all three of the shards hidden on each level. There’s plenty of replayability for perfectionists who want to collect everything or improve their completion speeds.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Charming visuals
    Weak Points: Brutally difficult; long loading screens
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; Tin is possessed by an evil spirit

    Don’t let the colorful and cute graphics fool you--this game is deceptively challenging. In the beginning, Kuna can roll around like a ball and jump around. Later in the game he’ll get fire, magnetism, and improved jumping abilities. Until then, he’ll have to avoid spikes and bounce off enemies while collecting glowing bits, hidden shards, and rolling the crystal spheres back into place. Some levels have one crystal while others have multiple to put back in place. Unfortunately, you only have a limited number of hits Kuna can take before having to restart the level or return to a checkpoint. Not all of the levels have checkpoints, though.

    Like all platformer games, there are moving platforms to navigate around and some of them crumble away shortly after landing on them. Other platforms are not immediately visible and have to be activated before they can be used. There are many puzzle elements and accurate jumping is required to progress in this game. If you are looking for a relaxing game, you’ll definitely want to look elsewhere.

    Tin & Kuna
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay: 14/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Controls: 5/5
    Stability: 5/5

    Morality Score - 86%
    Violence: 8/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    Other than long loading screens, this game runs great on the Switch. The characters are super cute and the 3D levels are colorful and well designed. The background music is upbeat and fits the theme of the world you’re in. The sound effects are fitting as well.

    If you don’t mind cartoon violence and the premise of Tin being possessed by an evil spit, this title is pretty clean and family-friendly.

    Tin and Kuna is available physically and digitally for $29.99. On Steam I have seen it on sale for as low as $20.99. If you’re up for a challenge this game will keep you on your toes. Speedrunners will find a lot to like. Those who are looking for a calm and relaxing game should skip this one.

  • Toby: The Secret Mine (Android)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Toby: The Secret Mine
    Developed by: Lukas Navratil
    Published by: Headup Games
    Release Date: October 20, 2015
    Available on: Android, iOS, PC, Mac, Linux/SteamOS
    Genre: Puzzle Platformer
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: $4.99 on mobile platforms, $9.99 on Steam

    Thank you Headup Games for sending us a review code!

    Toby’s twenty-six friends have been kidnapped and it’s up to him to rescue them in twenty-one life threatening levels.  There is a death counter in this game and it shows your death tally on the main menu.  I have earned the achievement for dying more than one-hundred times in this puzzle platformer game.

    Many people compare Toby: The Secret Mine to LIMBO and it does share the simplistic and dreary styled 2D graphics.  That’s the end of the comparing I can do since I haven’t played LIMBO (yet).  While most of the gameplay consists of jumping onto platforms and avoiding death, there are a fair amount of puzzles and switches to unlock as well.  Most of the levels don’t have time limits, but some do.

    Toby: The Secret Mine
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun platformer and puzzle elements
    Weak Points: Not fond of the timed levels; sluggish controls
    Moral Warnings:Some violence, but no blood is shown

    In fact, many of the levels can be completed within a few minutes.  Levels can be re-played if you find out that you missed a friend to save on your first run-though.  Chances are high that you’ll die at some point in this game and when you do, you’ll be taken back to a checkpoint or back to the beginning of the level.  Most of the levels have a few check points, but some don’t have any!

    The level design is well thought out and you have to explore every nook and cranny to locate your friends.  They’re not always on the beaten path and will often require locating a key before being able to free them.    The keys, along with levers and buttons, are often hidden or guarded by monsters, bombs or arrows being thrown in your general direction.

    Toby: The Secret Mine
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 90%
    Violence - 5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - -10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Some of the obstacles to contend with in this game include deep pits and water, spikes, saw blades, bombs, sandworms, snow storms, and lasers.  The death sound effects are pretty good, but there isn’t any blood shown when he dies.  There are multiple endings and both of them focus on violence and destruction.  The background music is decent, but it’s often overshadowed by the excellent sound effects.

    The controls on the Android version are touch screen based with arrow buttons for moving left and right and an up button to jump.  There’s a circle interaction button that is used for pushing buttons and pulling levers.  While the controls are serviceable, I'd rather use an external controller instead.  For that reason alone, I’d consider the Steam version though it’s twice the price.  

    In the end, Toby: The Secret Mine is a challenging puzzle platformer that entertained and frustrated me simultaneously.  I really disliked the time attack levels, and the rest of them often stumped me as well.  Fortunately, there are many written and video walkthroughs available if you get stuck.  If you can pick up the Steam version on sale I’d recommend that for the controller support, but the mobile one is a decent price for a game that will keep you busy or stumped for a few hours.

     

  • Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday
    Developed by: JetDogs
    Published by: JetDogs
    Release date: March 16, 2020
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, Switch, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you JetDogs for sending us a review code!

    The Travel Mosaics series began in 2018 and as of this review, there are twelve of them! Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday was initially released in February of 2018 on PC through Big Fish Games. The games are all themed with the majority of them based on popular tourist destinations. I don’t have any immediate plans on visiting Rome, so this will be the closest I’ll get for a while.

    Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday has 160 puzzles scattered through twenty locations. Each location has a historical blurb that’s worth reading as you’ll be asked a trivia question if you make too many mistakes. If you answer the trivia question wrong, you’ll have to start the puzzle over!

    Most of the puzzles are on a 20x15 grid. The first few puzzles gradually increase in difficulty going from 10x10 to 15x10 grids. On the X and Y-axis you’ll see numbers indicating how many of the squares in each row and column are occupied. If you play on the easiest difficulty, you won’t have to worry about switching colors as the game will do that automatically. On the normal difficulty, the numbers are crossed off when the requirements are met. The hardest difficulty does not do that. You can change the difficulty at any time in the game’s menu. You can also customize the appearance of the tiles as well as the empty space markers.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 160 puzzles to solve at three difficulty levels
    Weak Points: Puzzles vary in difficulty
    Moral Warnings: One puzzle featured a witch and another had a ghost

    To assist in the puzzle solving, there are a few abilities you can use. How effective they are depends on how much you level them up. With each solved puzzle, you’ll be given money to spend on power-ups or knickknacks to clutter the Walker family’s living room. I highly recommend investing in an additional life as soon as possible. The other power-ups are worth investing in as well. The more you upgrade an ability, the more expensive it will be to upgrade it again.

    The sun ability will randomly fill in a square (or multiple if you level it up). My favorite ability is the hammer which will fill in a block of squares in an area of your choosing. The lightning power-up will fill in a few adjacent squares from the one you select. The bomb ability will scatter a crosshair of squares of matching colors across the level.

    According to the game description, each of these puzzles can be solved with logic alone. Even with the abilities, I often took guesses and made mistakes. Each error costs a life and once you’re out of lives you’ll be prompted to answer a trivia question. Failure to answer the question correctly, or declining to do so will result in the level being reset. If you do answer the question correctly, you’ll maintain your progress and be given a clean slate. I found it funny that I often got a three star rating for making no mistakes after answering a trivia question.

    Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay: 16/20
    Graphics: 8/10
    Sound: 7/10
    Stability: 5/5
    Controls: 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence; 10/10
    Language: 10/10
    Sexual Content: 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural: 7/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical: 10/10

    Solving a puzzle no matter how many mistakes will give you one star. Making only one mistake (or solving the trivia puzzle and messing up once more) will give you two stars. Zero mistakes (before of after the trivia question) will give you three stars. You get more spending money with more stars. You can always replay a level to increase your star count. Each section has two bonus puzzles that have star requirements in order to unlock them.

    The visuals are colorful and I appreciated the Roman backdrops. The pixel art puzzles are mostly recognizable when finished though there are a few that I’m not 100% sure of what they are. The background music is relaxing and pleasant to listen to.

    There’s little to complain about morally; one puzzle had a witch on it and another had a ghost.

    If you enjoy Nonogram/Picross style puzzles, Travel Mosaics 2: Roman Holiday is worth looking into. I look forward to the rest of the series coming to the Switch. The first game, Travel Mosaics: A Paris Tour, is available for only $4.99. I’m not sure why the sequel is more expensive despite having the same number of puzzles.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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