enfrdeitptrues

Puzzle

  • Lode Runner Legacy (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Lode Runner Legacy
    Developed By: Tozai Games, Inc., O-TWO inc.
    Published By: Tozai Games, Inc.
    Release Date: July 13, 2017
    Available On: Windows (macOS and Linux planned)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Puzzle Platformer
    Mode: Single Player
    Price: $15.42
    (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Tozai Games for sending us this game to review!

    When I was (much) younger, one of my friends introduced me to Lode Runner when he mentioned that his mom liked the game very much. As a result, when I saw Lode Runner: The Legend Returns for Windows 3.x all those many moons ago, I picked up the CD and understood what she saw in the game – a simple concept that was genuinely fun to play, and required quick thinking to succeed.

    There were a couple more sequels on PC, with the last one being Lode Runner 2 (which is a very different game). Imagine my surprise when I went to play this game again, and found that there hasn't been a substantial update on PCs since the 1990s, and that my old copy isn't so easy to play on modern computers anymore. Thankfully, consoles have fared a bit better, with Nintendo, Xbox, and mobile platforms getting more recent releases. Nevertheless, this series started on PCs (Apple II was the original), and it sure is great to see it return once again with Lode Runner Legacy.

    For those who have never played Lode Runner, the concept is rather simple: your goal is to grab every coin in the level, while also avoiding death. Once you do this, it unlocks the level exit, which you must make your way over to and climb to get out. That's pretty much it, but you are rather restricted in how you can move and what your tools are. For one thing, you can move left and right, or up and down ladders. But you cannot jump at all – so if you can't reach it, you can't get there. Also, you can destroy blocks directly to the left and right side diagonally below you (assuming they are destructible), but not underneath, above, or next to you. Given your limits, every time you move about a level it requires very careful planning, because it is very easy to trap yourself or accidentally kill yourself.

    Lode Runner Legacy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Long overdue return of the classic gameplay formula; nice graphical update; level, item, and character editors; online leaderboards
    Weak Points: Limited custom resolution options
    Moral Warnings: Technically you can kill bad guys by embedding them into a brick; online custom items could theoretically be obscene

    You see, when you destroy a block, it starts to fade back in. Once that completes, anyone in that spot will die, including yourself. So you have to move fairly quickly, avoiding self-made traps. Also, since you can only break blocks diagonally below you, dropping down to get something can require significant planning, since you can't just break one block and drop down if there is no escape from wherever you land.

    Most levels have moving enemies in them. You can break blocks and have them fall inside as an easy way to avoid them (which may lead to their death), or if your footwork is fancy, you can stand on top of them. This can be tricky because they can move under your feet, and lead to unexpected deaths if you aren't careful.

    Each level plays out like an action puzzle, which can be fairly quick on its own, and there is both a timer and point system that judges how good of a job you do. There are online leaderboards, which is always a fun feature, and encourages replays. I loved seeing my name on there (since I had the opportunity to play the game pre-release) though since the game has now been released, the hardcore fans quickly eclipsed my scores (well, most of them, as of release date).

    Lode Runner Legacy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    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

    There are four main game modes, along with some editors to round out the package. There is the adventure mode, which attempts to wrap a very simple story around the game, while gradually introducing more and more new enemies and other challenges to round out those fifty levels. There is also a puzzle mode, which is more about solving the level the only way possible (usually) in the fastest time, rather than the focus on points. There is classic mode, which makes our character look much simpler, and includes all one hundred and fifty original Lode Runner levels. The new levels have our hero take up more space on the screen, so a smaller classic character was necessary.

    The final game mode is world levels, which are user created levels, which integrate with Steam Workshop. In these levels, there may also be user created characters or items as well. As you would expect, there is an editor for each of these types built into the game, so if you fall in love with this classic, and love making levels, there is a ton to do here. I am sure other Lode Runner fans would also really appreciate it – with Steam Workshop integration, the potential content is virtually limitless, dependent only on the creativity of the players.

    Lode Runner Legacy is a competent and long overdue revitalization of a true gaming classic. The older releases have had hardcore fans for decades, and for good reason. Despite some minor flaws, like limited resolution support (720p and 1080p only), lovers of puzzle games everywhere should take note: a time-tested classic is back. While I prefer playing games like this in short spurts, it fits that purpose quite well and is always entertaining. Highly recommended.

  • Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey
    Developed By: Proud Dinosaurs
    Published By: Orsam Information Technologies
    Released: February 8, 2019
    Available On: macOS, Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: None
    Number of Players: Single player
    Price: $9.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    Thank you Proud Dinosaurs for sending us this game to review!

    Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey centers around a bilby mother who gave birth to her youngest during a large storm, which ended up washing her away from her beloved children. She was deposited at the bottom of a cave, and thus has to find her way up and out in order for her to see her children again. The story starts with a cutscene explaining how she got into the cave she’s stuck in, with the storm sweeping her away and leaving the children behind.

    The game’s environment is very well constructed, with good music and beautiful 3D rendered graphics. The orchestral tracks are available as downloadable content on Steam for $1.99, and they fit the setting quite well. Occasionally, it seems like the music loops a little, and the transitions are sudden, but it’s not an issue that has particularly bothered me. There is voice acting also scattered throughout the various puzzles, whether it serves to enhance the storytelling or provide puzzle hints for the player. This is also conducted to a high level of quality, as the emotion in the characters’ voice sounds natural and not forced, as well as not sounding robotic. Every time Macrotis is fully restarted, and the player presses the Continue button, the last storybook-style cutscene that the user saw is played, and can be skipped upon pressing and holding a button.

    Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Well-executed story; plot integrates itself into the puzzles; talented voice acting; stunning graphics; fitting music; autosaves after every puzzle; partial controller support; Steam Cloud
    Weak Points: Puzzles are simple, but very tedious; controls tripped me up, despite being simple; puzzles require exact timing to complete, which is very hard to achieve in many situations
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy style magic; a character passes their soul to the player character; meditation to achieve an out-of-body state which is required to complete many of the later puzzles

    When the player is introduced to the first puzzles, and as they gain new abilities, the game will teach them how to use each function so that they have some semblance on how to proceed through each puzzle. As the character progresses through the cave, each area she runs into is a puzzle that needs to be solved in order to access the next area, which is inevitably another puzzle. A few notable things that increase the challenge level of the puzzles include the character’s inability to swim or double jump, which requires creative solutions to overcome.

    Some puzzles are much easier than others, but most of the puzzles are fairly difficult due to the necessary levels of precision required, especially when it comes to matters of timing. Most of them are also very tedious, and as a result very annoying. A lot of the puzzles were so tedious and/or difficult that I was brought into a high-strung state of frustration within around ten to twenty minutes. What makes some of the puzzles even worse is that they may be simple on paper, but the amount of precision necessary makes the challenge nearly impossible to complete, which only raised my frustration more.

    The controls did not help my struggle in any way, shape, or form; they only made it worse. No matter whether I used my keyboard or my controller, the puzzles still taunted me with the seemingly easy to master controls and unattainable precision. In concept, they are easy to master, as there aren’t many to learn, but many of them tended to trip me up and slow me down as a result. There were not many keys that had a function, but many of the necessary tasks needed to be achieved with tricky key-binds and button combinations. Said key-binds continually tripped me up, and I ended up accidentally performing the wrong action and completely ruining my progress because of it.

    Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 10/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 2/5

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

    One would think that I would have overcome this, being a quick learner, but no. Even a simple thing such as hanging from the edge of a surface has to be corrected with the press of a certain button, and it won’t correct itself unless the player presses that button. If they press any other button, the character will start to climb up, but then immediately return to its original hanging position. If it weren’t for the fact that the game autosaves after every puzzle, and allows as many restarts as are necessary (to the point where they included a restart button in the controls), this game would have driven me insane.

    The only saving grace of the gameplay is the storyline, which is extremely well crafted. It takes the player on a journey and brings them to empathize with the likable yet heroic protagonist. Despite the utter frustration that the puzzles themselves brought me, the story was still very enjoyable to watch unfold. The story also serves to add new abilities to take advantage of in the puzzles, and those abilities become vital to passing them.

    Morally, however, there are still a few things I noticed. There is a wizard character who dies and has to pass his soul into the protagonist’s body in order to live on. This grants the player character the magical ability to project themselves out of their body via meditation, which is necessary to complete all puzzles afterwards. Other than that, though, there aren’t any notable moral issues that presented themselves, in the storyline or otherwise.

    Macrotis: A Mother’s Journey is a beautifully produced story-immersive puzzle game that is definitely not for the faint of heart. Once the player gets past the utter difficulty and precision required for the puzzles, there lies an incredibly told plot for them to follow and enjoy.

    - Kittycathead

  • Magical Brickout (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Magical Brickout
    Developed by: Cunning Force Games
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Released: October 17, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS
    Genre: Puzzle, action
    Number of players: 1 offline 
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for providing a copy of this game to us to review!

    Most people who know the history of video games will admit that one of the first was a primitive table tennis simulator called "Pong." But the game required two players, and some wanted a version they could play themselves. Thus, in 1976, "Breakout" was created, and appeared in arcades – and Atari home game consoles – since then.

    The game has proven to be so popular that it has been imitated and replicated many times over the past four decades. But for the most part, the formula has remained the same – the player controls the paddle and moves it back and forth to try and keep the ball from leaving the playing field, and destroying bricks in the process. Once all the bricks are destroyed, you can move on to the next level, wave, or puzzle.

    Magical Brickout does something new with this formula – a move that I would even describe as truly innovative. Rather than moving a paddle back and forth, you actually rotate the entire playing field. The field is circular and, with the possible exception of indestructible metal bricks on a few of the levels, contains nothing that represents a paddle. This simple twist completely changes the formula – and the gameplay – of this familiar old design.

    Magical Brickout
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Original approach to "Breakout"; challenging levels
    Weak Points: Steep learning curve; mediocre music
    Moral Warnings: Some undead references

    The story behind the game is presented through a series of animated cartoon panels, and some text windows that appear at the beginning of each level. An evil wizard has built a magical castle, and has trapped several fairies inside bricks. Your job is to free the fairies by destroying the bricks and, eventually, the evil wizard's sinister guardians. A gremlin will appear on the levels, and if you manage to whack it with the ball you can score extra points. Some of the bricks also contain power-ups, and others will contain penalties. A few other bricks will appear, which change based upon which stage you're playing. Each of the eight stages contains six levels, for a total of 48 levels, not counting the tutorial.

    In addition to the bricks, there are a couple of other mechanics involved as well. Along the sides of the playing fields are two potion bottles. As you destroy the bricks, the bottles fill up, providing the possibility of free balls and multiplier bonuses to your score. If you lose your ball, the potions drain away and you have to start all over. Leaderboards are available, and you can see how your scores stack up against others. My name is in the top 15 as I write this, but given the newness of the game, I doubt it will be there long!

    The controls to the game are sharp and responsive, and I had no trouble using either the keyboard or my gamepad. The music is pleasant, but gets repetitive before too long. The graphics are cartoonish and cute, with funny signs in the background. They can be a bit distracting at first, but as you get familiar with the level, you can focus more upon the bricks, rather than the scenery. Interestingly enough, the levels aren't randomized. The bricks are arrayed in a fashion that highlight the background elements, and the fairies always appear in the same location. The bonuses and penalties do change location every time a new ball is launched, though, so there is some randomization to keep the levels fresh. 

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

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The lack of variation helps with the game, though. Although this is an original spin on the "Breakout" model, that hardly means that the game is easier. This simple difference is enough to ramp up the difficulty significantly. It can often be difficult to tell how the ball is going to bounce off a brick, especially if struck on the shorter end, rather than the broad face. The fact that the bricks don't change location helps immensely, as once you've played a level enough times, you can figure out what maneuvers tend to work the best in removing the bricks in the shortest amount of time, and with the fewest balls lost. You can score one to three stars on each level, and achievements are available for getting stars on every level. There are a total of 44 achievements to unlock, but most of them are not easy to obtain.

    From a moral perspective, there isn't a lot to worry about in the game. There are a few references to undead, especially in the "Graveyard" levels, and the décor occasionally features skulls. The game focuses on magic and fairies, but it isn't apparent if you're casting spells. There isn't any occult imagery or language issues to be found here. The gremlin that appears on the levels can be hit with the ball, but simply falls backwards with a stunned expression.

    Altogether, Magical Breakout is a tough, sometimes frustrating challenge, but is original enough that it's worth a try. The price is a reasonable $7.99. This is a whimsical, solid game and a fun variation of an old, familiar formula.

    Incidentally, if you would like to play a free variation of the original Breakout, go to http://www.google.com. Click on "Images" and then type in "Atari Breakout" into the search field. Wait a few seconds, and then the screen will transform into the game.

     

  • Magical Star Pillars (PC)

     

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    Game Info:

    Magical Star  Pillars
    Developed By: Toolkitz Games
    Published By: Toolkitz Games
    Released: April 25, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Platform, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1 player
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you Toolkitz for sending us this game to review.

    An adorable little girl by the name of Tiff is the star of the game Magical Star Pillars, a 2D puzzle-platformer where the main goal is to navigate levels to collect stars. Tiff’s journey starts off with her and her unnamed bird companion relaxing on their island, when they come across a strange star. This star grants the duo a telepathic message that the Star Pillars are in danger. It is now their job to restore power to the Star Pillars.

    As mentioned above, there is a story to all of this, and a narrative is played during the tutorial, whenever an ally is encountered/rescued, and when a Star Pillar regains its power. The overall plot is something I didn’t expect from the game and it does give life to the world that Tiff runs and jumps around in. Of course a plotline in a puzzle-platformer is unnecessary, but it’s nice to have. The starting island you begin on acts as a tutorial, explaining the mechanics of both the levels and the overworld. The overworld can feel weird to navigate at times, especially on certain islands, as Tiff will have to squeeze through tight spaces which she easily gets stuck on. Maybe it would have been better if the overworld was more like a menu, but the developer is aware of these problems and has fixed some of these collision issues, as well as planning to fix more of them in later updates.

    Magical Star Pillars' levels are the strong point in the game. After the tutorial, there are four islands that Tiff must go to. Any island can be started in any order, but some levels do require allies obtained from previous levels. In a way, the game is both linear and non-linear because even though you can start any island by your choosing, you will have to at least partially complete one island to complete another. There are over one hundred levels spread across the four islands with many puzzles and platforms. A lot of these levels contain robots that can be avoided, and depending on the level can also be destroyed (they mostly act as obstacles to avoid).

    Each island has a special gimmick attached to it such as Steam Island focusing on using geysers to jump very high, and Storm Island using turbines and ice to mess with or hinder movement. The final level of each island contains a boss, which you have to overcome with the combination of the allies gathered throughout the game. The Steam Island boss in particular can be fairly buggy as I had it glitch out on me four times before I successfully defeated it.

    Magical Star Pillars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Strong platforming; some puzzles are very engaging; a large amount of puzzles
    Weak Points: Overworld can be clunky to navigate; sometimes the allies can slow down the pace of the game; music can get repetitive 
    Moral Warnings: Robots are out to get you, and that’s a bad thing; supernatural setting

    I enjoyed the majority of the levels due to their layout of the design, the unique attributes to some of the levels, and a good variety of puzzles. The game also has a moderate amount of challenge to it as well. It never feels too easy nor too hard at any point of the game and many levels do test the platforming skills and puzzle knowledge of the player. There is no life system attributed to Magical Star Pillars; instead, each level keeps track of how long you took to complete it, as well as how many restarts it took or how many deaths.

    The solid mechanics are greatly attributed to the controls. The control scheme is very simple with standard movement using the arrow keys, jump by using the spacebar, and the shift key to your character’s respective ability. The F5 key can be used to retry a level, and the escape key to exit a level as there will be some levels that can only be completed with certain allies. Keep in mind that F5 and the escape key have to be held down for a second for the action to work. It’s rather strange, but understandable as it prevents accidental pressing of the button. Controller support is also available for people who want it; it's serviceable, but I personally prefer the keyboard for platformers. The controls are extremely responsive and the characters can both start and stop at a moment's notice, allowing precision platforming.

    Later on in the game, you gain allies and can switch between them with A, S, D or F. You start off with your bird companion, who's action is toggled by the A key. He acts more as panning for the camera, a very useful ability to see what comes up ahead in the levels and to come up with a good plan for the puzzles. The other allies can also move and jump, but are typically limited in other aspects, and also cannot be used to collect the stars, even if they can reach them. Sometimes the allies can slow the pace of the game down, due to their slower movement, but this only comes up every once in a while.

    Magical Star Pillars
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    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

    The graphics are okay, I guess. The world itself very basic, and some of it looks like it was done in MS Paint (especially some of the areas on Clay Island). The characters have a special charm to them. I found them to be very cute and they have an appeal. Even the robots I found to be cute. Though the designs are simple, every piece of scenery is clear as to what is and isn’t something that can and should be interacted with. The music is a nice little retro style with MIDI aspects, but can get repetitive fairly quickly as there are only a handful of songs in the game, and they loop after 30 or so seconds. If you get annoyed by it, the music can be toggled off in the options menu.

    There is not much wrong morally in the game. There are robots that are out to get you, and some of them have spikes, some shock with electricity or bombs, and the little moments you can retaliate are all against robots. It’s all portrayed in a cartoon manner and when your character is struck, death is similar to how a classic Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario game deals with it. Basically the bare minimum. As evident in the title, there is also magic, but I’ve never seen it used throughout the game by the players or the enemies and is only mentioned and seen through exposition during some of the cutscenes.

    Magical Star Pillars has some rough spots in and around, but the enjoyable mechanics and levels make it a very solid puzzle-platform game. I had a good time going through it. It’s not too long, only being 3-6 hours for your first playthrough, but the semi-linearity and the quick-play nature can warrant repeated playthroughs. There is also DLC being developed that will release around September of 2018 that contains more levels and more companions. It’s rather cheap for the amount it gives you and I can recommend it to any platform and puzzle fans, as well as people of all ages.

  • Mahjong Crimes (Android)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Mahjong Crimes
    Developed by: Spil Games
    Published by: Spil Games
    Release date: November 9, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: Free with microtransactions

    Thank you Spil Games for sending us a Rubik’s Cube and $20 of Google Play Store credit to review this free game!

    Mahjong Crimes is a free to play, but pay to complete mobile game that’s available on Google Play and the App Store. Upon launching the game you’ll see a permission rationale pop up box which explains why this game requires access to your photos, media, and files for reliably storing data and to provide the best experience possible. Wi-Fi internet is also required as cell phone service is not stable enough for it apparently. I’ve played many mobile games that do not require such permissions and are perfectly playable on any kind of internet connection. If you’re not concerned about your personal and network data, then please read on!

    If you’re new to Mahjong games, the goal is to match similar tiles that are on the edge or in the same row. Many tiles are inaccessible until the ones above them are removed from the game. The symbols on the tiles are similar and hard to distinguish at times unless you’re paying close attention. Sometimes the symbols are different, but related and in those cases they will have a matching marker symbol on the upper right hand side of them.

    Mahjong Crimes
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gripping story based off of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; fun and challenging Mahjong gameplay
    Weak Points: Steep difficulty curve that practically requires purchasing power-ups to complete levels required to progress the game
    Moral Warnings: Blood and murder; some language (hell)

    Mahjong Crimes is based off of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The story is quite riveting and I looked forward to the story sequences spread out among the two hundred and fifty levels. Since the difficulty ramps up as you progress, getting to the later chapters requires some serious Mahjong skills and/or a lot of money spent in micro-transactions. Real money can be spent to purchase in-game money, which is needed to buy power-ups or additional time in timed levels. Power-ups can be earned by unlocking treasure chests throughout the game, but they are few and far between.

    Like many mobile games, you can earn up to three stars per level and many puzzles require a perfect score to obtain a key. Keys are required for unlocking chapters and there are no extras so you have to keep retrying until you obtain each one. In the beginning, earning three stars per level was relatively easy. Toward levels fifty and higher two stars was my average. By then I’ve spent some of the Google credit provided to purchase some power-ups.

    Some of the power-ups include revealing a matching set of tiles, shuffling the tiles, highlighting the playable layer of tiles, and zapping away five sets of tiles. Reshuffling is necessary at times but the power-up I used the most was the layer highlighting one. Though zapping away tiles on the timed levels does come in handy. Instead of sacrificing a life heart, I often opted to buy more time with in-game currency if I ran out during a timed puzzle. 

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

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

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Besides timed puzzles there are ones with different objectives like revealing a photograph beneath the tiles, or freeing up items that are being propped up by tiles that need to be cleared away. Some number and letter matching levels don’t require clearing all of the tiles. In fact, you’ll get a bonus for having left over tiles or time in timed levels. In order to secure three stars you’ll need to be quick and maintain a high multiplier bonus. Having leftover time or tiles has increased the number of stars I’ve earned as well.

    The story and artwork is quite exceptional. As fun as the Mahjong gameplay is, I think it will be more cost effective for me to simply read Agatha Chrustie’s book instead of purchasing power-ups to see the ending. There is a murder that takes place and the scene of the crime does show some blood. There is no voice acting but the word hell does show up in the dialogue. The background music was soothing though.

    In the end, Mahjong Crimes is a fun game with an excellent story. Sadly, you’ll have to spend some serious money to see all of it. Some of the coin packs sell for as much as $99. If the price and necessity of the micro-transactions don’t scare you away, the network and device permission requirements should.

  • Max: The Curse of Brotherhood (Switch)

     

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    Game Info:

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
    Developed by: Press Play, Stage Clear Studios, Flashbulb Games
    Published by: Wired Productions Ltd
    Release date: December 21, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    Price: $19.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Wired Productions Ltd for sending us this game to review!

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood was originally released in 2013 and was re-released on next-gen consoles in 2017. One of the biggest complaints about this game was the controls. Hopefully the Switch version resolves those issues. This is my first time playing it so I can’t compare the versions unfortunately. The story remains the same though.

    Max is annoyed with his brother Felix and finds an incantation online that will make him disappear. He chants it and his brother is quickly whisked away. Immediately regretting his actions, Max jumps into the portal to save him. At first, Max doesn’t have any weapons but it doesn’t take long before his famous marker comes into play.

    With his marker, Max can cause specially marked sections of the ground to form and collapse columns, branches, and vines. The last two abilities he’ll learn are controlling water flows and using gas to propel himself. There are equal parts of platforming and puzzle solving in this 2.5D game. You’ll have to move around blocks and work around enemies that cannot be touched due to spikes or poisonous gas they emit. Every level also has these big eyeballs on trees that Max has to uproot if he doesn’t want the evil mastermind Mustacho to keep spying on him. There are seventy-five eyeballs to remove and eighteen amulet pieces to collect through the seven chapters and twenty levels in this game.

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lovely visuals; fun gameplay
    Weak Points: Some of the obstacles require more luck than skill to overcome
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; sibling rivalry; gross enemies; Max is guided by a spirit lady

    The only replayability this game has to offer is to collect eyeballs and pendant pieces you may have missed in previous levels. In all honesty I was happy enough to get through the levels and have no intention of going back.

    Though the 3D Pixar-like visuals are charming, it doesn’t take long for frustration to set in as you try multiple times to get the drawing physics to cooperate only to die quickly after and go through the drawing puzzle all over again. When the puzzles are simple the drawing mechanics work really well. That’s not always the case though and there are many drawing puzzles that have to be solved during action sequences where Max has to keep moving or die. Sometimes the game will slow down time and give you time to draw, but there are some instances where you have to draw on the go and those are annoying.

    If you’re not a fan of quick time events you will not enjoy this game at all. There are more quick time events than you can shake a hand-drawn stick at! There are some boss-like creatures or just elements in general that Max has to flee from. Sometimes there is a logical jumping pattern and other times it seems that you have to preemptively jump when it doesn’t make sense to do so in order to succeed. Thankfully you have an infinite amount of lives and the amount of checkpoints are pretty generous.

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    +3 for promoting good family values

    The sound effects are good and the voice acting for all of the characters is well done. With some of the screams and shrieks from Max I really felt guilty for accidentally killing him.

    From a moral standpoint, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is pretty clean. There is some cartoon-like violence, but no blood or gore. Though the ESRB mentions mild language (without examples), I haven’t come across anything concerning. During Max’s journey he is guided by a spirit lady that teaches him how to obtain and use his marker abilities. Many of the marker abilities are acquired in ancient temples and ruins. On a positive note, I like the theme of forgiveness and brotherly love that this game promotes.

    In the end, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a cute game that is flawed by too many quick time events and complicated drawing puzzles. I only enjoyed the game in short spurts and it felt like a chore to complete the levels at times. If you see the game on sale it may be worth picking up.

  • Mixups by POWGI (PS4/Vita)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Mixups by POWGI
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: February 12, 2019
    Available on : Android, iOS, PS4, Vita
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this title to review!

    Now that the Vita is no longer being manufactured, this could very well be one of our final game reviews for this portable handheld gaming system. Thankfully, Mixups by POWGI is cross-buy so you can play it on the PS4 or the Vita with a single purchase. I prefer to game on the go so this review is based on the Vita version.

    We have reviewed the Wii U and Switch versions of Word Puzzles by POWGI. Mixups was one of the many mini-games in that collection. Now it’s a standalone title with six hundred themed puzzles to solve.

    There are one hundred and twenty themes with roughly six puzzles in each one. You can resume at any time without having to restart from the first puzzle. This is a great game to consider when you’re waiting in line at the doctor’s office or for your favorite rollercoaster.

    Mixups by POWGI
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 600 brain-bending puzzles to solve; hint system; cross-buy
    Weak Points: Had to use a search engine to solve some of the mixups
    Moral Warnings: None!

    If you’re new to the game, the goal is simple. You have to figure out the three themed words by using the available letters only once. When a word is solved, the letters are no longer available for the remaining words. If you need a hint you can press the left and right shoulder buttons and the first letter of the word(s) will be revealed. Even with a hint provided, I was not able to solve many of these and relied on Internet search engine results for guidance.

    The restricted themed puzzles like US States are easier to solve than boy's names. There are only fifty states to work with and when you use a hint for the first latter that narrows things down significantly. However, with boy's names there’s at least fifty names for each letter of the alphabet!

    Some words were completely foreign to me like “poppet” in terms of endearment. In nearly twenty years of marriage, we’ve never used that word. While cute, I also haven’t seen degus in the pet stores near me. Guinea pigs and hamsters are and I was able to solve those in the pet-themed group.

    Mixups by POWGI
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 7/10
    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

    There are thirty-three PlayStation achievements available and I unlocked Sir Cumference for solving all of the shapes puzzles. The trophy names are witty and the dog mascot usually says something goofy after completing each puzzle.

    The visuals are crisp and this game runs smoothly on the Vita. The background music is peppy, but a little repetitive at times.

    Morally, this game is clean and suitable for people of all ages to play. With that said, many of these puzzles threw me for a loop so I can imagine it being quite challenging for younger kids.

    If you like word scramble puzzles, Mixups by POWGI is worth checking out. The asking price of $7.99 is reasonable and playable on both the Vita and PS4. There are plenty of puzzles to keep you scratching your head for hours.

  • Momentum (PC)

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    Game Info:

    Momentum
    Developed By: Projectile Entertainment
    Published By: Projectile Entertainment
    Released: August 11, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Physics puzzle platformer
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $.99
    (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    Thanks to Projectile Entertainment for the review key!

    Are you annoyed with how well life has been going? Has constant success plagued you every step of the way? Have you ever stopped and thought that today would be much better if you were faced with nigh-impossible tasks and lengthy, repeated failure? Or do you simply like rolling balls through obstacle courses? If you answered “yes” to any of these, Momentum is the game for you.

    Momentum’s premise is simple: get the ball to the goal by rotating the stage around in any and every direction, with bronze, silver, and gold medals awarded based on the time you take to do so. This should be recognizable to those familiar with Super Monkey Ball or the infamous Rollgoal minigame from the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, though Momentum doesn’t limit your rotational ability – you get a full 360 degree playing field. While tilting the stage is the primary method of moving your ball, you can also make it jump as well as use the “brake” button to slow it down and give you greater control. Expect to keep that brake on most, if not all, of the time, as it’s your only hope against the suspiciously frictionless floors.

    The ninety levels in the game are separated into three worlds, each with their own obstacle focus. The first world is standard, with only complicated, stationary structures impeding your progress. These stages tend to have the goal on the other side of the platform you start in, essentially making you traverse the stage twice; it makes the stages longer, but isn’t exactly engaging. The second world introduces moving platforms and laser beams, with the stages laid out more creatively than the first world. The final set adds blue fields that modify your ball, either by pushing you in a direction or removing your jump and/or brake.

    Momentum
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Varied, lengthy gameplay; good presentation
    Weak Points: Excruciatingly, frustratingly difficult; some quality-of-life issues
    Moral Warnings: A stage named “Escalator to Hell”

    What this all adds up to is an extremely complicated, horrifically difficult game. The courses are already designed to be as hard as possible, but the addition of moving platforms and especially the control-altering fields make some stages nearly insurmountable. Longer stages contain periodic checkpoints, with some giving you freely-placeable ones you can put anywhere you can stand still at for a moment, but every fall or laser-based incineration adds two seconds to your final time. Expect to fail dozens of times on the later stages, and don’t be surprised to only get a bronze time at best when – if – you finally succeed. It’s telling when the game, which unlocks new balls for use as you gain medals, only requires you to get sixty bronze, thirty silver, and twenty-one gold medals out of the possible ninety. Momentum’s Steam description often talks about its “Zen” atmosphere, but the only enlightenment you’ll reach is becoming one with your frustration.

    For what it’s worth, the game controls as well as it needs to, considering the challenge mostly derives from fighting said controls. The stage and camera movements are customizable, both in terms of mirroring directions and sensitivity. The physics make sense, and the ball never acts in an unrealistic way. The ball’s handling will certainly feel anywhere from slippery to uncontrollable, but it’s by design, not technical flaw. It is worth mentioning, however, that the keyboard and mouse controls are rather clumsy. The mouse controls stage rotation when holding down the left button and the camera when pressing the right, making manipulating both at the same time nearly impossible. The keyboard has re-bindable controls, but limits you to rather imprecise command over both stage and camera. You can finagle a workable control scheme out of both mouse and keyboard together, but they still don't quite reach the level of control a gamepad does. To put it simply, there's a reason the screen after the developer logo shows an outline of an Xbox One controller.

    The main flaws in Momentum lie not in its gameplay but in a few quality-of-life issues. There’s no way to check the medal times in-game; you have to quit out to the menu to see them. Some of the later stages get very convoluted, but outside of a wide-angle shot of the whole stage when you first load it up, you’re unable to move the camera away from your ball to look at where you need to go. When you fall, you’re treated to three seconds of watching your ball plunge away, followed by three more seconds of watching it respawn, potentially followed by even more waiting if there are moving platforms that need to line up again. It’s almost as if the game is reveling in your failure, and forcing you to savor it as well.

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

    Game Score - 79%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

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

    Momentum does try to keep it calm with its proficient presentation. Each stage is set to a soothing backdrop – a city at dusk for the first world, a skyscape the second, and a sprawling library for the third. You’ll be staring at your ball and its immediate surroundings for the most part, but both the various ball types and the ground are textured well and won’t strain the eyes; the metallic balls also have a slight reflection to them. The music is gentle and pleasant, though there aren’t a whole lot of songs; at the very least, it’s easy to tune out when you need to focus. The sound effects are realistic and aren’t very loud or distracting – the sound of your ball rolling along, clacking on the ground, and blipping out of existence are fitting and easily ignored when necessary. In short, there’s nothing in the game’s graphics or sound that you can blame when you fail for the fiftieth time in a twenty-second stage.

    With no dialogue, plot, or characters to find, there’s next to nothing to worry about morally. The only exception is a stage titled “Escalator to Hell” – which is ironically one of the easier stages. If anything, the game is a solid test of patience and persistence.

    If you don’t mind the brutal difficulty, Momentum is a competent, long-lived game that’s more substantial than it lets on at first. For the $9.99 it asks for, you’ll get over a dozen hours of gameplay just trying to complete each stage, let alone achieve gold medals on every one. Should you choose to undertake that impossible challenge, know that you’ll come out the other side with either the patience of a saint or the temperament of the Incredible Hulk.

    -Cadogan

  • Monumental (PC)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Monumental
    Developed By: Whipstitch Games
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: January 22, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $9.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is an advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review code!

    The first-person puzzle genre has endured quite a few twists and turns over the years. In the early years, games such as Starship Titanic or Rama reveled in presenting an unknown world full of complicated challenges for you to solve. More recently, games such as Portal introduced a more action-styled element to the puzzles. Others either toe – or blatantly cross – the line of “walking simulator”, where the only puzzle is how they got so much media attention and praise in the first place. Occasionally, however, you can find a game that throws back to an older age that expected you to play with pen and paper at the ready, and Monumental certainly fits that bill.

    Monumental is a first-person puzzle game set in a mysterious alien world. The Mandrake Research Facility has gone some time without a transmission, and you are sent to check up on the five researchers stationed there. In the process, you’ll comb through the facility, poke around an abandoned ruin, and plunge into the depths of the central temple – and uncover some details about the alien civilization yourself.

    The entirety of the game involves wandering around each of the three aforementioned areas, discovering obstacles, data nodes, alien runes, and so on. The puzzles have a decent amount of variety to them, though you’ll mostly solve math problems, manipulate colors, or activate sounds in a particular order. While you only deal with good old fashioned English and Arabic numerals in the research facility, out in the ruins you’ll need to decode the aliens’ language and base-8 number system.

     

    Monumental
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Satisfying puzzles; interesting alien world
    Weak Points: A few unintuitive puzzles; occasional freezes/softlocks during loading
    Moral Warnings: A few dead bodies, one with a blood-covered shirt; text descriptions of one-sided attempts at adultery; Barbie-style naked humanoid aliens; a single minor curse (hell)

    The puzzles, as the main attraction, do their job and do it well for the most part. While the game is mostly linear, some small sequence breaks are possible with enough thought. There are a rare few instances where the puzzles simply don’t make logical sense, the most egregious being gaining entry into one researcher’s room: the password requires a combination of colors that’s found randomly plastered to a wall in such a way that it just looks like part of the futuristic scenery. The code also requires you to back out of the terminal entirely if you get it wrong, which is different than every other terminal in the game. Luckily, there’s an in-game hint system for moments like these, with each one giving you somewhere between a light nudge or a heavy push in the right direction. There’s no punishment for using these, aside from the total number of used hints being displayed on your save file as a monument to your shame.

    That said, even that puzzle could be figured out with enough thought, trial-and-error, or simple desperation, and the vast majority of the puzzles are similar. The interface only adds to the experience: you can, and are required to, take pictures and record audio, and can display those recordings at any time. It’s a quick, user-friendly solution to writing everything down on paper – though that old method still comes in handy quite a bit. The relative ease of access to your references, combined with the standard high quality of the presented puzzles, creates a truly satisfying experience.

    The controls are a bit hard to get used to, however. You use the mouse wheel to scroll between your various gadgets, and right-clicking activates them - this is rather simple and intuitive enough. Complicating matters, though, is the addition of device-specific menus where your notes, pictures, or sound clips are stored; these are brought up by clicking the mouse wheel, and right-clicking from there displays or plays the selected data. While there is no way to delete unwanted pictures or audio, which is especially annoying when you mess up the controls and snap a photo of the bare floor, the ease with which you can scroll through them makes it almost a non-issue. There are keyboard controls for the interface as well, but the game never outlines them and you can’t configure the keys, making it one puzzle the game could do without.

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

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Monumental’s presentation is decent enough, neither impressing nor disappointing. The graphics look rather nice even on the lowest settings, but a few objects – mainly otherworldly flora and the like – have strange muddy textures on them that at best make the world look alien but usually just make it look unappealing. Each of the three levels as well as the title screen and credits has their own song, and while none stand out, they do convincingly set the intended tones and never get irritating to listen to. The audio cues you’re intended to record and input stand out clearly from the music, and replaying something via the menu cuts the music entirely to provide unimpeded access – though sometimes the music won’t come back at all without a visit to the pause screen. Finally, the alien civilization itself is engaging and fun to explore, with the only real complaint being how underutilized it is: the developers clearly mapped out an entire alien language, but never use it anywhere but the title of the game on the title screen. All puzzle hints and solutions are instead plastered as-is on seemingly random walls, which can break the immersion somewhat.

    The biggest issue Monumental has, however, lies in its stability. As mentioned previously, the music can cut off after listening to an audio recording. Changing the graphics quality in-game results in an unplayable mess of random textures that requires a restart to fix. The game itself runs smoothly – but only when it loads at all. While the first level loads reliably, the ruins and temple levels can and will get stuck at about 90% loaded. Sometimes even successful loads will visibly freeze the game, spinning circle mouse cursor included, but at least you know it’s loading when that happens. If you softlock on a loading screen, your only options are to wait the fifteen minutes or more for it to sort itself out, or open up the task manager and manually end the process. Worst of all, this happens in up to a third of all loading attempts. Needless to say, the flow of the game is severely hampered when you’re forced to quit playing, and it makes entering a new area something to fear rather than be excited about.

    There are only a few minor moral issues to find in Monumental. You’ll stumble upon some corpses along the way, one of which wearing a blood-soaked shirt. Among the notes left by the researchers, a few describe one man’s attempt to seduce a woman away from her husband, though neither of the two married individuals want anything to do with it. The aliens are depicted as humanoid and naked, but it’s only as disturbing as an Academy Award. Finally, there is a single use of the word “hell” in one of the research notes, but the language is clean otherwise.

    Overall, Monumental is a superb puzzle game marred by a few leaps of logic and some severe technical issues. While solving the challenges and exploring the alien civilization are rewarding, it’s hampered when the game fights you to simply view them. The loading issues are such that it’s hard to recommend it at full price to anyone but the biggest puzzle genre fans or those with extreme patience, but there’s definitely a rewarding experience waiting for you if you decide to pick it up.

    -Cadogan

     

  • Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas (Vita)

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    Game Info:

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
    Developed by: Cornfox & Bros
    Published by: FDG Entertainment
    Release date: May 17, 2017 (Vita) March 17, 2015 (PC) November 14, 2013 (iOS)
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One, Vita
    Genre: Action, puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $12.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you FDG Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas was originally released in 2013 and has sold over a million copies since. The fact that it’s available on every current gaming system has something to do with that. The positive reviews and homage to Zelda are two other reason for its success. Fans of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker will find much in common, though I will be upfront and state that I have not played a Zelda game since the original two on the NES. With that said, I did enjoy my twelve hours into this title and wouldn’t mind playing Wind Waker if the opportunity arises.

    In Oceanhorn you play a nameless young man whose parents are gone. The father hasn’t returned since trying to battle Oceanhorn, but he left behind his notebook as a guide. The mother passed away and the main character is in possession of her pendant. The pendant has a mind of its own and guides him to a cave where he’ll find a sword and a shield. Until then, he can throw vases at enemies to defend himself.

    A hermit on the island shares the story of Oceanhorn. The Islands were the mighty kingdom of Arcadia. The age of enlightenment led Arcadia to amazing scientific discoveries as engineering and magic came naturally to them. A dark mage, Mesmeroth, led a war against Arcadia. Three sea monsters appeared, one of them being Oceanhorn. Since the father hasn’t returned, it's now your job to seek it out; staying on the island is endangering the inhabitants as monsters are attracted to your mother's pendant. To unravel the mystery of Oceanhorn you must discover the secrets of the three sacred emblems (Earth, Ocean, Sun). You’ll also need to upgrade your sword and shield before facing this sea giant.

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun Zelda-like game with plenty of dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve
    Weak Points: Can be beaten in less than twelve hours; got stuck once
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; magic use; numerous deities you’ll interact with as you collect various emblems; undead enemies 

    In the beginning, you have four hearts and they each take two hits before depleting. If you chop up some plants and break jars, you may find gold coins, bombs, arrows, magic potions, or hearts to replenish your health. Many islands have heart pieces to increase your maximum health and blood stones that needs to be mined to unlock a powerful spell. Be sure to comb over every island and you can buy a radar to let you know how many secrets remain on an island. It doesn’t take long before you acquire a boat that enables you to explore the next island. On Tikarel Island, you’ll have the opportunity to vanquish a rat in a cellar. Blue diamonds are awarded for each slain creature and this experience is used to gain levels and earn abilities like holding more bombs and arrows.

    Be sure to talk to all of the villagers as they may give you a useful item or information on other islands to visit. Once an island is mentioned, it becomes available to sail to from the world map. When you’re sailing, you’ll have to aim your pumpkin seed shooting gun at monsters, bombs, and other debris in your ship’s path. At docks, you can go fishing and compare your catches against other gamers on the global leaderboards.

    Many of the dungeons follow the same formula where you have to collect regular keys until you can obtain the master key which opens all of the doors and the treasure chest with the main item inside. The emblems are protected by a boss that has to be defeated before you can take your prize. The bosses have an attack pattern to work around and weaknesses to exploit to secure your victory. If you die in battle, you’ll only be revived with three hearts no matter how many you have unlocked in the game. Thankfully the boss rooms have plants and jars nearby which can yield hearts if destroyed.

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Each emblem represents a god that gives thanks for being purified and lends its power to the hero. The father also makes a reference to Gaia in one of his journal entries. Magic use is required for damaging enemies and solving various dungeon puzzles. Most of the puzzles involve moving crates to certain floor tiles. If you mess up a puzzle there is usually a reset button nearby. One time my character got stuck between crates with no way out. I had to exit to the title screen to continue my journey. Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints and auto-saves so not much progress was lost.

    Visually, Oceanhorn is very colorful and it looked and ran great on my Vita. I enjoyed the portability and didn’t have to sacrifice much performance in return. Upon reading the game’s opening credits, I recognized Nobuo Uematsu’s name. He’s one of my favorite composers and I enjoy his work in many of the Final Fanstasy games. Not surprisingly, the music is really good in this title. The voice acting is well done as well despite the gods speaking in gibberish.

    If you enjoy Zelda games, then you’ll want to look into Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas. The bosses and puzzles are not too challenging, but there are plenty of walkthroughs and videos available if you get stuck. The asking price is a reasonable $12.99 which is slightly less than the PC version when it’s not on sale.

  • Osmos (Mac)

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    Game Info:

    Osmos
    Developed by: Hemisphere
    Games
    Published by: Hemisphere Games
    Released: August 18, 2009
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB rating: E
    Number of players: 1 offline
    Price: $9.99 (Humble Store), $2.99 (Google Play), $0.99 (App Store)

    In nature, there tends to be one dominant rule – eat, or be eaten. This seems to apply in the microscopic world as well. In the abstract game Osmos, by Hemisphere Games, this simple mechanic is foremost among the challenges.

    You control a bright blue orb, surrounded by other orbs, on a dark surface in a 2D world. You can absorb those smaller than you – which are demonstrated by their dark blue color – but those orbs larger than you will absorb some of your material instead if you touch them. The larger orbs can be identified by their reddish outline, but as you grow in size, the outline becomes thinner and paler until it also switches to blue – meaning you can absorb them without worry. The bulk of the challenges in the game consist of absorbing smaller orbs and growing in size. The more you absorb, the larger you grow. Each level has different goals, but the mechanics are the same – eat, or be eaten. 

    Osmos
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great music; challenging puzzles; simple concept to understand
    Weak Points: Steep learning curve; can often get frustrating
    Moral Warnings: Blobs absorb other blobs

    Moving around in the game further adds to the challenge. You use the mouse to steer yourself. Pressing the mouse button will cause your orb to squirt out some of the substance you are comprised of. This has the effect of making you move in the opposite direction of your mouse clicks, but you also shrink a bit in the process. You'll continue moving in the direction you indicated, unless gravitational forces pull you in a different direction, or you run into something larger than you (which will strip away your material). So even the process of moving towards smaller orbs – or away from danger – is something that needs to be calculated into your moves. If you shrink to such a point that you cannot win, a warning will pop up at the bottom of the screen. You can then choose to restart the level from the beginning, or just steer yourself into the closest red circle and end it all. There isn't a way to save your progress in the middle of a challenge, but the individual challenges are short, so it isn't much of an irritation.

    You can slow down the action on the screen, allowing yourself more time to react. You also can speed things up, but playing at the slowest speed is generally preferred. If you are having trouble with a level, it's also possible to set it up to randomly arrange the level, rather than stay with the preset design. I've found that this actually can make some of the levels easier, oddly enough. 

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

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

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

    The graphics are polished and smooth, with the color contrast of the orbs making it easy to tell at a glance what's a threat, and what is your prey. The music consists of ambient electronica, surprisingly soothing given how tense the game can make you feel at times. The game can get a bit redundant after too long – at least when it's not getting tooth-grindingly frustrating. Fortunately, each puzzle can be completed in just a few minutes, so it's all right to play this game in small doses. Complete a level or two, then move on to another game before returning, if you'd like. It works well for a casual game. There are a total of 47 different challenges, so there is quite a bit to accomplish in the game. If played on Steam, there are 11 achievements to unlock as well, but most of them come only at the end of a chain of challenges, so they aren't pushovers to obtain.

    From a moral standpoint, there really isn't too much to worry about in this game. The only sort of violence that can be found consists of absorbing the blue orbs, or being absorbed by the red orbs. Some of the challenges feature a green orb that is implied to be intelligent, but that's about the extent of it. 

    Osmos is an entertaining puzzle game that can occasionally be quite frustrating. It operates on a simple mechanic that can be tough to master. For those looking for a casual game to spend just a few minutes at a time, but still provides a solid challenge, Osmos could fit the mold.

     

  • Paint it Back (Mac)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Paint it Back
    Developed by: Casual Labs
    Published by: Casual Labs
    Released: October 14, 2015
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $7.99 (Steam), free (Android, iOS, with different levels available for purchase)

    Many, many years ago, a new type of puzzle appeared in one of my favorite magazines. Called "Paint By Numbers," these were logic puzzles from a company called Conceptis, Ltd. in which clues can be used to form a picture. So when "Paint it Back" by Casual Labs popped up for sale on Steam, I quickly added it to my wish list! This style of game has been done by other companies – including Nintendo with the popular Picross games – but Casual Labs' approach is just as entertaining, and provides 150 new puzzles to solve.

    Paint it Back has a fairly simple, silly story. A ghost has appeared in an art gallery, but while he wandered about, he frightened all the artwork away, leaving nothing but blank canvases. The ghost apologizes to the artist-in-residence, but there's a lot of work to be done to restore the paintings. Fortunately, the artist has an assistant – you!

    A tutorial is included to help you understand the concept of the puzzles. You have a grid of empty squares, with numbers along the top and the left side. The numbers tell you how many of the squares need to be filled in, or painted. If there is a space between the numbers, then at least one blank square separates the painted portions of that row or column. Using logic, you'll eventually be able to figure out what squares need to be painted in, and the painting will be restored.

    Paint it Back
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Several logic puzzles to solve in an amusing setting; Steam Workshop connection for more puzzles; good price for the amount of content; free demo available
    Weak Points: Bland, repetitive music; average graphics
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco references; minor occult references 

    Take note that, even though the end result will look like pixellated color pictures, you aren't solving a colored variation of these puzzles. Rather, you'll solve a black and white version of the painting, and the color is added on the little canvas in the upper left corner, and to the final painting once completed. Many of the puzzles have multiple difficulty levels, granting between one to three medals. The more medals you earn, the more galleries will be unlocked. A few other challenges will be added as well, including timed puzzles, or ones where you're not allowed to use any "x"es to mark blank squares. The game comes with more than 150 puzzles to solve, but the Steam version also includes Steam Workshop integration, so others can create and upload their own puzzles for people to solve. 

    The cartoonish figures that appear in each of the galleries are cute, but move stiffly. You'll see them very seldom, though, as the bulk of the game will be spent with the grid of squares against a pale blue background. The music is pleasant, with a bit of a retro video game feel to it, but hardly memorable. In fact, it grows repetitious before too long, since you'll be hearing the same tunes repeatedly as you spend time on the puzzles. The controls are simply done with the mouse, and except for typing in your name at the start of the game, no other peripherals are even used.

    Paint it Back
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 5/10
    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

    There are a few parts of the game that may lead to moral concerns, but these are fairly minor. A few of the puzzles have alcohol and tobacco references, and one of the painters can be seen using his paintbrush as a cigar, complete with smoke rings. There is the aforementioned ghost, a witch and even the devil are the subject of some of the paintings. Fortunately, even though it is an art gallery, I didn't spot any nudes among the collection. I can't say the same for any of the Steam Workshop content, though – as that is created by some of the players, it's outside the scope of this review.

    The Steam version includes all of the puzzles. Although the Android and iOS versions are free, each separate chapter isn't included and must be purchased separately. The full version can be purchased from the App Store or Google Play for $2.99 though, so if you're looking for a way to get the entire game, this is the most economical way to do so. The game also is available on Amazon, for those that use Kindles, and is completely free for Amazon Prime members.

    Paint it Back is a fun puzzle game that brings a familiar favorite to the computer screen. Those who enjoy logic puzzles will get a kick out of these challenges as well – especially while they create amusing pictures at the same time. Although it does have its flaws, the puzzles in the game are very well done. A free demo is available on Steam, and if you want more of these types of puzzles, do a search for Conceptis, Ltd.

  • Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: November 2, 2017
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this title to review!

    Lightwood Games specializes in puzzle games and Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure is their latest entry. In this game you’ll need to help Phil develop one-hundred of his pictures taken from around the world. The pictures range in size and complexity and some of them are up to one-hundred squares wide. Some of the pixel art photos are truly stunning in the end. The problem is that it takes a lot of time and patience to see them come to fruition. One of the puzzles took me an hour and a half to complete! Thankfully, you can close out and resume where you left off if needed.

    Fill-A-Pix is a combination of Picross and Minesweeper. On the puzzle board, you’ll see lots of numbers and they represent the total of squares in a nine block radius that must be shaded in. For example, if you see a zero, you can shade it along with all of the surrounding squares in gray. On the flip side, a number nine will need a majority of the blocks filled in with black. Since these photos are monochrome, you will only need to color them black or gray.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One hundred puzzles that will take some time to complete
    Weak Points: Rather pricey in comparison to puzzle books you can pick up at a dollar store
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and gambling references


    You can fill in the blocks square by square, or you can switch to a wider radius mode which will auto fill in sections if the majority is already solved. While the wider radius is supposed to save time, I didn’t find it very helpful and stuck with the single cursor mode.

    Like many puzzles, there is a chance of messing up. Thankfully, the nearby numbers will turn red if a box is shaded incorrectly. You can also do an error check at any time and it will let you know how many mistakes there are and give you the option to automatically fix them if desired.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

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

    There’s plenty of variety in puzzle types and sizes. The locations range from Africa, Australia, Egypt, England, France, Italy, Japan, Las Vegas, Mexico, and Russia. A couple of the pictures have gambling and alcohol references but this game is still suitable for puzzle lovers of all ages.

    The background music is calming and the sound effects are serviceable. If you don’t like either, they can be disabled in the options menu. The visuals are good and some of the pictures look really well done while others are merely okay. I like the art style for Phil.

    In the end, this is a good game for puzzle lovers. It’s a decent way to kill time, but there are more entertaining games for $7.99. There are plenty of puzzle books available at the dollar store but they are one time use. When it comes to replayability in Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure, you can try to re-do a picture quicker than you did before. Puzzle books won’t keep track of your completion time for you.

  • Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: July 12, 2018
    Available on: 3DS, Switch, Vita
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone for Alcohol reference
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this title to review!

    Last year we reviewed Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix on the 3DS. Since then, twenty more puzzles have been added to the base game and a $3.99 USA Road Trip DLC has been released. Switch and Vita owners can now join in on the puzzle solving fun. In this game you’ll need to help Phil develop one hundred and twenty of his pictures taken from around the world. The pictures range in size and complexity and some of them are up to one hundred squares wide. Some of the pixel art photos are truly stunning in the end. The problem is that it takes a lot of time and patience to see them come to fruition. One of the puzzles took me an hour and a half to complete! Thankfully, you can close out and resume where you left off if needed.

    Fill-a-Pix is a combination of Picross and Minesweeper. On the puzzle board, you’ll see lots of numbers and they represent the total squares in a nine block radius that must be shaded in. For example, if you see a zero, you can shade it along with all of the surrounding squares in gray. On the flip side, a number nine will need a majority of the blocks filled in with black. Since these photos are monochrome, you will only need to color them black or gray.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One hundred and twenty puzzles that will take some time to complete
    Weak Points: It’s easy to accidentally fix a puzzle and lose the gold border completion bonus
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and gambling references

    You can fill in the blocks square by square, or you can switch to a wider radius mode which will auto fill in sections if the majority is already solved. While the wider radius is supposed to save time, I didn’t find it very helpful and stuck with the single cursor mode.

    Like many puzzles, there is a chance of messing up. Thankfully, the nearby numbers will turn red if a box is shaded incorrectly. You can also do an error check at any time and it will let you know how many mistakes there are and give you the option to automatically fix them if desired. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I accidentally “fixed” many of the puzzles and lost out on the chance of getting a golden border around the completed picture as a result.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

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

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

    There’s plenty of variety in puzzle types and sizes. The locations range from Africa, Australia, China, Egypt, England, France, Italy, Japan, Las Vegas, Mexico, and Russia. A couple of the pictures have gambling and alcohol references but this game is still suitable for puzzle lovers of all ages.

    The background music is calming and the sound effects are serviceable. If you don’t like either, they can be disabled in the options menu. The visuals are good and some of the pictures look really well done while others are merely okay. I like the art style for Phil.

    In the end, this is a good game for puzzle lovers. It’s a decent way to kill time, but there are more entertaining games for $7.99. There are plenty of puzzle books available at the dollar store but they are one time use. When it comes to replayability in Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure, you can try to re-do a picture quicker than you did before. Puzzle books won’t keep track of your completion time for you.

  • Pic-a-Pix Classic (Vita)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-a-Pix Classic
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood games
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Release date: February 26, 2019
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code!

    Now that the Vita is discontinued, I doubt we’ll have the opportunity to review any more games for it. I’ve really enjoyed the Vita and the portable gaming entertainment it has provided. The puzzle offerings from Lightwood Games have kept me entertained in doctor office waiting rooms and in rollercoaster lines at theme parks. My kids enjoy these games, and they’re fun for people of all ages.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic offers one hundred and fifty puzzles ranging from 5x5 simple puzzles to more challenging 30x20 grids. Each puzzle is only one color that’s randomly chosen every time you begin. If you’re familiar with Picross, Nonogram, Griddlers, or Hanjie puzzles then you’ll know how to play this game. If you’re new to this style of puzzle game you’ll quickly learn that the concept is simple but mastering it takes some time. The goal is to fill in the correct pixels using the vertical and horizontal clues provided.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 150 puzzles of various sizes/difficulties to complete; cross-buy between PS4 and Vita systems
    Weak Points: Some of the pictures are not very clear as to what they are; it’s too easy to have the puzzle errors automatically fixed
    Moral Warnings: None

    If you’re new to Picross games, I highly recommend starting off with the 5x5 puzzles to get the hang of it. There are only five puzzles of that size so be prepared for bigger and better challenges. Your record time is recorded for each of these puzzles and the 5x5 puzzles took me between thirty and forty-five seconds to solve apiece. The 10x10 puzzles took me between one and nearly three minutes. Most of them were solved in less than two minutes though. The 15x15 puzzles took me close to three-and-a-half minutes to complete. A 20x15 puzzle took a little over eight minutes to solve. The next size, 20x20, kept me occupied for a few seconds under ten minutes. The biggest size, 30x20, will really test your eye sight. One of these puzzles took me well over fifteen minutes to complete.

    Once the puzzles are completed, you’ll see the finished pixel art in black and white. Most of the time the images made sense, but a few of them were head scratchers and a bit farfetched in my opinion. I was reminded of when my kids would draw something and I would see what it was after they told me, but not beforehand. On the audio front, the peppy chiptune music is fitting but a bit repetitive.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    The hint system is both a blessing and a curse. It’s helpful to know when there are errors in your puzzle. However, the default action is to fix it automatically and by doing so, you won’t get a medal next to the completed puzzle. On multiple occasions, I have accidentally fixed it when I could have done so manually.

    If you enjoy puzzles and have a Vita or PS4, Pic-a-Pix Classic is worth considering for $7.99. As an added bonus, this title is cross-buy so you can play it on both systems by just purchasing it on one platform. If you’re looking for other portable puzzle titles, Lightwood Games has several offerings on 3DS and Switch.

  • Pic-a-Pix Classic 2 (Vita)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-a-Pix Classic 2
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood games
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Release date: November 26, 2019
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code!

    Despite the Vita being discontinued, Lightwood Games is one of the few companies still releasing titles for it. For that we’re thankful! I’ve really enjoyed the Vita and the portable gaming entertainment it has provided. Although the Switch is portable, the Vita fits in my pockets much better! The puzzle offerings from Lightwood Games have kept me entertained in doctor office waiting rooms and in rollercoaster lines at theme parks. My kids enjoy these games, and they’re fun for people of all ages.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic 2 offers one hundred and fifty puzzles ranging from 15x15 simple puzzles to more challenging 30x20 grids. Each puzzle is only one color that’s randomly chosen every time you begin. If you’re familiar with Picross, Nonogram, Griddlers, or Hanjie puzzles then you’ll know how to play this game. If you’re new to this style of puzzle game, you’ll quickly learn that the concept is simple but mastering it takes some time. The goal is to fill in the correct pixels using the vertical and horizontal clues provided.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 150 puzzles of various sizes/difficulties to complete; cross-buy between PS4 and Vita systems
    Weak Points: Some of the pictures are not very clear as to what they are; it’s too easy to have the puzzle errors automatically fixed
    Moral Warnings: None

    If you’re new to Picross games, I highly recommend starting off with the previous game as it has even smaller puzzles to start with. The 15x15 puzzles in this title will still help you get the hang of it. Your record time is recorded for each of these puzzles and the 15x15 puzzles took me three to six minutes to solve apiece. The 20x15 puzzles took me roughly five minutes. The 20x20 puzzles took me over eight minutes to complete. A 30x20 puzzle took a little over twelve minutes for me to solve.

    Once the puzzles are completed, you’ll see the finished pixel art in black and white. Most of the time the images made sense, but a few of them were head-scratchers and a bit far-fetched in my opinion. I’m glad I’m not on a game show where I would have to guess what the images are beforehand.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    The hint system is both a blessing and a curse. It’s helpful to know when there are errors in your puzzle. However, the default action is to fix it automatically and by doing so, you won’t get a medal next to the completed puzzle. On multiple occasions, I have accidentally fixed it when I could have done so manually. Out of all of my puzzles, only one has a gold medal on it.

    If you enjoy puzzles and have a Vita or PS4, Pic-a-Pix Classic is worth considering for $7.99. As an added bonus, this title is cross-buy so you can play it on both systems by just purchasing it on one platform. If you’re looking for other portable puzzle titles, Lightwood Games has several offerings on 3DS and Switch.

  • Pic-A-Pix Color (3DS)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-A-Pix Color
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: April 13, 2017
    Available on: 3DS, Wii U
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $5.00

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this game to review!

    Lightwood Games specializes in puzzle games and we have previously reviewed their Sudoku and Word Find titles. Pic-A-Pix Color is available on both the 3DS and Wii U. I opted to play the 3DS version for its portability and convenience. The puzzles in this title are designed by Conceptis ltd.

    If you’re familiar with Picross, Nonogram, Griddlers, or Hanjie puzzles then you’ll know how to play this game. If you’re new to this style of puzzle games you’ll quickly learn that the concept is simple but mastering it takes some time. The goal is to fill in the correct pixels using the vertical and horizontal clues provided. As the title states, the one-hundred and fifty puzzles in this game are in color.

    Pic-A-Pix Color
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of fun and challenging puzzles to solve
    Weak Points: In-app purchases
    Moral Warnings: The only magic in this game is a picture of a rabbit coming out of a hat

    Since I haven’t played Picross, this was a relatively new experience for me. I like how the puzzles start off with easier 5x5 grids and gradually move up to 10X10, 15X15, 20X15, and then 20X20. Make sure you're wearing your glasses if needed for the 20X20 puzzles as the 3DS’ screen is at its limit there.

    Not only does the complexity change, but the number of colors used do so as well. You’re given the number of colored pixels to use in each row and column, but figuring out the placement is on you. If you want to double check your work, you can use the magnifying glass icon to point out any errors. If any mistakes are found, you can have the game automatically remove them, but this will remove the option for a gold medal upon completion. The time spent solving the puzzle is recorded if you want to try and beat your previous performance.

    Pic-A-Pix Color
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    When the correct pixels are filled in, the clues are usually blanked out as a result. This doesn’t happen on all of the puzzles though and the developer is aware of this and hopes to rectify it in the future. Other than that minor glitch, I experienced no problems playing this game.

    Since we’re working with pixel art, don’t expect the finished puzzles to look photorealistic. The less your hopes are, the better. Upon completion, the solved puzzles do resemble what they’re supposed to. The background music fits into the retro theme with its chiptune style.

    Pic-A-Pix Color is very fun and it’s a great game to pick up and play anytime. If the one-hundred and fifty puzzles are not enough you can buy more packs for $1.99 apiece. The packs are sold in bundles that feature a variety of set sizes and includes an additional 30-45 puzzles for the reasonable asking price. Be sure to lock down your 3DS’ eShop access before letting a child play this title.

  • Pic-A-Pix Color 2 (Vita)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-A-Pix Color 2
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: July 9, 2019
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Single-Player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this game to review!

    A couple of years ago I played and reviewed Pic-A-Pix Color on the 3DS. Back then, it was available for both the Wii U and the 3DS by purchasing either version. The cross buy feature applies to this title as well and it’s available for both the PS4 and the Vita.

    If you’re familiar with Picross, Nonogram, Griddlers, or Hanjie puzzles then you’ll know how to play this game. If you’re new to this style of puzzle game you’ll quickly learn that the concept is simple but mastering it takes some time. The goal is to fill in the correct pixels using the vertical and horizontal clues provided. As the title states, the one-hundred and fifty puzzles in this game are in color.

    Pic-A-Pix Color 2
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lots of new fun and challenging puzzles to solve; cross buy
    Weak Points: The bigger grids are hard to read on the Vita’s screen
    Moral Warnings: The only magic in this game is a picture of a rabbit coming out of a hat

    The previous game has 5X5 puzzles, but this entry starts with 10X10 grids and gradually moves up to 15X15, 20X15, and then 20X20. Make sure you're wearing your glasses if needed for the 20X20 puzzles as the Vita’s screen is at its limit there. The PS4 would be better suited for these puzzles, but there is no cloud save feature.

    Not only does the complexity change, but the number of colors used does as well. You’re given the number of colored pixels to use in each row and column, but figuring out the placement is on you. If you want to double check your work, you can use the magnifying glass icon to point out any errors. If any mistakes are found, you can have the game automatically remove them, but this will remove the option for a gold medal upon completion. The time spent solving the puzzle is recorded if you want to try and beat your previous performance.

    Pic-A-Pix Color 2
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

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

    Since we’re working with pixel art, don’t expect the finished puzzles to look photorealistic. The less your hopes are, the better. Upon completion, the solved puzzles usually resemble what they’re supposed to. The San Francisco one was a bit of a stretch in my opinion. The background music fits into the retro theme with its chiptune style. I’m quite sure I’ve heard it in a another Lightwood Games title before though.

    Pic-A-Pix Color 2 is quite fun and it’s a great game to pick up and play anytime. The portability of the Vita is great and that’s my preferred platform of the two. Though the asking price is $7.99, I have seen it as low as $3.99 on the PlayStation store. If you enjoyed the first game and are looking for more, you won’t be disappointed with the sequel.

  • Pic-a-Pix Deluxe (Switch)

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-a-Pix Deluxe
    Developed By: Lightwood Games
    Published By: Lightwood Games
    Released: Jan 04, 2018
    Available On: 3ds, Nintendo Switch, Wii U
    Genre: Puzzles, Multiplayer, Party, Education
    ESRB Rating: Everyone for Digital Purchases
    Number of Players: up to 4 Players
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you to Lightwood Games for giving me a review copy!

    Picross games have always been one of my favorite games to play. I love the puzzles, that you use logic to solve them (no guessing), and seeing the picture after I have solved a puzzle. On the Nintendo Switch there is only one other game called PICROSS, which has the same type of puzzles. I am glad that another developer took a shot at making this puzzle, picture type of game. Pic-a-Pix Deluxe was released on the WII U, and 3ds beforehand. Now the game makes its way to the Nintendo Switch with some extra features and all new puzzles.

    The core game is to fill in the correct pixels using the clues along the vertical and horizontal columns. You will use your controller to select what color and where to fill in that color. There are numbers lined vertically and horizontally that give hints to find exactly where to fill in a pixel. A cool feature in the Switch version is that you can play the game with up to four people! This adds to the fun, as having your kids help fill in the pixels, and helping solve the puzzles, adds a new dynamic, rather than just figuring it out yourself. In fact, most of the puzzles I solved, I wanted the help of my family as we enjoyed trying to guess what the picture would be.

    Pic-a-Pix Deluxe
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Easy pick up and play, lots of fun puzzles to solve
    Weak Points: In app purchases to get more puzzles!
    Moral Warnings: Nothing here!

    There are a 150 color puzzles and it comes with an add on pack of another 150 black and white puzzles. They range from easy, like a 5x5 grid puzzle, up to a 35x25 grid puzzle. The difficulty curve is excellent as it provides the right challenge at the right time. You never really feel that you cannot complete a level. If you get stuck you can check if you have errors and then the game will remove them for you. Using that feature means you will not earn a gold medal on the puzzle, as you got some help. You can always redo the puzzle without help to earn that gold medal. Each puzzle is timed and will record your best time. When the correct pixels are filled in then the corresponding clues are blanked out. This helps you stay focused and make sure you're doing the puzzle correctly.

    There were no glitches that I experienced, and it looked good whether it was docked (playing on the T.V.) or in handheld mode. You can also use the touch screen on the Switch to fill in the puzzle if you do not want to use the controller. I recommend on the huge, 35x25 puzzles, to play on your T.V., as it will give you more screen to see and you will not have to zoom all over the place.

    Pic-a-Pix Deluxe
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    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

     

    The graphics use pixel art, so do not expect the pictures to look like they do in real life. You can usually recognize what the picture is before they label it. The chiptune music fits with the pixel art, though I felt that it could have used more songs, as I believe there is only one right now. The developer also added in a save mode, so if you’re in the middle of a puzzle and must stop, you can save your progress, which is a great feature. There will also be more puzzles added, as DLC. On the Switch you must enter the password to access the eShop, so you don’t have to worry about kids randomly purchasing puzzle packs.

    Pic-a-Pix is a good picture, puzzle game. I wish there were more puzzles out of the box, because I really enjoy this type of puzzle game. It is an affordable game at only $7.99 for three hundred puzzles, with the promise of more to come.

  • Pic-a-Pix Pieces (Switch)

     

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-a-Pix Pieces
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Vita
    Release date: January 3, 2019
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Up to four players
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code!

    We have reviewed several Picross type titles from Lightwood Games and what sets Pic-a-Pix Pieces apart from the others is that you’re solving fragments of a picture that won’t make much sense by themselves. After you solve a couple of the pieces you’ll get a vague idea of what the image is and once it’s completely solved, you’ll be rewarded for your patience with nicely detailed pixel art.

    You’ll be timed on how long it takes to solve each fragment and for how long it took to complete the whole picture. If you don’t spam the error checking or fixing capabilities you’ll see a gold medal by each fragment. You can solve the puzzles by yourself or recruit up to three nearby friends to assist you.

    Pic-a-Pix Pieces
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Good variety of short and long puzzles to complete; colorblind mode
    Weak Points: You can spend more money on DLC than the base game
    Moral Warnings:None

    Each of the puzzles has a few colors and is on a grid with numbers on the top and left-hand side. The numbers are on colored boxes that represent how many squares of that color need to be filled in. By using the information on the top and left-hand side you’ll have a pretty good idea where you need to start filling in but it won’t always be obvious. The error-checking feature is helpful to know if you’re on the right track or not. It’s easy to undo a mistake but you can have the game fix it for you if you can’t backtrack from memory.

    There are over three hundred puzzle grids to solve and the completed pictures range from six to twenty-four pieces. The smaller grids only take a couple of minutes to complete with the whole picture being revealed in less than fifteen minutes while the biggest size took me nearly five hours and twenty minutes to complete!

    If you’re itching for more puzzles to solve there are a few DLC packs available for $2.99 apiece. Each DLC pack provides forty-eight more grids to complete in 15X15 or 20X20 configurations.

    Pic-a-Pix Pieces
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    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

    The pixel art is nicely done and it’s neat to see how good they look with only a few colors. I like how there’s a customizable colorblind feature to make the game more accessible to that audience.

    The background music is peppy and good enough to cause my children to hum it while I was playing near them. For the longer puzzles, I found it repetitive and often muted it.

    Though these puzzles are entertaining in short spurts, I tended to get drowsy after completing several longer ones back to back. This is a great game for plane rides and doctor visits. I did not notice any objectionable content and recommend this game for puzzle loving kids and adults. If you’re unsure, check out the free demo. The full version of the game includes the demo puzzles as extra content.

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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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