Tag Archives: puzzle

Pokemon Picross [3DS eShop] – Review

Pokemon Picross

I’m disappointed with Pokémon Picross. Or rather, I’m disappointed in my expectations for the game. When it was announced in a recent Nintendo Direct, it was fully detailed as a “free-to-start” title: a game I’d be able to download and play for free. Presumably, there’d be some reason to coerce me to input money, but I didn’t ruminate on that or the potential pitfalls associated with the game’s payment model further. My lust for a new Picross game caused blinders to go up, especially considering this was a new one thematically designed around Pokémon. A peanut butter and jelly combination if I’d ever heard one! Having spent some time with the game, I’ve come back down and am firmly grounded in reality.

Nintendo’s Picross games are logic-based puzzlers that task players with filling in a gridded square using numerical hints on each row and column, ultimately revealing a picture. The numbers bordering each row and column indicate how many squares are to be filled in and if they’re connected or contain an unknown space of unmarked squares between them. Using deductive reasoning, one can determine that if a row of 10 squares has a hint of 8, a certain number of squares must be filled in, regardless of where the filled in section begins and ends. Extrapolating this thinking across the entire grid and utilizing squares that have already been filled in is an addictive process with a satisfying sense of completion when complete, especially on the larger puzzles.

Pokémon Picross takes that standard concept and applies some of the mechanics from the Pokémon series. The puzzles themselves are representative of individual Pokémon that when complete, result in catching said creature. They each have an ability that aids in the completion of puzzles by filling in squares, slowing time, etc. This mechanic ties into another new addition, rewards for completing specific objectives for each puzzle. Each puzzle has a set of unique objectives, such as set Pokémon X or use ability Y. Rewards for completing these were generally Picrites, the in-game currency.

Pokemon Picross - Pikachu
A Pikachu puzzle in progress, nearly there!

Mega Puzzles make a return after their debut in the digital only Picross e titles, although they’re completely foreign to me. I skipped out on those digital titles not thinking they contained much content (I was wrong, rectifying that mistake… now) but they make total sense in a Pokémon themed game, considering Mega Evolutions are the new “thing” for that series. Basically, they screw with the hints given and instead combine two rows/columns. Even after going through the tutorial a time or two, I had to wrack my brain to comprehend them. They add a nice change of pace, but are nowhere near as progressive as Picross 3D.

Progression is also portrayed differently, although is structurally similar to previous Picross games. Players navigate the game from puzzle to puzzle as if navigating the varying routes in a Pokémon game, complete with branching paths and different creatures. The difficulty pacing is all over the place, which for a veteran like me is appreciated. While it could be a hindrance for someone unfamiliar with the series (and I could see many newcomers coming for the Pokémon side of the equation), it also further replicates the progression of a standard Pokémon game, e.g. having to return to some cave with stronger Pokémon. Reaching new areas is no small feat and the barriers are twofold: energy and Picrites.

Pokemon Picross - Pikachu Capture
And the completed puzzle results in a new Pokemon added to the collection.

I originally wanted to start this section off discussing one of these mechanics as the lesser of two evils, but they’re both pretty mischievous, but ultimately boil down to one annoyance. Like many free-to-play games, this one utilizes an energy meter. As squares of puzzles are filled in, that meter depletes until it’s empty, halting progress until it’s refilled. The easiest way is to wait for it to refill; this can take a couple of hours and for the player in need of a fix, the quickest way is to refill it (or extend it altogether) with Picrites. As mentioned, Picrites are the in-game currency and are awarded for the completion of puzzles and the completion of objectives. They are doled out in laughable quantities in relation to the amount needed to unlock additional areas and upgrades, heck even an alternate set of puzzles are gated behind a hefty sum of Picrites. The only logical solution is to pony up real money.

This is a free-to-play game (and the core game is damn fine!) but convincing myself to plug in more than a couple of bucks is a tough sell. Admittedly, I’m still one of those luddites who prefer physical media and getting something I can hold in my hands in return. And I understand that many individuals worked on this game and there are plenty of stakeholders who deserve a cut. But, the portrayal of this game as free-to-play is somewhat devious. The amount of Picrites awarded in relation to the tally needed to unlock additional stages is prohibitively high and at some point, progression is gated behind a measly few puzzles that can be farmed each day.

Labels and payment models shouldn’t conjure this much ill will, and I’m perhaps going overboard here, but I would’ve rather seen Nintendo strip away the free-to-play elements and just market a full-price digital title. Obviously they didn’t go that route and I’m sure there’s plenty of evidence to suggest they’d reach more players, and ultimately yield more revenue by adopting the model they went with. And with that “realization” this article has devolved into a codgerly rant about the evolving sales pitch of video games. The kicker is that if you pump in about thirty bucks, all of these elements I’ve whined about go away. I don’t think I’m going to though because I’ve still got a chip on my shoulder on how they marketed this game! The more I write, the more I’m coming off as an entitled asshole, even to myself. So while I’d fit in great in an internet comments section, I’m going to wrap things up here! This is a great game, just go into it with better expectations than me.

You Must Build a Boat [Android] – Review

Well then, if I must.
Well then, if I must.

You Must Build a Boat had me addicted like no other for the better part of a month. The puzzle/role-playing game is the sequel to 10000000, which I knew much of but unfortunately, ignored. In hindsight, that may have been a boon as this game only amplifies the concepts of that game, and may have worn out its welcome if I just played 10000000. Both games are match-three style puzzlers designed around brief gameplay sessions. However, they incorporate RPG mechanics coaxing long-term play and activating acute pleasure centers in my brain.

Notice the division of the screen.
Notice the division of the screen.

When I first started the game, my avatar was on a raft looking vessel with a couple other dudes. Very quickly, they informed my character that his mission was to, yep, build a boat! At this point the game transitioned to what would become a very familiar screen over the next half-dozen hours. The top twenty percent featured my explorer in a dungeon. He would run through dungeons encountering enemies, traps, and treasure chests. The bottom twenty percent consisted of the tiles that I would match by swiping columns up or down and rows left and right. Matched icons would cause my adventurer to react correspondingly. If I matched key tiles, he’d unlock a treasure chest. Likewise, if I matched swords or staves, he’d attack physically or with magic.

Each run of a dungeon would end when my character reached the edge of the screen. I had to react quickly enough to his obstacles as the screen never stopped scrolling, even if he did. When it eventually did, I would arrive back on the ever-expanding boat with a constantly growing staff. Back here, I could spend the coin I’d accumulated and increase the effectiveness of the tiles, recruit monsters for permanent stat boosts, and much more. The tile-matching was very responsive to my touch and fun in itself, but coupled with the sort of gameplay loop found in an RPG and then consolidated into a six hour experience instead of a sixty-hour experience and this wound up being a game I could hardly put down.

Lots of swords here.
Lots of swords here.

Now that I’ve completed it though, I don’t feel like going back. Or rather, I have and don’t want to repeat the cycle from square one. Upon completion it prompts to start at the beginning albeit with a stiffer challenge. I haven’t found that sufficient motivation to begin anew, although I am picking it every now and then; I’m just putting it down much easier. Nonetheless, I spent roughly seven hours with it on my first go-around and I could’ve probably done that all at once. Excluding the grinding I did at the very end. That grew tedious. Other than that fact, this game is well-worth the paltry asking price.

Portal [PC] – Review

Portal

I’m a little late to the party on this one but I finally beat Portal. It’s an ingenious puzzle game that doesn’t overstay its welcome. In fact, I was befuddled that it was over as quickly as it was. Since I’d heard so much revelry and acclaim for it and witnessed the cultural impact it’d had in the gaming space I just figured there’d be more of it. What was there engrossed me though. The increasingly complex puzzles were mentally stimulating and the enigmatic GlaDOS’ darkly humorous speech had me chuckling well into the few hour experience.

Portal was a puzzle game with an ingenious mechanic.
Portal was a puzzle game with an ingenious mechanic.

The game is built around the portal gun which allows users to shoot portals on flat surfaces. The portals are connected and can be easily referenced as an entry and exit. At its most basic use, I could place a portal on ground level, shoot the other portal on a wall above a higher level and use the portal to reach higher ground without using a ladder. Through the game’s nineteen test chambers, the quandaries were rarely this simplistic. The way I had to manipulate the portals was fascinating and thought-provoking. Dropping into one and utilizing the momentum to fling myself across the room was always amazing.

As I mentioned the game has nineteen test chambers that lock progression behind increasingly difficult puzzles. There are no other lifeforms present although observation windows and empty chairs indicate there were at some point. Guiding the player through these chambers is GlaDOS, a disembodied mechanical female voice. Her statements are delivered with a sense of dry, deadpan seriousness that are made clear when her motivations are discovered. Things are not what they seem and while there is no narrative, there’s an abundance of environmental storytelling that allows the player to fill in the gaps themselves. It all culminates in an appropriate ending sequence that was riddled with GlaDOS’ hilarious interruptions.

Infinite portal loops were easy to do and fun to witness.
Infinite portal loops were easy to do and fun to witness.

For most I’ve probably revealed nothing new about this game. Portal sent shockwaves through the gaming culture when it arrived in 2007 as a part of The Orange Box and is still highly regarded and oft-discussed. I’m glad to have finally experienced it and would recommend it to those who have yet to do so. The game was brief but left me both fulfilled and wanting, in a good way. I can only imagine the impact the modding community had on this title and I’m excited to see the crazy stuff they came up with.

Zoo Keeper [Nintendo DS] – Review

Zoo Keeper

Zoo Keeper is a game that has intrigued me since the early days of the Nintendo DS. In North America, it was the first game to release outside of the system’s launch window. A launch window that was a veritable drought – after the system’s November 21, 2004 launch, there weren’t any releases until this January 18, 2005 title. Even then, I don’t recall there being an actual noteworthy release until June 14, 2005 – Kirby: Canvas Curse. My curiosity in this game shouldn’t be construed as a belief in its quality either; after ten years of thinking about it, I refrained from hyping myself up for it which was a good call, as it’s merely a basic match-three puzzle game.

You crazy lion.
You crazy lion.

There are a handful of modes available to play, each a variation on the familiar match-three gameplay present in many like puzzle games. The quest mode in particular is quite ingenuitive. It’s not a beefy affair however, nor is there a lengthy distraction present. The drive for high scores or killing time would have to be one’s long-range motivator with this game. Fortunately, the underlying gameplay is solid and enjoyable. Bearing in mind that this released a year or two before the dawn of the App Store, this was a predecessor of sorts to the touch-controlled match-three games that are a deluge now. I wouldn’t say it’s particularly progressive in what it is – it’s just a basic, solid puzzle game that incorporated touch controls well.

The scoring in quest mode was unlike anything I've seen.
The scoring in quest mode was unlike anything I’ve seen.

It’s worth noting that I have played an Android version of Zoo Keeper in my ten year quest to experience this version. A year or so ago I downloaded a multiplayer focused version and had little more than a passing session with it. That says nothing of its quality and perhaps everything with my desire to abstain and experience the Nintendo DS game fresh. Ironically, I wound up not spending too much time with it either – no more than a few hours. Again, that says nothing of its quality. As I mentioned before, it’s a basic puzzle game that plays well. It may have curried more favor with me before my exposure to the match-three hell (heaven?) that is mobile gaming. It has a cute art style too.

The Room Two [Android] – Snapshot Review

The Room Two

The Room Two picks up right where its predecessor left off, at least, I think so. Both games present a story in the form of handwritten notes that I typically found to be incomprehensible. Still, the core gameplay was rock solid and tested my deductive skills rather than my patience. From the first-person perspective, I toyed around with all objects I could interact with in a set of rooms. Everything was a puzzle and when I solved them seamlessly, I felt much satisfaction. When I couldn’t, the hint system came into play and when I relied upon it, I found I simply failed in exploring my boundaries – there weren’t many illogical solutions. The Room Two is a meaningful timewaster that continues in the tradition of the original.

Random Game #10 – Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure [Nintendo DS]

Henry Hatsworth and the Puzzling AdventureWhen you have a video game collection like mine, it can be hard to play all of the games. This is especially true when additions are made on an almost weekly basis. Still, I appreciate nearly every game I’ve accumulated for this reason or that. In the hopes of improving my writing through continuous effort and promoting ongoing learning of these games, I’m going to compose brief, descriptive articles.

Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure is a deceptively charming game. One part platformer, one part tile-matcher, all parts difficult! Players navigate the upstanding British adventurer on his quest to attain a golden suit in standard action-platformer fare. Jumping around and attacking enemies is the name of the game. This is all relegated to the top screen however; the key differentiating feature is the tile-matching game that takes place on the bottom screen. Players must switch between both screens to stay alive, and gain power-ups in order to survive and excel. That gets tough too as the game’s difficulty curve eventually skyrockets. It was too much for me to bear and it remains unfinished. It’s a well-crafted and unique game nonetheless.

The developer might come as a surprise to some: EA Tiburon – the Madden NFL studio. The figureheads behind the game broke out and formed their own company afterwards – DreamRift. It was published by EA Games in North America on the Nintendo DS on March 17, 2009.

Pokemon Trozei! [Nintendo DS] – Review

Pokemon Trozei!Pokémon Trozei! is a game I’ve wanted to play for many years. This comes naturally as I’m a fan of the franchise and puzzle games, in general. Even more so with it being a Nintendo DS game, meaning it was well-suited for bedtime play. I finally encountered a copy of the game for a fair price not too long ago, and have recently completed the single player campaign. It was a brief playthrough, but I found it to be a solid matching puzzle game with a unique style, all its own.

Each gameplay field was limited to less than a dozen Pokémon.
Each gameplay field was limited to less than a dozen Pokemon.

The game followed the exploits of Lucy Fleetfoot – a secret agent intent on rescuing stolen Pokémon. Following the guidance of her commanding officer and equipped with the Trozei Beamer, Lucy was able to track down storage units containing stolen Pokémon, and transfer them to a safe place. Her Trozei Beamer allowed her to see what Pokémon were in the Poké Balls, and when four or more like Pokémon were lined up, safely export them. In gameplay terms, this translated to sliding rows and columns of Pokémon icons around on the touch screen.

Games like this are usually noted as match-three, but this one started off like a match-four, requiring me to match four like Pokémon. But, once a row or column (no diagonal matching) of four Pokémon was matched, a Trozei Chance would happen. When this occurred, the requirements were lessened so I could match three like Pokémon, and if I was successful again, I was able to match pairs. Almost always, this resulted in large chains, clearing most of the Pokémon from the play field. The columns would plummet quickly, and the half-second I still had to line up multiples was ample time to react.

The campaign was void of story beyond the initial setup, although Lucy would do battle with bosses of the rival organization. In these instances, they spouted quick diatribes regarding Lucy’s cause and promoted their nefarious intentions. These quick little segments highlighted the unique art style of the game, which didn’t truly shine in the gameplay. The Pokémon icons were cool too, and highly distinguishable (to a fan like me, at least) but the character designs were evocative of 1960s spy cartoons, circa Nickelodeon during the 1990s.

Lucy Fleetfoot herself.
Lucy Fleetfoot herself.

It took me roughly three hours to complete Pokémon Trozei! and of that time, nearly an hour was spent battling the final boss. I didn’t spend any time with the multiplayer, but it seems like it’d be fun and that there’s some variation in the available modes; plus, it’s has single-card play which is always awesome. There’s a Pokédex of sorts to complete in-game, but it’s nothing more than a listing of the Pokémon, which totaled about 380 when this game was released. I didn’t find it incentivizing, personally. Still, I did enjoy the basic gameplay the game offered. It provided a unique take on the match-three formula and the implantation of the touch screen was perfect.