Although Sudoku had existed in one form or another since the late 19th century, it didn’t gain in popularity in the United States until the mid 2000s, when it became a feature of practically every newspaper. I was in high school then and devoted crucial time to solving these addictive new logic puzzles instead of paying attention in class, perhaps explaining why I excel at Sudoku but couldn’t tell you much about chemistry… The Nintendo DS was beginning to catch fire around this time as well, after Nintendo realized it could capitalize on an untapped market: the non-gamer. Releases like Brain Age appealed to many demographics and showcased the platform’s unique abilities in handling games such as Sudoku. A wave of software followed and while my experience with Sudoku on the platform is limited I’m nonetheless impressed with Sudoku Gridmaster. Continue reading Sudoku Gridmaster [Nintendo DS] – Review→
I had my first hands-on experience with mahjong a few months ago with Shanghaion the Sega Master System. Having enjoyed it, I scoured my collection for another mahjong game and came across Mahjong Cub3d for the Nintendo 3DS. Developed by Sunsoft and published in the United States by Atlus on October 11, 2011, it’s a Picross 3D styled adaptation of solitaire mahjong. I enjoyed clearing 3D mahjong piles despite a perplexing lack of touch screen controls. When I wanted something more traditional I attempted to solve deviously difficult standard mahjong puzzles. Now that I’ve played this a while, I believe my hunger for mahjong has been filled. Continue reading Mahjong Cub3d [Nintendo 3DS] – Review→
A spin-off of 2013’s Super Mario 3D World, Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker released the following year and expanded upon a series of one-off stages featured in that game. Designed around Captain Toad’s inability to jump and thereby defeat enemies in a traditional Mario way, each stage allowed the designers behind the Mario games to flex their creative muscles within strict gameplay confines. Impressively, they managed to do so across nearly 80 distinct stages, rarely reusing puzzle conceits. Consistently refreshing and stimulating, it was a joy to play. Continue reading Captain Toad: Treasure Tracker [Wii U] – Review→
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 Picrossgames 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 Pokémonseries. 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.
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 Pokémonthemed 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 Pokémongame, 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 Pokémonside of the equation), it also further replicates the progression of a standard Pokémongame, 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.
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 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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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 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.
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.
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.