Tag Archives: puzzle games

Manifold Garden Is A Puzzle Game About Infinity, No Big Deal

Video games are quite fond of the work of M.C. Escher—you’ll see his influence in the mundane labyrinths of Control, the disorienting symmetry of the stealth game Echo, or in the clever puzzles of games like Monument Valley and echochrome. You can now add Manifold Garden to that list. And, like those other games, it’s pretty damn great.

Out today on Apple Arcade and the Epic Games Store, Manifold Garden is a minimalist puzzle game played from a first-person perspective. You begin in a plain room, and after a spare tutorial teaches you the basics of movement, you’re set loose to wander through a mind-bending maze of stairs, corridors, and strange rooms full of machines made almost entirely of right angles.

Manifold Garden’s most disorienting trick is that you can flip gravity by hitting a button whenever you’re facing a flat surface. That surface is your floor now. It doesn’t take as long as you might think to wrap your head around, largely thanks to some clever design—while the rooms and corridors of Manifold Garden have a muted color palette approaching monochrome, they actually have a color assigned to them that you can’t see from afar but fades in as you get closer. So an off-white wall will move towards violet as you get closer and become full-on purple once you trigger your gravity flip and have its surface beneath you. It does a lot to keep you from losing your damn mind.

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Like a lot of clever puzzle games, Manifold Garden teaches you how it world works through play. It’ll present you with colored cubes for opening doors, and then in a later room show you a keyhole that you need to flip gravity to get to. But once you do that, you learn another rule: You can only pick up cubes when standing on a surface that matches their color.

Manifold Garden’s simple, aesthetically pleasing design makes it soothing to play through, even if it is often dizzying. Its world is infinite; you are surrounded by countless copies of the structure you are navigating, suspended in an endless void. If you leap off the edge of a platform, you will fall forever, continually passing the ledge you jumped from until momentum carries you back to where you started. It’s a trip, man.

I like to think Escher was a game designer born too soon, fascinated with the strict rules of mathematics and how they can be followed into a maze of the nonsensical. That’s what games are, sometimes—bewildering towers erected from rigid code, somehow folding together to form a thing that seems to defy simple logic.

You should play Manifold Garden, but perhaps not on a smartphone. You can’t get a good look at infinity on a screen that small. 

Source: Kotaku.com

Felix The Reaper Is A Tender Puzzle Game About Gruesome Deaths

Felix the Reaper is a puzzle game described by developer Kong Orange as a “romantic comedy about the life of Death.” That’s a pretty apt description, but here’s my crack: Final Destination meets Crypt of the Necrodancer (minus the rhythm element). The game, coming to consoles and PC October 17, bursts with wit and care in its puzzling, presentation, and even its tongue-in-cheek loading screens. Felix the Reaper’s story and simple showmanship elevate a decent puzzle game to something worth picking up.

Felix is a newbie reaper with the Ministry of Death tasked with creating contrived, deadly accidents using objects and creatures around the map. The gameplay takes place on grids that Felix can dance across. Felix must complete his tasks without getting burned by the light of the sun, using the shadows cast by static elements like trees and movable items like rocks to shield him. Felix also has the ability to use a sundial, which shifts the source of the light 90 degrees to change the way the shadows are cast. Elements like switches add to the complexity of the puzzles. The gameplay requires the player to think in perpendiculars and to creatively using objects around the field to manipulate space.

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The puzzles are clever, and there are optional objectives like clearing levels in a certain number of moves to spice things up, but the real heart of Felix the Reaper is its presentation. Felix is a dancing fiend; in his idle animations, he bops around gleefully while listening to headphones. As you move around the maps, he’ll cartwheel and jump and click his heels and do the twist. It is absolutely adorable, and it’s complemented well by the variety of music you can cycle through in each level.

The story is written with the warm, dark slice-of-life comedy of a Grim Fandango. Felix is utterly smitten with Betty the Maiden, who works at the Ministry of Life. This is communicated via charming illustrations of an earnest, infatuated Felix thinking of the voluptuous Betty with his face flushed like a 1930s cartoon character. He may be working at the Ministry of Death only for the chance to bump into her, which his supervisor warns him against. Felix’s comically earnest demeanor in the face of all the dark and occasionally adult themes in the game is deeply endearing.

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There’s a lot of story color in gameplay as well. In addition to menu-screen background information about the history of topics like religion and the Grim Reaper, there are intro scenes at the beginning of each level. In them, mute characters wackily go about their lives in a mixture of slapstick and worldbuilding. The tutorial has you kill your first victim, only for your helpful supervisor to receive an error message that you’ve killed the wrong person, which he brushes under the rug with the level of flustered embarrassment someone might experience committing a faux pas at a fancy dinner party.

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The silliness continues into the idea of death itself. There’s one early level in which you must rig a barrel to roll down a ramp, smash into a house, and knock a hanging deer head onto an unsuspecting person below. He tries to get the head off in panic, attracting the attention of a nearby hunter. You can imagine what happens next.

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Felix the Reaper brims with humorous representations of the macabre as a complex choreography of elements far beyond our control. Paired with the sweet romance of a simple reaper dancing through the afterlife while pining over his bombshell would-be sweetheart, the game uses its tone masterfully. As a puzzle game, it’s pretty good, and as a love story, it’s a little messed up, but that’s the appeal.

Source: Kotaku.com

Catherine: Full Body Adds New Puzzles And Characters But Retains Old Flaws

Catherine: Full Body is a remix of sorts of Catherine, a 2011 puzzle game by Atlus that had strong visual novel elements. Full Body makes some additions to the original’s narrative and gameplay. We’ll discuss the narrative changes more in-depth next week. For now, Full Body’s addition of a new character and some slight changes to the game’s puzzle sections don’t drastically alter the heart of the game, but they do provide more of what people liked about the original.

In the original Catherine, 32-year-old Vincent Brooks faces a life crisis when his longtime girlfriend Katherine McBride brings up the subject of marriage. Vincent then meets Catherine, a suspiciously named blonde bombshell. One morning, he wakes up with Catherine with no idea what happened the previous night. During this time, reports of men dying sudden, gruesome deaths surface, with the apparent running thread being infidelity. The men also reported having strange nightmares before their deaths. Vincent also beings to have nightmares about climbing gigantic towers of blocks—which form the crux of the game’s puzzle element—where it appears a death will cause his death in the real world. Catherine: Full Body brings all of this back with the addition of new puzzles, new scenes for Katherine and Catherine, and an entirely new character: Qatherine. (Sigh.)

Qatherine, an amnesiac who more palatably goes by Rin in the game, turns Vincent’s love triangle into a love square after he rescues her from a stalker in the night. Unlike the pragmatic Katherine and the coquettish Catherine, Rin is bubbly and innocent, relentlessly positive as she tries to regain her memories. She’s seamlessly woven in, to the point where she could have been in the original. That’s partly skill and deliberation on the part of the developers—the new Rin cutscenes and dialogue fit naturally with the existing story of Katherine and Catherine and show a new side of Vincent. It’s also a testament to how convoluted and trope-driven the original story was. Despite its attempts to grapple with questions of gender head-on, some of Catherine’s more sexist and gender essentialist ideas are still given far too much breathing room in Full Body, and the way Vincent is positioned as a white knight for Rin feels gross. Qatherine’s presence genuinely changes the tack and tone of the game, making its pacing feel even more hectic and capturing the deep anxiety and constant juggling that happens when someone cheats on a partner. But while Rin adds a new dimension to the game, it’s still a parade of pulpy gender tropes. New endings try to make the game’s female characters more full people, but Full Body never really escapes Catherine’s flat understanding of gender, love, and lust.

Mechanically, Full Body adds an optional Remix mode to the nightmare puzzle sections. Remix connects some of the nightmares’ blocks in Tetris-like shapes instead of just the normal single blocks. The connected blocks don’t add that much in the way of innovation in the main game, nor does the addition of a mechanic where the sound of Rin’s piano slows falling blocks for you, but the change reminded me how good Catherine’s base puzzling is. There are also a couple challenging new levels to tackle in the main game. The Rapunzel minigame, accessible via an arcade cabinet at the bar that Vincent frequents, returns with new twists as well. Rapunzel gives you limited moves to reach a rope made of the titular character’s hair and progress to the next level. It was a nice change of pace from the more frantic main game in the original Catherine, and it’s even more fun with the Remix gameplay turned on—the new blocks figure very directly into your strategies. Full Body’s mechanical changes will provide a little extra fun for diehard fans of Catherine’s puzzle aspect.

Catherine is a game that insists upon itself, full of campily purring narration, wink-and-nudges, and playful narrative pauses atop the fourth wall. It is very steeped in its own aesthetics and is constantly poking fun at itself. Despite its flaws, Catherine was a solid game, and Full Body is similarly solid. New puzzles and choices to reckon with build on the original’s foundation in ways that aren’t particularly new, and Full Body’s adherence to the original means it carries with it lots of the same narrative problems as its source.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Chill And Challenging Puzzle Game With A Sega Dreamcast Vibe

Sometimes, you look around at games today and say, “Gosh, I need some more Sega Dreamcast vibes.” CROSSNIQ+, a relaxing but challenging puzzle game that exudes late-nineties aesthetics, fills that gap. With a difficult time attack mode and an extremely low-key “chill mode” wrapped in its distinct “Y2K” look, it has something for everyone.

CROSSNIQ+ is a puzzle game by Max Krieger that’s available to play on the PC, Mac, and Linux right now although an enhanced version is coming to consoles like the Nintendo Switch soon. The goal is to realign colored blocks to form a giant cross. Each time you do, you get more time to play and new boxes appear. If you’re a hardcore puzzle game player, CROSSNIQ+ offers curveballs like pieces that lock rows and columns from moving or blocks that give extra points if placed just right. There are individual levels to best and a time attack mode to race for high scores, but if you’re like me, you’ll probably want to luxuriate in the awesome “chill mode,” which allows you to choose special backdrops like a breezy beach and clear tiles at your own pace.

I’m a sucker for anything that reminds me of those bubbly days when the Sega Dreamcast and Playstation 2 were mapping out the boundaries of 3D visuals and console game menus. CROSSNIQ+ embraces the hip, loose feel of those consoles and takes notes from games like Chu Chu Rocket and Rez to create a game that would have felt right at home in 1999. There’s a little bit of WarioWare quirk in there for good measure as well. The result is a puzzle game that, while I’ve hardly even scratched the surface, creates a headspace that I simply want to stay in, whether I’m listening to cute cartoon folks tutorialize me on the game’s finer points or tapping a menu option and getting a lovely bubble pop sound.

I’m a casual puzzle gamer at best, so I really appreciate the variety that CROSSNIQ+ has offered so far. It gives me the aesthetic and feel that I love while allowing me to decide how I want to enjoy my time. Hardcore players can have fun, and folks who need to zone out will sink into its comfortable spaces. It’s a fun tribute to one of gaming’s most distinct eras, and it’s worth checking out if you’re eager for something to scratch that Tetris Effect itch. It will hopefully make the full jump to consoles very soon.

Source: Kotaku.com

The New York Times Has A New Puzzle Game For You To Obsess Over

It’s E3 week, which means it’s time to check in on the latest games from all the hottest game development studios, like the New York Times. That’s not a joke—the New York Times has stepped up its game development efforts in order to support its wildly popular crossword puzzle. Two new games have come from the newspaper’s Games Expansion team over the last year, each offering a different flavor of word game—Spelling Bee and Letter Boxed each challenge players to spell as many words as they can within certain parameters. Tiles, which the Times released this week, is different: It doesn’t involve words at all. It’s brilliant.

A game of Tiles starts with a grid full of intricately patterned tiles. It looks like this.

To play, you click on a tile, and then another tile with at least one similar pattern on it. See the two tiles in the lower half with the pink flower design in their centers? Those would be a good place to start. Click on both, and then the pink flower would disappear, and the last tile you clicked becomes the first tile in your next pair. The goal is to keep the chain going as long as you can, but if you mess up, the game doesn’t end—your current combo just resets. The game continues until all tiles are clear of all designs.

Here’s what it looks like when you’re almost done:

Like a good crossword puzzle, there’s no “winning” a game of Tiles. You just finish one. You can set your own goals if you like—keeping combos going for as long as possible is satisfying, and while I haven’t pulled it off yet, I really want to be able to clear a whole board in one long combo. It’s harder than it seems—Tiles’ limited color palette means that patterns can overlap and fool you into thinking something’s not there when it is—but not so hard that it ever frustrates.

According to Adweek, the Times developed Tiles in response to subscribers looking for a game that would help them “zone out,” and Tiles is extremely good at that. It’s just demanding enough to command your attention fully, but not so demanding that it takes much effort to start playing. Accessible puzzle games are kind of like an open bag of potato chips sitting in front of you when you aren’t even hungry: It’s extremely easy to eat one anyway, and once you have, why not the whole bag?

Unfortunately, you can only play Tiles four times a day for free—after that, you’ll need a subscription to the New York Times’ Crossword section, which is separate from a regular Times subscription. (Seriously, the Times crossword is a big deal.) That’ll run you $6.95/month, or $39.95/year, with a 50 percent discount if you subscribe to the Times for, you know, news. Turns out newspapers are in on the games-as-a-service trend too!

Source: Kotaku.com