Tag Archives: puzzles

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.

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

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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?

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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

I Love It When A Puzzle Game Gets Its Difficulty Curve Just Right

Kotaku Game DiaryDaily thoughts from a Kotaku staffer about a game we’re playing.  

A good puzzle game latches onto my mind and never lets go. One of the best ways to achieve this is to lead me along a perfectly plotted difficulty curve. MythicOwl’s math-based puzzler, Hexologic, is a prime example of how that’s done.

Hexologic is a relaxing Sudoku-style math game, available on Steam, iOS, Android and Switch and coming to Xbox One on June 13. The game was recently a finalist in Momocon’s annual indie game awards competition, in which I serve as a judge, and it wound up being one of the show’s five winners. It’s a highly polished puzzle game with lovely visuals, calming music and a math mechanic that starts simple and becomes very complex.

Each of the game’s more than 100 levels features one or more blank hexagonal spaces. All players have to do is fill in those spaces with one, two or three dots, in such a way that the sum of the dots jibes with the numbers on the outside of the hexagons. Here’s the game’s second level, which illustrates the concept nicely.

Simple, right? Almost too simple. Were the game to give me too many of these rudimentary, getting-to-know-me sort of levels, I might get bored. That would not be a good difficulty curve. Fortunately, level three introduces a new idea. Now all of the hexagons in a straight line adjacent to a number must add up to that number.

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Now there’s math logic involved. There are two spaces that must add up to two. That means the only possible values for those two spaces is one, as one plus one equals two. There are two hexes that must add up to four, one of which is already occupied by one dot. That means the final hex must be filled with three dots.

Level three primes the mind for what’s to come, and by that point, I have started assembling rules in my head. Any two hexes that must add up to five will be a combination of two dots and three dots. When any combination of hexes add up to the number three, none of those hexes will contain three dots. So when I get a level with a number three next to a number five, the answer is obvious.

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And I am swept along a stream of increasingly complex number logic. I am never overwhelmed, but never bored. I feel quite clever, actually, which is what a good puzzle game does. Four hexes that must add up to ten, but one space already has a single dot in it? Why, that leaves three groups of three dots. What a clever lad I am.

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Hexologic gets very complex in its later levels. Soon we have puzzles with set spaces featuring larger numbers of dots.

Then there are linked hexes, which share the same value.

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A massive update to Hexologic that dropped in September added even more complexity. New spaces have been introduced that use greater than, less than and equal signs, which ups the arithmetic challenge significantly. Or, they would, if developer MythicOwl hadn’t made the difficulty curve so smooth. One would imagine the ride from something like this …

…to a puzzle that looks like this …

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… would be wild and uneven. How does a game get from point A to point B=A<C+D+6? This is a good puzzle game, so I barely felt a bump. 

Source: Kotaku.com

A Big Adventure In A Literal Sandbox

Supraland is a massive game. Cast in the role of the hero of a race of red humanoids in conflict with their blue counterparts, players travel sprawling fantasy landscapes battling enemies, climbing immense towers, and solving incredibly clever puzzles. It’s easy to forget the whole thing takes place in a young boy’s sandbox.

To be fair, it’s a very odd sandbox that German developer Supra Games has created to host its Zelda-style adventure, out now on Steam. It’s filled with rocks and pipes. There are toy buildings the red rubber people call home. Pencils and other bits of child-appropriate debris stick out of the ground, along with things kids shouldn’t be playing with, like lit candles. And as far as all the stubbed-out cigarette butts on the ground, well, the boy who watches over this mini-civilization either has older siblings or really needs to stop smoking.

When an act of sabotage by the blue people is uncovered, the hero of the red folk of the sandbox is tasked with escorting the princess to the enemy’s base to figure out what’s going on. It’s not as easy as traveling from point A to point B. Supraland is a first-person adventure with Metroidvania elements. Getting from one area to the next takes upgrades, like double and triple jumps, and those upgrades cost coins. The more coins the red hero collects, the more upgrades they can afford, and the further they can get.

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Supraland is also a land of puzzles. There are simple puzzles, like finding a switch to open a door. Then there are more complicated puzzles, like generating a purple block (one of the aforementioned upgrades) on a switch to open one door, running to the next door, using a gun to shoot the generated block from one switch onto another, closing the first door, and opening the next.

The game strikes a wonderful balance between puzzle solving and exploration. The solution to a problem isn’t always staring players in the face. Oftentimes, traveling past the puzzle to see it from a new angle is what it takes to see a solution. Sometimes it takes bizzare sandbox versions of Jesus.

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How does sandbox Jesus figure into the game? That’s one of the many things left up to the player to figure out in Supraland. As the developers put it in the official Steam description, “Supraland assumes that you are intelligent and lets you play independently.” The game starts, gives players a basic direction to go in, and lets them figure it out from there.

This leads to fun moments, like working out an elaborate plan to access a treasure chest located on the other side of a pit that involves jumping across half an area, then realizing once you have the chest that there was a switch nearby that would have gotten the job done in seconds. Whoops, but still fun.

Another example is in this recent trailer for the game, which taught me I could damage enemies by spawning purple blocks over their heads. I have played the game for hours and never thought to try that.

Then again, I try to avoid combat in Supraland. The exploration and puzzle-solving elements are so strong that having to pause to swing a sword or shoot a gun at random skeleton creatures is an unpleasant interruption.

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(There might be a few pop culture references.)

Fortunately, there’s a lot more puzzle-solving and platforming in Supraland than combat. I get so swept up in figuring out how to push far-off buttons or reach the top of a MacGuffin-holding tower, that I forget I’m just a little creature in a sandbox, skittering about.

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But there’s always someone there to remind me. Clean out your damn sandbox, kid.

Source: Kotaku.com

The Division 2 Needs More Quarantine Zones

The combat in The Division 2 feels great and is one of the main parts of the game that keeps me coming back. Yet, one of my favorite things in The Division 2, quarantine zones, aren’t about combat or even shooting really. Instead, these spaces are focused on exploration and narrative. I really wish there were more of them too.

The quarantine zones are wonderful small puzzle boxes, filled with tiny stories of how people lived and died in this world. In the game’s fiction, these zones are areas of the map that contain deadly chemicals or the dangerous dollar flu, the disease behind the massive epidemics seen in the game. To protect people, these buildings have been quarantined off. They are covered in yellow hazmat tarps, chainlink fences, and clear plastic doors.

These zones feel quiet and dangerous in a way most other parts of the map don’t. The first time I walked up towards one, I felt a tinge of nervousness entering the building. Warning signs, hazmat equipment, and UV lights litter the outside and inside of these areas. Your character even dons a gas mask when entering, to avoid inhaling any of the deadly particles or chemicals still contained inside.

Once inside, the main goal of each quarantine zone is to explore them entirely, collecting all the audio and text recordings sprinkled in the area. Each of these zones tells different stories of different groups of people. One area contained folks who were sick and needed a place to stay in a world where they are seen as bringers of death. Another area detailed the tragic story of a massacre of survivors. One area even told the sad story of a young child dying of the disease or an old woman talking to her dead family as she drifts towards her own death. These aren’t happy stories, but they do add more to the world, making the wasteland of D.C. feel more human and believable.

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To find all of these bits of storytelling, players will need to solve puzzles and navigate the buildings’ hallways, sewers, tunnels, and ladders. None of the zones are particularly challenging to work out, but they provide just enough difficulty that solving some of the puzzles still feels satisfying. Many of the puzzles involve finding fuse boxes and shooting them or flipping switches to unlock doors somewhere else in the zone. While these puzzles won’t stump most folks, they do provide a nice change of pace from the usual shooting and looting.

Some of the areas these zones are located in are also fascinating to explore. One of my favorites is a museum housing models of ancient creatures, like mammoths. That particular zone even contained some other surprises that I won’t spoil here. Each of these zones feels distinct from one and other, with each filled with unique details and lore.

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Sadly, some of these quarantine zones, or Q ZONES as nobody says, don’t always work right. I got stuck in an elevator during one zone, forcing me to restart the zone after fast traveling away and back to the area. Another zone is marked as unfinished on my map, even though I’ve found everything in the building.

Other players are sharing stories of similar bugs they are running into in these zones. It’s a shame that these places are currently so buggy because when they worked they were some of the most fun I had in The Division 2.

In fact, I loved exploring them so much that I was sad to find out there are only five currently in the game. The Division 2 will be receiving updates for potentially years to come, so maybe future updates will add more of these zones to explore. I really hope so. These quarantine zones were a fantastic change of pace and helped flesh out the world more. I just hope future zones are less buggy and a little bigger and more complex.

Source: Kotaku.com

A Perfectly Precious Puzzle Game Propelled By Magical Teen Angst

In The World Next Door, a group of plucky high school students harness the power of magic to help a visitor from another world get home. The use of magic plays out through action-packed match puzzles, and also, the students are monsters. The game as a whole is a heck of a lot of fun.

Developed by Rose City Games and available now for PC and Nintendo Switch, The World Next Door is the story of Jun, a rebellious young teen who has spent her young life dreaming about visiting Emrys, a magic-fueled world that exists in a dimension parallel to Earth. The good news is Jun is chosen as one of a handful of humans to cross over into Emrys during a rare convergence. The bad news is the convergence only lasts a day, and Jun doesn’t make it back to the portal home in time. Trapped in a dimension dangerous to humans, Jun and her growing group of magic friends must find a means to re-open the portal that will return the teen to regular, boring Earth.

That last part is the only problem with the premise of The World Next Door. Emrys, at least the parts Jun and her friends visit, is an amazing place, and I can’t imagine ever wanting to leave. It’s a gorgeous, colorful world, populated by lovely anime-inspired characters created by artist Lord Gris. There’s Liza, Jun’s purple-haired demonic penpal. Rainy is a timid merboy. Horace is a brash and obnoxious skull with teeth and horns. Cerisse is an alicorn, which is a hybrid of pegasus and unicorn. It’s like a grown-up Monster High.

It’s part magical adventure, part teen drama, with compelling characters who grow and change as the story progresses. Rainy the merboy starts to assert himself a little more and eventually stands up to the teasing of Horace, who turns out to be more sensitive than he looks. New characters join the group, adding layers to the narrative and complexity to existing relationships. It’s a good group of kids.

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Jun and her spoopy friends learn that the key to opening the portal back to Earth involves traveling to Emrys’ off-limits magical temples. Defeating each temple’s guards and guardian involves matching runes and casting spells, two of my favorite things.

Jun freely roams grid-based battlegrounds, looking for matching runes. If three or more of the same type of rune are connected, she can activate a spell that damages her foes. Fire runes cast fireballs. Lighting runes transform the spaces they’re on into electrical traps that shock pursuing enemies. The purple runes on the board generate a slow-moving projectile, so they work best in concert with the lighting runes, slowing down enemies for a big hit. Should the bad guys get the better of Jun, green runes are what she can use to heal her hit points.

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Jun is not strictly at the mercy of chance. She possesses the power to pick up runes and swap them into new spots. Using this power, she can create massive fireballs, string together spells, or pull off some clutch healing when in a jam. Jun can also call on her friends by creating special shapes with white gems. Each friend sports their own unique special ability, but not everyone can come with Jun into a temple, so players must choose Jun’s friends wisely.

(Jun’s busted cellphone not only works in the magical world, it also acts as an in-game menu.)

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I wasn’t sure The World Next Door’s disparate elements would work well together. Turns out it’s a perfect combination. It’s a visual novel with puzzle battles. It’s a frantic puzzle game with a strong narrative. It’s the best of two things I enjoy a lot, with wonderful art and music. It’s an excellent challenge for arcade puzzle fans, and there’s even an option to turn off damage for players who just want to enjoy the story stress-free.

The World Next Door is the first game published by manga and anime distributor Viz Media. I’d say they’re off to a good start. More like this, please.

Source: Kotaku.com