Game Ramblings #187 – Stitch.

More Info from Lykke Studios

  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Platform: Apple Arcade (iPhone)
  • Also Available On: Switch

You know, I was working on a play through of A Plague Tale: Innocence and happened to install this. Boy did this derail my playthrough. This hit whatever part of my brain needs to play the Picross series and didn’t want to let go.

At a glance this is a variation on the Shikaku puzzle type where you make a grid of boxes where each box has exactly one number and the number of cells in each box matches that number. Just from that little description I think you can see where this picked at the Picross portion of my brain. It has the same pattern where I can jump in for 5 minutes and make some progress on a large puzzle or sit there for a couple hours marathoning through a bunch of it. However, I don’t think that would have been enough on its own. The fact that this is puzzles making actual pictures in color is a huge improvement over the normal formula that really worked out well for me.

Making pictures is hugely important because it adds a ton of variety to the actual puzzle solving portion of the game. This isn’t just finishing number boxes. You’re also paying attention to the shape and color of what’s going on around you within the bigger picture. Strange shaped curve that looks like it delineates an area? That’s a huge clue about what shape you should be putting together. Areas around that you already completed have stripes? Use that as a way to continue the current section you’re on. All of that’s building up to a puzzle game where the puzzle isn’t necessarily just completing the screen you’re on but how it connects to the things around you in a larger way.

The variety they get out of this is what makes this game just work. The game isn’t constrained to a fixed size and it isn’t constrained to simple boxes. As of right now the game has 280 puzzles (plus dailies and weeklies), but each of those individual puzzles is an amalgam of dozens of other little puzzles within them. Each of those puzzles is its own little unique thing that you haven’t seen before. Because they aren’t a box, they can have weird stepped patterns like you see above, or it could be shaped like a leaf, or it could be a figure 8. The puzzles are built and themed to the picture you’re creating, so it’s always something new to see.

In any case, back to regularly scheduled programming. Every now and then I get sidetracked by my phone and disappear for a bit. This was definitely one of those cases. This is a perfect on the go experience, so it makes sense that it came to Apple Arcade, but I can see the Switch version that just came out being equally as good. Just go play it.

Game Ramblings #161 – A Little Golf Journey

More Info from Okidokico

  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Platform: Switch
  • Also Available On: Steam

It’s perhaps ironic that this one was published by Playtonic, because my enjoyment curve of this game reminded me EXACTLY of Yooka Laylee and the Impossible Lair. The game slowly added mechanics throughout that worked well. It felt like it had an appropriate challenge curve based on mechanics that enhanced the puzzle solving. I got to the end of the game with a high level of praise ready to be put to ramblings.

Then I hit the long level for the true ending of the game that felt like it turned the mechanics on their head.

This is a puzzle game through and through. Ya it’s got its golf coat on, but that part of it isn’t really the point. Each hole is a puzzle to figure out what specific locations you need to hit the ball to in order to finish it in the correct number of strokes. That’s ultimately all there is to it. Ya there’s some dealing with power. Ya you get some wind later on. Ya you’ve got to deal with some gravity shenanigans in a moon world. Ultimately though, it’s a puzzle. What makes this work is that the entire game is a zen experience. You’re thrown into a little diorama and can move all around to plan out your shots, but you go at your leisure as you plot your course.

The way I would describe this is that you’re succeeding through trial and experience. Failures in a case like this end up being a case of not having enough experience – whether that be a lack of knowledge of how wind is affecting your ball, or how a slope in an area will affect rolling distance. However, it’s never because you were lacking information. Succeeding is because you’ve learned and applied your knowledge. In this case, the variable involved is purely your aim and your imagination in getting through the course.

When this all is working well the game is phenomenal. It’s the type of game that you can just sit back and relax to. You’ve got a pretty light ambient soundtrack that adds to the relaxation. You’ve got a game that isn’t rushing you, but is instead just letting you enjoy the experience.

What ends up being the enemy of this is time. For the most part though, the time-based mechanics aren’t too egregious.

The main mechanic that hits this is actually the core power selection. If you aren’t specifically focusing, your power and aim selection occurs via a cyclic infinity symbol. You can use this to increase or decrease your distance beyond the core aiming, which adds a bit of flexibility to the aim selection. While this works fine, it largely feels unnecessary to me. I don’t see a case where allowing the player to select their power around a target wouldn’t be beneficial to the player. The challenge of the game to me feels like picking your shot selection precisely. You can still do that with the cyclic aim, but it adds a level of imprecision that adds friction to the experience. It doesn’t make the game harder, it just makes it slower. You’re missing shots that you shouldn’t miss purely because of timing.

Later on in the game, the levels start getting some time-ish mechanics. These largely revolve around some lights moving items – asteroids in the moon levels, blockers in a computer level. Things of that nature. Again, these largely work fine but don’t really improve the game. Your shot selection doesn’t change because of the moving stuff, it just causes your pace to slow down.

And then I got to the final level.

The thing about the last level is that it adds a bunch of dynamic geometry. In some cases it’s geometry being created in areas panning around the world, while in some cases it’s creating holes in geometry. I get why this is happening, because ultimately the last level needs some challenge. However, it just doesn’t work to me.

The first thing is that the core golf mechanic is just too dynamic for this. I can’t tell you the amount of times I would land a ball perfectly, then sit there having to wait for it to shed the last little bit of speed. By the time I was able to shoot again, the geometry would disappear underneath me and I’d lose my shot. I’d then do nearly the exact shot on my next attempt, but a little shorter or a little longer and the ball would immediately stop and give me plenty of time to shoot.

It also just adds a time crunch that doesn’t really vibe with the rest of the game. Instead of planning your shots and carefully aiming, you’re just kind of rushing to generally the right area for your ball to land, then rushing to the next shot. Rather than trialing and gaining experience, you’re kind of just flailing around and eventually succeeding. It’s less learning and more just doing and it feels awkward compared to the rest of the game.

I guess despite the last level, I still recommend the game. There’s enough there that I enjoyed that if I ignore the last level, I’m fine with what I got out of it. It’s the same thing that I ended up doing with Impossible Lair. Enjoy the parts that are great, and just don’t actually finish the game.

Game Ramblings #152 – Manifold Garden

More Info from William Chyr

  • Genre: Puzzle
  • Platform: PS5
  • Also Available On: PC (EGS/Steam), Apple Arcade (iOS, macOS, tvOS), Switch, PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series S

This game broke my brain in the best ways. Any time you can look at an art style for a game and immediately know what you’re getting into, that’s a good thing. When you look at this one and recognize the Escher-esque style, you know you’re in for trouble. Good trouble.

This game does so much with so little, and it’s an amazing thing to behold. You can run, you can change what direction down is, and you can manipulate a small set of blocks. That’s it. That level of simplicity means that the game spends its entire time manipulating your brain, and not your hands. Every single puzzle is a set of maybe three or four steps, but figuring out what those steps are is always the trick.

In some places, it may be that you need to manipulate blocks of different colors to hold each other up and activate buttons. In some places, it’s using the blocks to redirect streams that you can then freeze and use as walkways. In some places it’s simply trying to figure out which up is the up that you want, and trying to rotate around to get there. However, none of this would work without the game’s use of portals to support the visual and gameplay style, and it’s by far the game’s most impressive – and most hidden – feature.

Everyone knows what a portal is in the hit Valve game sense. You have a spot on the wall that you can walk through to teleport to another spot. That tweet there is a very simple version of this, but it shows off the core of the tech. They have a portal in the door to allow the player to teleport from one room to a completely different room seamlessly. They use this for simple tricks like that, but they also use it for some core functionality in very non-obvious ways.

In this screenshot, they’re also using portals. The tower out there in the distance is actually the same tower. The little thing coming out of the ceiling above them is actually the bottom of the tower poking through the floor. In this case, there’s portals allowing the one tower to exist as an infinitely expanding world in multiple directions, but to the user it’s just a crazy never ending landscape to move toward. This version of their portals is used all over to support falling as a gameplay mechanic. Need to bring a colored block from the bottom of a tower to the top? It can only be moved while you’re on its plane of existence, so simply fall down to the top of the tower.

That is really where the game broke my brain. Contextualizing a 3D space not as something finite or fixed, but as something where it can stretch infinitely in arbitrary directions is weird. Down is down, but there’s also 6 planes of “down” that are all valid. Up is also down if you can fall. It gets even crazier when you start doing things like redirecting water flow to create a waterfall so you can get water to some wheel above the source of the water. It’s crazier when you get environmental pieces to fall left so they can get stuck on something to your right. It’s even crazier when they only way to hit a button is to get a block to fall up.

However, for as weird as it is it’s also incredibly natural. You get a piece of the game at a time, so you mold your thinking to a new mechanic in isolation. It’s a very oddly Nintendo approach. At the start, you only have the gravity shift in fixed hallways, so you get used to changing the meaning of “down”. They then introduce a spot where you can fall infinitely, so you get used to the wrapping environment. They then start introducing colored boxes, so you get used to bringing them around to triggers that open doors. Etc, etc, etc. It’s that little bit at a time that turns something that should be a complete mindfuck into something that is both completely manageable and completely natural. It’s incredibly well executed.

From front to back this was just an incredible experience. It’s extremely tight mechanically and extremely impressive visually. The puzzles are well crafted to take advantage of a limited set of mechanics. It’s long enough to feel good, but short enough to not wear out its welcome. It’s just really fucking good.

Go play it.