puzzle games

[Review] Polarium (Nintendo DS)

One of the best suited gaming genres for the Nintendo DS is simple casual time-wasting games. Y’know:  what I like to call “Doctor’s Office Waiting Room Time-Waster Games“. And with all the crap games out there that were released for the Nintendo DS (and there are a lot of them…), it’s welcoming to come across a puzzle game that is challenging, engrossing and competitive, yet enjoyable enough to get its claws into me for the last week. Polarium for the DS is that kind of casual game.

In Polarium your are given a play area where large blocks of black and white tiles fall vertically. Your task is to eliminate tiles from the play area by changing their shade to their polar opposite, thereby creating rows of one uniform shade. Using the DS stylus, you draw a path through as many tiles as you can in one stroke of the stylus. Tiles disappear from the play area once there is at least one horizontal row in one uniform shade. It’s important to attempt to eliminate as many rows of one shade as possible, as more blocks of tiles are falling from above and piling up. It’s also important to be strategic in what tiles you select to flip over as you can easily flip over the wrong tiles, wasting precious time. Depending on what mode you are playing in, allowing the tile blocks to pile up could mean game over, so you must think and act quickly.

Polarium provides a Tutorial that instructs on the basic moves. What is particularly helpful for the newcomer is a Puzzle Mode that tasks you with changing the polarity of the black and white tiles in one single stroke of the stylus (not easy!). There is also a Custom Mode, where you can create your own blocks of tiles and share them with other friends wirelessly, as well as a Versus Mode where you can wirelessly compete against a friend on their DS. Practice Mode is the no-pressure continuous play mode where blocks of tiles pile up and there is no game over; the mode I recommend you play for pure enjoyment of this game. If you are a glutton for punishment, however, go for the Challenge Mode – it is insanely difficult and unforgiving. Those blocks fall relentlessly from the top and there really is no time to ponder the universe; you have to go quickly. I have to say though, that in an effort to gauge my learning progress, I would go between the Practice Mode and Challenge Mode. Unfortunately, after over 3 hours of play, I still couldn’t get past 81 cleared rows on Challenge Mode. But, this was fine with me, as I still gained plenty of enjoyment playing Polarium in Practice Mode. The game was becoming obsessive, as I was finding it weirdly satisfying trying to eliminate as many opposing tiles as possible and seeing the play area completely clear itself of tiles! This is a clean freak’s dream embodied in a game! Combine it with a toe-tapping electronica soundtrack, and you have yourself a great casual game that guarantees hours of distraction.

Finding a copy of Polarium out in the wild was rare…I think I bought my copy at a game swap for $10, and it was the first time I had seen it sold anywhere. If you can get your hands on a copy, it’s worth the scratch. I highly recommend it.

4/5

Polarium (Nintendo DS)
Nintendo / Mitchell
2005

 

[Review] Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)

I was so looking forward to playing this one! After I completed Unsolved Crimes for the Nintendo DS, I went searching for other DS games like it, and the game, Crime Scene, kept popping up. (I can hear readers scream “Phoenix Wright”….don’t worry, folks, I have it in my library…) Crime Scene is a rare title and difficult to find in my area…but after six months of searching, I finally found it at my local EB Games. Crime Scene wasn’t cheap ($19.99, new for a game from 2010). I was anxious to play it over my vacation, and started playing it immediately…And darn it, if I have anything good to say about it. It blows.

As it often goes with these Cop Shop type games, you play as Matt Simmons, the newest and eager forensic investigator of the Crossburg Police Department. Using your instincts, know-how and latest forensic equipment, you investigate the 5 murders plaguing Crossburg by interviewing suspects, analysing evidence and reporting back to your Superintendent, Alexandra Malone. Your skills are tested every step of the investigation. You better study hard and have a steady stylus hand in Crime Scene, or Malone will send your ass packing quickly.

No doubt, the game looks great! The imagery is crisp. But, don’t be fooled by its appearance, as its mechanics are broken. The “charm” to Crime Scene is the part where one collects evidence using a number of different given tools – latex gloves, cotton swabs, an X-acto knife, tweezers, fingerprint powder and tape, and luminol & black light. The police department is counting on Simmons knowing how to use these items to solve the crime, so the game equips players with an integrity meter that gauges how well you as Simmons are doing. The game provides you with confusing instructions on how to use each of these tools while in play that one must figure out while the clock ticks down fast. When time’s up, your integrity can take a nasty hit. The tools are used by dragging them with the stylus and holding down the L or R bumper. Sometimes they don’t work properly at all and the game penalizes you severely. In one situation you are to take a blood sample as evidence by dipping a cotton swab in solution, then rubbing it on a blood stain. I couldn’t figure out why my swab kept breaking mid-sample, causing me to have to re-take the sample. Every time I “broke” a swab, my integrity meter would decrease. In another scenario, I had to cut evidence out of fabric using an X-acto knife, and I’ll be damned if I could get the knife to cut anything.

The actual analysis of evidence is treated in a series of mini-games, which at first blush seem fun enough. In one game, you use a pipette to draw a sample of blood to place on a microscope slide. Once the slide is prepared, you use a laser to zap red blood cells. Reading this back, it sounds like it’s lame…and really, it is especially if you were asked to repeat these mini-games several times within the case. And like I said, if you don’t get the tool mechanics just right, you lose the game, so make sure you save often so you can re-start the game at a save point (that is… if you plan on playing this). I, for one, was sent packing many times. It never got easier.

Many of you will NOT remember when I reviewed the CSI: Dark Motives game for the DS…mainly because it was the second or third game I reviewed for this blog over three years ago and no one was paying any mind back then. At that time, I said you were better off eating a Mr. Big chocolate bar than play that game, mainly because the game was confusing, unforgiving and had broken mechanics; your only consolation was to eat a Mr. Big. Same goes for Crime Scene, only this time I’ll take a Coffee Crisp, please, because, if I gotta replay that damn crime scene one more time, I might as well gnaw on something that tastes like delicious coffee wafer dipped in awesome chocolate, thanks.

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2/5

Crime Scene (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Nobilis / South Peak
2010

[Review] Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)

Anyone like Sudoku? If you are not familiar with this challenging grided number-placement puzzle, get going! Along with crossword puzzles and search-a-word, it is my favourite pencil-to-paper puzzle game. I started enjoying them about 15 years ago when we’d occasionally get a free newspaper delivered to our house. Now, I have a couple of Sudoku games on my tablet and phone. It’s fun and challenging enough to give the mind a little exercise. So when I discovered a Sudoku puzzle game for the Nintendo DS, Sudoku Ball – Detective, I was all over it! And imagine: Sudoku tied into a story-based murder mystery! What a great concept! I’d buy that!

…and I did. And the game is…ehhh…

Edward G. Bannister, a retired Scotland Yard detective, is investigating the sudden death of his close friend. The story is all too familiar: you play as Edward as he interviews suspects, picks locks and lifts fingerprints to search for clues…except instead of you doing any of this, you play Sudoku Ball, a variant of Sudoku where the Sudoku grid is bent in a 3D sphere shape. Once you complete a puzzle, you get a clue which is used to carry the story. The puzzles in the game vary in level of difficulty and from timed to untimed. In the timed components, if the clock runs out, there is no real penalty, as you are able to restart the puzzle after rewatching a short clip.

I have encountered some terrible DS games in the past, and although Sudoku Ball – Detective is not the worst I’ve played on the system, it is on this side of mediocre. I wanted so much more for it than I got especially since I like Sudoku, and there are FREE Sudoku games in the mobile environment that look and play better than this. To be fair, Sudoku Ball – Detective is from 2009, so time hasn’t been kind. The graphic rendering of the characters looked ghastly, and the Sudoku puzzles are pixelated and blocky. One thing I hand it to this game and the DS for that matter – it has very decent handwriting recognition whereby you fill in a Sudoku square by hand-writing in the number with your stylus. The DS then replaces your handwritten number for a typed equivalent. It was quite intuitive – it even got my lazy lefty chicken-scratch pretty well! But alas, this is where the good ends. The tale wasn’t all that engaging and after awhile, I quit paying attention and just played Sudoku. If you wanted to, you could bypass the story and play the 90 standalone Sudoku puzzles, but again, why would you want to? Those puzzles just look terrible on the DS.

If you come across a copy of Sudoku Ball – Detective, feel confident in passing it by. There are so many free methods of playing Sudoku that are so much better than this.

1/5

Sudoku Ball – Detective (Nintendo DS)
Dev: Playlogic
2009

[Review] Monument Valley (iOS)

I love it when ‘fee and gaming collide…

A Starbucks recently opened on the college campus where I work. I am not a lover of Starbucks really…I mean I don’t refuse free Starbucks, but I don’t go out of my way to drink it. In any case, one day last fall a colleague of mine and I found ourselves in the line-up at this shiny new Starbucks. I had no plans to pick up anything; my colleague was after the 6-dollar spinach and cheese pastry. As we approached the cash, I noticed a sign that said, “Starbucks Free App of the Week!” along with a pile of little cards. What is this! I loves me free! I took one of the cards, and discovered it contained a free key code to a game I had never heard of before called Monument Valley. The graphic for the game intrigued me immediately so I thought I had nothing to lose by trying it out. The only barrier was that the key code given was for the game in the iOS environment. I am predominantly an Android user, but thankfully, I have access to an iPad at work, so I was able to use the key before it expired at the end of September. This was the first game I actually played on the iPad, and am pleased to say the experience was a good one. And as it turns out, Monument Valley was a pretty fun game.

I am not exactly sure what the story is behind Monument Valley, but it is a puzzle game where you lead your main character, Princess Ida, through and around beautiful, odd structures and mazes, in her personal quest for forgiveness. The puzzles remind me of the stylings of M.C. Escher (1898-1972), where every puzzle contains a visual paradox. With each puzzle your mind is constantly being bent around in an optical illusion as you tap around, leading Ida through each scene. Levers, turnstyles and strategically-placed buttons are available for you to control platforms and catwalks so that Ida can advance through a scene. The game’s mechanics are very much reminiscent of the Room and the Room 2 (games I reviewed here and here) where you are presented with a puzzle to solve in order to advance to the next room, as well as having the ability to interact with the scene, and move your perspective around to find the correct path you need to send Ida down. Stylistically speaking, keen eyes can’t deny drawing similarities to Kentucky Route Zero (a game I have reviewed previously), particularly in its use of muted colours and fonts. To that end, each scene is beautiful – vibrant, and visually appealing. GORGEOUS, in fact. With every scene, I almost want to take a screenshot, print it out and frame it!

Although a pleasant time-waster, my only real critique with Monument Valley (aside from an unclear plot) was the lack of a serious challenge. It was also a short game, as I completed all the levels in an evening. The game was designed for the iOS environment (it won Best Game for the iPad in 2014), then ported to Android, so I am unsure how it translates to Android. Regardless, Monument Valley is a very placid game, non-stressful, and a decent user experience. …And expensive – $5.99 in Google Play and Apple App store. So, if you can get it for free or at a discount, I recommend it!

7.5/10

Monument Valley
Developer: Ustwo
iOS / Android / Microsoft Mobile / Windows
2014

[Review] Them Tiki Physics Puzzle Games: Somebody Stop Meeeee (IOS / Android)

Free Games on iOS and Android!

Lately, I’ve been living like it’s 2010, and playing games on my iPod Touch. That’s right, I’m reverting back to when my iTouch was my only link to mobile gaming…back before “Android phones and tablets” ever passed my lips.  As it is, I use my iPod as my primary music player. Going way back, I played some pretty decent games on that device, and most were free. I attribute it to my getting started into hidden object games as well as kicking my love for casual games into high gear.

My last gaming review, Amazing Adventures, reminded me of a free game I used to play on my iPod Touch called Tiki Totems. In Tiki Totems, you are given the task of protecting a little yellow statue. The puzzle gives it to you perched precariously on top of a pile of blocks, which you must remove strategically so that the fragile tiki lands gently on the ground. Think Jenga in 2D here. If that Totem drops to the ground, it breaks…and the Tiki gods don’t think that’s cool. They will erupt a volcano situated in the background, and you lose. Tiki Totems is not overly sophisticated but still stands today; some nice bright graphics and a cool jungle beat can be heard in the background as you solve puzzle after puzzle. This game is considered a physics puzzle game and has been my king of time suckage lately. Unfortunately for some of you, this FREE game is only available on iOS… so yay to you iPhone users!

…But don’t worry Android users, it doesn’t mean you are left out.

As it normally goes for me now, I often see if there is some equivalent game originally played on iOS now available on the Android. It’s natural…I have an Android phone, and don’t always carry my iPod around…Like I mentioned, Tiki Totems is not available on Android, but lucky for everyone, the creator of Tiki Totems took it one step further in developing its sister game, Tiki Lavalanche, and it’s a cool spin on the original Tiki Totem idea. And equally addictive.

In Tiki Lavalanche, you are now protecting a group of gold blocks, precariously perched on piles of temporary blocks hanging over a lava lake. You are to remove those blocks strategically so that each gold block falls onto one of the waiting permanent platforms just above the water line. You lose up to three of those blocks into the hot drink, and you awake the volcano god, who will unleash an erupting volcano on your ass. What makes this game even more fun and challenging is that some of the blocks have several behaviours – some bounce the objects, some are actually made of glass that break, tumbling down the whole works. There are even bombs you explode. Like Tiki Totems, the graphics in Tiki Lavalanche are brightly coloured and a similar exotic jungle drum soundtrack plays while you solve your latest puzzle.

Tiki Lavalanche is free to play – with ads. You can pay to play without them if you so desire; Google Play was going to charge me under $3. And best part: this game is also available for iOS users so everyone can enjoy this fun casual and seriously addictive game. I have become so obsessed with Tiki Lavalanche, that I have made sure to complete each puzzle without losing any blocks. It hasn’t been easy, but that is where my competative gaming nature comes to the surface.

See for yourself…try out a Tiki puzzle game today and get nothing else done!

Tiki Totems and Tiki Lavalanche
NoodleCake Games/ Spokko

 

[Review] Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins (Nintendo DS)

I was feeling a bit desperate to find a varitable sorbet to cleanse my gaming palate after playing a shitty game like Safecracker on the Nintendo DS…And, I think I found it in Pop Cap’s cool hidden object puzzle game, Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins, also on the DS. This game is fun and easy, looks good and unlike Safecracker, has no port problems as it appears it was originally designed for the DS.

In terms of the Forgotten Ruins‘ story, I expected there to be some repeated clichés the minute I set eyes on the cover of the game:

Clue #1: a tiki statue

Clue #2: a Mayan temple

Clue #3: an airplane flying over some mountains

Hmm, let me guess? An Indiana Jones-type Archeologist off on a dig, searching for hidden treasure?

Ding ding ding, we have a winner!

I love to tease the tropes found in these casual games. They’re so derivative, that I often don’t bother with those stories really, yet I am attracted to these “explorers searching for some treasures” type of games (see Jewel Quest and Treasure Seekers: Visions of Gold) because of the scenery and tropical stylings of the puzzles. Give me a palm tree, a cave or a waterfall and I am all over it!

In the Forgotten Ruins, an archeologist is searching through an ancient Mayan land for artifacts. In doing so, the gamer is made to explore different areas of this land by solving one hidden object puzzle, and either match two objects, “complete the jigsaw puzzle” or “find the differences between two pics” games to complete a level. I largely ignored the story – relayed to the gamer in a small journal that is completely skippable and not crucial to the game at all. What did catch me were the puzzles – easy, familial and capable of finishing them in short order.

The puzzles are timed, but a user would be able to turn that feature off for a very casual gaming experience. Seriously though, I cannot imagine this game getting stressful on anyone; it’s so relaxed. The hidden object scenes and tools do tend to repeat themselves (it had you try to find lumberjack tools (axes) or bells in almost every scene!). That said, because of the repetative nature of the scenes and clues, this game is not suited to be completed in one sitting, but perfect for a casual gamer looking for a portable experience that can be picked up and put down on a whim (think a Mahjong, crossword or match-three type of game).

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For what it’s worth, Metacritic rates the Forgotten Ruins high (75%), and funny, my copy happened to be high on the price scale too – $14.39 – higher than I normally pay for a used game, especially one released in 2006…but if it’s good and not common, then I think the price is justified. Well, this game was totally worth it and I recommend!

8.5/10

Amazing Adventures: The Forgotten Ruins
Developer: Black Lantern Studios / Pop Cap
Released: 2006

 

[Review] Safecracker (Nintendo DS)

I enjoy me a good puzzle game and I’d like to think the Nintendo DS is built for puzzle games. But, lately, I have to wonder. Just because a game is decent on one device, doesn’t mean it will port well to another.

Case in point, Safecracker. I found this game cheap at EB Games, and it boasted as being the ultimate puzzle challenge. Yeah, I don’t know about ultimate, but I would definitely have to agree with the challenge…

This puzzle game was originally released on the PC in 2006. The story sees you as a bonafide safecracker hired by heirs to a rich uncle’s fortune. You are charged with finding his last will, hidden away in one of many safes locked away in a large property. Each safe is a puzzle to solve, the mansion itself is a labyrinth of corridors, rooms and courtyards. The game showed some promise, but I am here to tell you this game blows. Or at least this version of it blows.

To start, you are given a compass, a magnifying glass, a map of the mansion and arrows to select direction…and it’s all useless. If a directional arrow points straight ahead, and the compass points going North, I expect to go north, not…spin around the room and wind up going east like this game had me going. The last time I took orientation with a compass, that isn’t how that was supposed to work. Second, the map of the mansion was somewhat helpful. A red X on the map indicates where there is a clue to find or a puzzle to solve. But because the navigation sucked, it was difficult to get to an X. Third, there was a toolbox that collected some items, but no journal entry capability. Those notes that I’d find, I had no idea whether I should commit them to memory or not. Lastly, the puzzles provided no instructions as to what you were supposed to do. I don’t mind if the goal is obvious. But, some puzzles had me scratching my head, like this puzzle for example:

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I think since I started blogging almost a year and a half ago now, the majority of games I’ve played that were next to no good were games played on the Nintendo DS.  I don’t want to disparage the device itself because I really do enjoy the DS…but, I think often games that are ported to the DS are the problem. Poorly ported seems to be Safecracker’s issue and I wouldn’t mind seeing what the PC version is like.

Needless to say, I do not recommend Safecracker on the Nintendo DS. The search continues for good puzzle games on this device!

4/10

Safecracker
Developer: The Adventure Company
2009 (Nintendo DS)