Friday, July 29, 2005

Old School

There was once a day when you could purchase logic and puzzle games at your local EB and CompUSA (apologies to those living outside the United States, insert your local computer store here). Puzzle games would be reviewed in the gaming magazines. People would get excited about a new release. They were real computer games.

Those days are gone. I don't claim to even begin to understand the economics of the computer gaming business. Whatever economic forces are at work have resulted in commercial game makers leaving this genre. Today, puzzle games are distributed entirely through on-line shareware sites.

This week I am going to do a dangerous thing. I am listing the twenty best commercial logic and puzzle games ever (in my opinion of course), along with one link for each game. These are the games you should grab if you see them while digging through the bargain bin or hunting around in a friend's closet. Almost all of these games are from the 90s, but they are all still good, fun, playable games. Puzzle and logic games do not lose their value the way other games do. Over time, I hope to review many of these games as space permits. I especially want to get to those that run without issues in WindowsXP.

The 20 Best Logic/Puzzle Games Ever:
Most of these games cannot be purchased any more. A few can, and I have given links for those ones. However, many of them can be found in the murky world of abandonware. Here is a article on the ethics and legality of abandonware. If you are not bothered by this, you can find abandonware sites, do a Google search on "abandonware".

Friday, July 22, 2005


Title: Enigma
Author: Daniel Heck
License: GNU General Public License

Way back in 1992, I fell in love with a game called oxyd. It had a captivating combination of logic and careful mouse movements. It was original, and the physics model was so believable. And for what it is worth, oxyd had the best sound for a game using only the PC speaker. The black marble follows your mouse movements through each landscape (aka level). The goal of each landscape is to match up the similarly colored oxyd stones. The color of a oxyd stone is revealed when touched by the marble or a laser. The fun part of each landscape is figuring out how to gain access to the oxyd stones. There are a vast array of special stones to push around and items to pick up and use. Over the next couple of years, several add-on packs and new versions were released to keep us oxyd freaks happy.

Now fast forward to a few years ago. Another oxyd fan, Daniel Heck, decided to make a very faithful recreation of oxyd, called enigma. This game is the topic of this week's entry. Daniel and a small team of other oxyd fanatics have created something wonderful in enigma. If you have played oxyd in the past, you probably stopped reading this already and download enigma. If you haven't played oxyd, you owe it to yourself to play this one.

Enigma comes with 742 landscapes. There are 14 tutorial levels, 368 levels which are new to enigma, 120 which are based on oxyd landscapes, 91 are based on an older game called esprit, and 149 are based on sokoban levels. The quality of landscapes varies greatly. Here is where enigma falls down a little. Many of landscapes do not require any logic, just careful, insanely careful in some cases, mouse control. There are however some gems in here, and you have access to all the levels. So, when I realize that a landscape is a twitch mouse level, I just move on. I think someone could do a real service by going through the enigma landscapes and picking out the 100 or 150 best for us logic fans.

If you still have any of the old oxyd games, enigma can read their data files and allow you to play these old landscapes. It is not perfect, but 80 to 90 percent of the landscapes are playable. This adds another 500 or so landscape to conquer. I have enjoyed replaying these landscapes more than the ones that come enigma itself. The level design is better.

If after downloading enigma and solving those landscapes which fit your personality, you still want more, here are a few links for you. There is a good level edit for enigma available here. There an abandonware version of the first oxyd game here. It runs fine under Windows XP. Although the sound is not as good as I remember. Lastly, there is a commercial effort to write Oxyd 2.0. It is in beta testing right now. I will keep you informed.

Saturday, July 16, 2005

Browser Games

With java, dhtml, flash, shockwave, and similar technologies, computer games can be played on-line, within a web browser. This week, I am going to do something a little different and tell you about a few of the many puzzle games you can play on-line.

DHTML Lemmings

This is a very faithful recreation of the first Lemmings game. It plays just like the original. Even the sounds are right. The scrolling from side to side to see other parts of the map is a little flaky though, and the mini-map is missing. With cookies turned on, it remembers your progress. So, if you have never played Lemmings or want a little nostalgia trip, click on the link. But be quick about it, there appears to be some legal issues surrounding this one.

Telescope Game

Dyson makes these vacuum cleaners for nerds (yes, I own one) which produce G-forces 67,000 times more powerful than a Formula 1 race car. So says their web site. And for PR reasons, I guess, they made this puzzle game. The goal is to use the telescoping vacuum extensions to push or pull the ball into the hole. Simple, but oddly fun.


In this game, you have to rearrange the vertices of a graph so that no edges cross. Sure Kuratowski's theorem gives polynomial time algorithm to do this, but in practice, it is a lot harder. I have only done up to level 15. If you quit, your progress is not saved, and you have to redo the same levels each time you start. I wish they had randomized graphs or used cookies to record your progress.

I discovered Planarity on the jay is blog. This is a great gamer blog which gets updated daily. Not all his reviews are of puzzle games, but a good number are. Reviews of the first two games mentioned here are also reviewed at Jay's site, but I found them before seeing them on his site. So, I am only giving him credit for the last one.

Saturday, July 09, 2005

Blox Fall

Title: Blox Fall
Author: Jimmy Games (no association to me)
License: Freeware

Every now and then, I run across a real gem and get excited. Blox Fall is one such gem. It is a puzzle game with a simple idea, intuitive interface, and crisp graphics. The goal of each puzzle is to remove all the colored blocks. You can move blocks left or right if space is available. Gravity then pulls them down. If two or more blocks of the same color end up adjacent, they annihilate each other. This can open up space, cause other blocks to feel the pull the gravity, and maybe result in some more annihilations.

The puzzles can be quite tricky. You often have to plan ahead to make sure that the blocks of each color meet up and get eliminated. There is no clock. So, you can take your time. When you realize you are stuck (it will happen), just hit the restart button.

There are 531 levels, divided into nine categories, ranging from "Childrens" to "Impossible". These impossible levels are not impossible, just really hard. The range of puzzles is quite good. There is something for everyone. Blox Fall keeps track of which ones you have solved and gives you access to all the puzzles (yeah!!!).

It would be nice if they had included a level editor, but 531 levels will satisfy most people. Also, an undo or take back button would be nice, but these are minor quibbles. I would highly suggest you download this one right now.

The idea for Blox Fall is not super original. There is an old DOS game called Brix which is similar. It is about 12 years old, but still runs fine on Windows XP. It is different in a couple of ways. First off each level has time limit. And, there are several other game items like elevators and transporters. Anyone who likes Blox Fall will probably also like Brix, and vice-versa.

There is also a shareware game Rings of the Magi which is quite similar to Blox Fall. The main difference here is that there is no gravity. Finally, there is a palm pilot game called Vexed which is the inspiration for Blox Fall.

Saturday, July 02, 2005

Aargon Deluxe

Title: Aargon Deluxe
Author: Twilight Games
License: commercial

Aargon Deluxe is a great puzzle game. It is the first commercial game in this blog. I set a much higher bar for commercial games than for freeware games, and this one clears the bar with plenty to spare. I hope it goes with out saying that I am not associated in any way with the author or publisher. Also, I am not getting any money or payment of any kind from endorsing their game.

The goal of each level is to pass a laser of the correct color through each of the coins. There are a variety of tools available to make this happen: mirrors, prisms, splitters, etc. In any given level, these items start on the left in the tool chest. You have to figure where to put them in the grid and with what orientation in order to get the sought after color passing through each of the coins. The initial configuration may already contain several items. You have to figure out how to get around these items or use them to your advantage. And, you can never let light (of any color) hit one of those TNT barrels.

Here is a sample starting configuration.

And here is the solution.

The key to this level is figuring out how to use the refractor, which bends light 45 degrees, to serve double duty.

The "Deluxe" version of the game comes with a total of 300 levels. There are 60 interactive tutorial levels which step-by-step explain the game and various items. Then there are 120 levels from the "original" game, broken up into four difficulty levels. Finally, there are 120 "deluxe" levels. Again, these are broken up into four difficulty levels.

The level design is top notch. Most people can skip the tutorial and start with the easy levels from the original game. The levels get progressively more difficult. Some are tricky, but usually there is an A-HA moment where you figure out the trick to solve a level. My one suggestion is to look for things which are diagonally related. As you complete levels, later ones become unlocked. However, you do not have to complete each level in order to move on to the next one. You can skip one or two toughies.

Aargon Deluxe comes with a level editor, but I was surprised that I could not find many user made levels out on the Internet. Twilight has two additional levels sets available for purchase on their website, and they have a hand full of free levels made by others. Given the popularity of the game, I expected to find a ton of levels. Maybe my google skills are not up to snuff.

There is one aspect of the game which I do not like: slimes. Slimes are these little green monsters which wonder around and eat certain items. On some levels, you need them to eat bins of radioactive waste in order to clear a path. They usually start out penned up by lasers. You have to release them and herd them towards the item you need eaten. The problem is that the rules for their movement is unclear. Twilight has a page on their website which partially explains how slimes move. However, I wish they had just never introduced them.

There are several freeware games out there which are similar to (clones of?) Aargon. None is as good or as polished. Here are three: Chromatron, Mirror Magic, and Laser. The last of these is a shockwave game which you play in your browser. To be fair, Aargon steals a bit from an old DOS game Laser Light by Pixel Painters.