Friday, March 31, 2006

Tube Twist

Name: Tube Twist
Author: 21-6 Productions
License: Commercial

Tube Twist is an Incredible Machine like game which I kept going back and forth on. At times, I really enjoyed working its puzzles, and there is something about it that kept piquing my interest. Other times, I found it irritating and aggravating, and swore I would never play it again. However, I kept coming back to it.

In Tube Twist, you have to piece together a labyrinth of tubes which guide balls (called macrotons) from their starting tubes (injector tubes) to the exits (reactor tubes). Each level (experiment) starts with one or more injector tubes, the same number of reactor tubes, and some other fixed items. In the tube tray at the bottom are the items which you get to place on the board. Your task is to figure where to place them and with which orientation so that the macrotons will make it to the reactor tubes of the appropriate color. Some levels also contain checkpoint tubes which must be passed through in order to successfully complete an experiment.

There are 36 items in Tube Twist which are slowly introduced as you work your way through the experiments. There are too many items to describe here. I will mention a few to give you a flavor for the game. One of the basic items is the accelerator tube which accelerates any macroton passing through it and helps them overcome gravity. Another is the bowl which acts like a funnel capturing flying macrotons and directing them down its lower opening. Then there is the cannon which fires out at a high rate of speed any macroton that happens to enter it. The variety of the items is impressive.

There are many good aspects to Tube Twist. The graphics, audio, menus, and presentation are excellent and very professionally done. There is even a fun back story explaining why you have to solve these experiments. There are a total of 80 experiments to complete, spread over 5 ages. You have to complete all experiments in an age before gaining access to those in the next age. The experiments are varied and generally increase in difficulty. However, there were a couple of experiments for which my solution seemed to be a short circuit. I did not use many of the items, either fixed or from the tube tray. I am willing to bet the designer of the experiment did not foresee my solution.

The physics model in Tube Twist is quite sophisticated. Well this might sound like a great feature, it turns out to be the major problem with Tube Twist. It is nearly impossible to determine with logic alone whether a solution will work or not. There is a lot a trial and error necessary. It goes something like this. Will the macroton make up that sequence of tubes? Give it a try. Well... it didn't make it up. Ok, I need to put an accelerator tube in there. I can steal one from over there. Let's see if that works. And so on. It can get a bit tiring. For several experiments, I knew I had the correct basic idea, but had to exhaust a bit to get just the right configuration. This is the aggravating part.

So what is my final opinion? I am glad I purchased and played it, but Tube Twist does have it faults. In any case, it passed the dollar an hour test (cost/hours of playtime).

A some somewhat similar game is Piper. It is freeware game which won the Game Creator contest last Summer.

Friday, March 24, 2006

Browser Games 3

It is time for some more web browser based logic games. These are fun little games which take advantage of technologies such as Macromedia Flash and can be played right in your browser. This week I am going to mention three such games which I enjoyed playing. They share a few things in common. Each is relatively easy. No great challenges this week. And all three come with a relatively small number of levels. You can probably knock each off in one sitting and get a little personal morale boost.

Before getting to my picks, here are six sites which host browser based games.
There are a lot of games contained in these sites.


In Threesome, you have to move the three balls to the three "x" tiles. Standing in your way are a series of doors. To open a door, balls have to be positioned on tiles whose colors correpsond to each of the half doors. This requires two of the balls to work together so the third ball can pass through a door. It also requires some careful planning on your part. There are only 8 levels which is a shame.

Road Blocks

Road Blocks is a simple game. The goal is to get the white ball to one of the red exits. You use the arrow keys to start the ball in motion. A ball in motion will stay in motion until it hits a wall. However, if the ball leaves the playing area, you lose and the level restarts. Add in the blue teleporters and that is Road Blocks. There are only 22 levels with a password for each one. The levels are fairly easy and the pacing is not great, but it is still a fun game.


Blockdude is a little harder than other two. You control dude, I guess that is his name. Your goal is to get to the exit. To do this, you move the blocks around creating little staircases for yourself. You see, you cannot climb up more than one step at a time. You can carry one block at a time. There are only 14 levels, and they can get tricky. My only complaint about Blockdude is that it does not remember which levels you have completed nor does it have any password system. So you have to complete all 14 levels in one sitting.

Friday, March 17, 2006

Renju Master & WPente

Name: Renju Master
Author: Jun Liang
License: Freeware

Name: WPente
Author: Mark Mammel
License: Freeware

Renju and Pente are similar abstract strategy games. Players alternate placing stones on the intersections of a grid. The goal in both games to get five in a row before your opponent does. Pente adds certain captures to the mix. This week, I am going to review the best computer opponents which I have found to play these two games.

Renju is played on a 15x15 grid. The first player plays in the center. Player then alternate placing one stone at an unoccupied intersection. The first one is get five in a row vertically, horizontally, or diagonally wins. Renju Master is a very nice computer implementation of Renju. It has a clean and simple interface. One feature which I like is that it warns you with an audio chime when the computer player forms four in a row or an open three in a row.

Renju Master plays a strong game. I have not played much Renju in my life and am not a strong player myself. So, I cannot say if this program would be a challenge for a world-class player. However, it was more than a challenge for me. It has 10 levels. However, in order to play against level i, you have to beat the computer in a challenge match, best two out of three, at level i-1. I have only made it to level 4, but have enjoyed learning about Renju by playing Renju Master.

Pente is played on a 19x19 grid. Captures are possible in Pente. If an adjacent pair of stones is capped at both ends by the opponent, they are captured and removed from the board. You can win by getting five in a row or my making five captures. Pente was released around 1980 and was somewhat popular. I played fair number of games as a kid back then. The equipment had a quality feel to it which added to the enjoyment. I do not know if current Pente sets are still of such quality. It has been a while since I have seen a Pente set available in a store.

WPente is the best computer implementation of Pente I have found. It lacks polish. For example, if you hit F1 for help, a error message comes up instead of the help window. And you have hunt around a little with the menus to set the computer opponent, but these complaints are cosmetic. The important thing is that it plays a strong game. There are 18 levels which represent how many moves ahead it looks. On the higher levels, it beats me soundly, and I was a reasonable player once. But, it can be painfully slow. On level 10, it takes about a minute a move which I think is a good compromise. Wpente is a good game for any Pente fan.

Both Renju and Pente suffer from the fact that the first player has a huge advantage. To balance this, both games have "tournament rules" which restrict the first players later moves. In Pente, the first player's second move must be a certain distance from the center. In Renju, the rules are much more complicated. The first player is not allowed to make a "double three", "double four", or "overline" (see the official rules for definitions) at any time. This is a serious restriction which in my mind indicates that Renju is a fundamentally flawed game. In any case, both programs implement their respective tournament rules correctly.

Friday, March 10, 2006

Rant: A Trio of Pans

I normally only write about games which I have enjoyed playing. However, this week I am going to give short reviews of three games which I would suggest you steer clear of. These three games are not the kind of crappy games which are easy to spot. At first, each looked like a good game. Only after investing some time and for two of them twenty dollars, did I realize their failings.

Essence Child

Essence Child is a simple freeware puzzle game. The goal is to move each of the three balls, colored red, blue, and green, to the proper hole. Along the way you have hit switches which toggle certain walls and find keys to open locked doors. Instead of doing a normal top down view, they went with a isometric view. I guess they thought this was fancier. The problem is that the isometric walls can hide switches and keys. On one level, I had to exhaustively search the maze to find a key. On another level, I had to guess that there was an item hidden behind a toggleable wall. In the level pictured, there is a key in square surrounded by green walls and another in the square surrounded by the red walls. Can you see either? They let the graphics get in the way of the game play. Also the levels are incredibly easy. I kept waiting for them to get harder, but they never did. Don't waste your time on this one.


At first, Cubology seemed like a great game. It has gotten some great reviews. You have to move cubes around subject to certain restrictions. The goal is to remove all of the cubes from the field. Three or more similarly colored cubes of one type when moved next to one another blow up and disappear. Other cube types have different rules. The major problem here is the controls. Using the mouse, it is very easy to move a cube in the wrong direction. Add to this the fact that some levels have a limit on the number of move which you can make. Then toss in a time limit, and you have a recipe for frustration. The really sad thing about Cubology is that the level design is really good. It just isn't worth it though. Don't waste your money on this one.

Crazy Machines

Crazy Machines is a remake of one of my favorite games of all time: The Incredible Machine. I was so stoked when I ordered it. Maybe my expectations were too high, but this game was very disappointing. Sure, the physics model in CM is better than that of TiM, and it has better graphics. But, that is where the betters end. The first problem is that the goal for many levels is hard to decipher from the dialogue box shown at the start of a level. Next, the solutions often require pixel accuracy. Above is the solution to level 4. You have to get the tennis ball in the metal bucket. You might think to use the magnet to pull the bucket over slightly to the left allowing the ball access. After wasting some time on that logical solution, you might try to use the curved part of the magnet to direct the ball into bucket. This will work, but if you move that magnet one or two pixels in any direction, it won't work. Also, the pacing of the levels is heinous. After completing 20 some odd normal levels, there is a set of tutorial levels. Don't waste your sanity on this one.

Side Rant: all game designers who think is a good idea to force players to complete level i before allowing them access to level i+1 should be required to get to level 5 of Crazy Machines.

I will be back next week with a good game for you to play.

Saturday, March 04, 2006

Nuclear Age

Name: Nuclear Age
Author: PlainX group
License: Freeware

All of the entries are in for the Caiman Free Games Easter Contest. There are about 100 entries. After my Puzzle Bunnies, the next best puzzle game in the bunch is Nuclear Age. Ok, maybe it is better than Puzzle Bunnies, but PB has an Easter theme and NA doesn't; so there!

Nuclear Age is a nice remake of Stone Age. The goal of each level is get from the entry point to the exit. Unfortunately, there is no direct path. Instead you have to use the platform tiles to get across the voids. The platform tiles have arrows on them which indicate the direction or directions they can be moved. Once you start moving a platform tile, it keeps moving until it hits another object. If your character happens to be on a platform tile when you move it, he/she/it moves along with the platform tile and hopefully on towards the exit. Since the platform tiles do not stop until they hit something, you have to plan ahead and use other platform tiles to block.

There are a couple of other tile types. There are breakable tiles which can only be walked on once. There are keys and locked doors, and as always there are teleporters. A simple and sweet design.

Nuclear Age comes with 60 levels spread over 4 worlds. Each world has a different graphic set for the tiles. The levels are well designed and well paced. Some levels are a bit tricky. There were a couple of levels which at first I thought were impossible, but eventually figured out what I was missing. Each time, I thought to myself, "I should have seen that sooner." Also, some levels have a few extra platform tiles just to throw you off. A level editor is included.

Now let me tell you the things about Nuclear Age which I think could be improved. There are two design choices which do not agree with. Every level comes with a time limit. The time limit is rarely a factor, but it is annoying on a few levels. (Hint: edit byte 0x70 in a *.sam file in the levels directory to change the time limit.) The other suspect design choice is that you have to complete each level in order before you can attempt the next. If you get stuck on one level, the game becomes very unfun. These are my usual complaints about a lot of puzzle games.

One thing about the game which confused me at first is that platform tiles can be moved even if your character is not on them. In fact, you have to do this most levels. This brings me to a more serious problem with Nuclear Age: the controls. You use the mouse to select platform tiles and arrow keys to move them. One way to manage the controls to switch between the mouse and arrow keys with your right hand. Another way is mouse with right hand and arrows with left hand. This is uncomfortable, but my choice. I wish you could do everything with the mouse or be able to remap the arrows to "asdw". Maybe all the Nuclear Age programmers are left-handed and use the mouse with their left hand?

In the end, Nuclear Age is a very enjoyable game. I hope it does well in the contest.