Saturday, October 28, 2006

Castle of Elite

Title: Castle of Elite
Author: Daniel Remar
License: Freeware

With any puzzle/action game, there is a balance between the puzzle part and the action part. What makes a good puzzle/action game enjoyable is usually subjective and personal . I tend to enjoy games which are more puzzle than action. To give you a calibration of my tastes, the popular n requires too much finger work for my tastes, Blackshift is right at the boundary, and the small amount of timing needed for Reflexion is negligible.

Castle of Elite is a puzzle/action game which I greatly enjoyed. What pushes it into enjoyable territory is that when fancy finger work does appear necessary, it is usually possible with a bit of thought to find another way to solve the level which requires far less careful timing. This makes Castle of Elite a great thinkers game.

Castle of Elite is fairly straight forward platform puzzler. You have to collect all of the coins and proceed to the exit. You can move left or right and jump up one square. The interesting aspect of this game is that there are special brick symbols. After picking one up, you then have the ability to add a certain configuration of bricks anywhere on the board where the configuration fits. These additional bricks then be used to jump on and access other parts of the board. You have to think carefully where to place these additional bricks.

Castle of Elite also contains many of the usual puzzle game objects. There are switches which toggle bricks of the corresponding color. Jump boots allow you jump two levels instead of one. Teleporters help get you and the bad guys around.

Oh yes, the bad guys. There are several types of bad guys. Each has it own movement rules, and you certainly do not want to be touched by one. The sweeper just moves back and forth. The trundler moves left and right but feels the effects of gravity. The trapper rotates its directions of travel counter-clockwise when it hits a wall. An interesting facet of the strategy of Castle of Elite is that by placing bricks, the path of the bad guys can be and sometimes needs to be changed.

The levels are dividing into four difficulties with 12 levels of each difficulty. Once you have completed 6 levels of each difficulty, all of the levels of the next level become available. If you complete all of the levels of a given difficulty, a secret level is revealed. The later levels get quite hard.

The graphics and audio in Castle of Elite are decent. This is on the whole a very polished game. I encourage everyone to give this one a play even if it does require a little finger work from time to time.

Saturday, October 21, 2006

aXiebal 2004

Title: aXiebal 2004
Author: IDEE Software
License: Freeware

Have you ever found a game which by all rights you should hate, but you do actually enjoy it? aXiebal fits that description for me. Let me go over some of aXiebal's faults. The levels have to completed sequentially, and there is a time limit. The pacing of the levels is poor. The interface has huge flaws. For example, in order to see how many bombs you currently have in your possession, you have to hit enter, pause the game, and bring up a dialogue box. On many levels, it is impossible to tell which tiles can be destroyed with bombs and which cannot. This can result in some trial and error. The controls are mushy and take a bit of getting use to.

With all this going against it, I still enjoyed playing aXiebal. It is your basic platform puzzler. The rules are simple: controlling the teal ball, collect all the flags and make it to the exit. There are bombs which can also be picked up. Later, you can detonate a bomb destroying any neighboring destructible tiles. Depending on the tile set, you may or may not be able to tell which tiles are in fact destructible. There are elevators to gain back lost altitude and death tiles to avoid. The death tiles appear differently in different tile sets. Sometimes, they looks like water, file, or as above, electricity. That is it.

aXiebal comes with 75 levels. The difficulty of the levels varies a great deal and the pacing is quite poor. A sorting of the levels would really help. One oddity is that a few levels are different when playing on hard difficulty versus easy difficulty. Another oddity is that when you start a new game, you have to manually go in the options menu and set the level to begin playing. A very strange design choice in my opinion.

Why did I enjoy playing aXiebal? Well... there are a few tough levels in there which I really enjoyed. There were even a couple which I thought were impossible after a few failures. Also, the graphics and audio are decent.

Once you finish off aXiebal 2004, there is aXiebal Winter with 75 more levels to tackle. Although, I could not figure out how to configure aXiebal Winter to have English menus.

Friday, October 13, 2006


Title: OrbitZ
Author: Addictive 247
License: Freeware

Addictive 247 recently relicensed OrbitZ from a shareware to a freeware game. I am very thankful for this, but there is a price. You are forced to view an advert for other Addictive 247 games and hit ESC every time you exit the game.

The goal of each OrbitZ level is to safely get each planet (Earth, Mars, Jupiter, and Neptune) to its corresponding worm hole. You choose how to move the planets, but once a planet starts in motion it keeps moving until it hits a wall or another planet. To key to solving most levels is figuring out how to use the planets to block for each other and gain access to areas which they could not by themselves.

There are a couple of other items to spice things up. First, there are mines. If you run a planet into a mine, you gotta restart that level. Of course, there are mine sweepers. If a planet passes over a mine sweeper, all the mines are destroyed. Then there is the vortex which is similar to a teleporter, but you can only use it once and you do not know where the other end is. There can be a bit of trial and error with vortices. Finally, there are asteroids which bounce back and forth and must be avoided.

OrbitZ comes with 60 levels plus 5 tutorial levels. You can play any level at any time. Also there is no time limit. I have to give them thumbs up on both of these design choices. The levels get gradually more difficult as you proceed, but no level is overly difficult from a logic point of view. A few of the later levels are difficult from a timing point of view. On these few levels, you have to very carefully time planet movements to avoid the asteroids. No level editor is included.

One minor complaint about OrbitZ is that the graphic for Mars and Jupiter are similar. I got used to it, but it seems that Saturn would have been a better choice for one or the other. Otherwise, the graphics and sound are excellent. OrbitZ has the fit and finish that you expect from a commercial game.

OrbitZ keeps track of five players or profiles as they call them. One interesting feature is that the total number of moves is recorded for each profile. This might result in a little friendly competition among family members. It is too bad that they do not record the number of moves on each level and give a par or best score for each level. This would make OrbitZ a bit more challenging.

OrbitZ is a fun, quality puzzler and worth the price of having to look at their advertizement.

Friday, October 06, 2006


Title: Sokoblast
Author: Hellbound
License: Freeware

The last thing the world needs is another Sokoban clone. So, a year ago when I first saw this week's game on the Game Maker site, I skipped right over it because of its name. About a month ago, it appeared at Caiman Free Games, and I decided to give it a try. It turns out the Sokoblast has little in common with Sokoban. The truth is that it is not the greatest or most challenging game, but I still enjoyed running through the levels.

There is some interesting social networking between gaming sites which I observed due to this game. Once Caiman Free Games had a review, Sokoblast starting appearing on all kinds of sites. Independent Gaming had a review. The next one I noticed was at Noonan Free Games. There were a couple of others, and now my review. We all read each others blogs and sites on a regular basis. With a little chronological analysis, you can probably figure out exactly who reads whose site. I found it funny that the game has been available for over a year and is only now getting some play.

So what is Sokoblast all about? It is your basic collect all of the gold bars and make your way to the exit game. Standing in your way are locked doors, various types of blocks, and voids. To get past the locked doors, there are keys spread about to collect. The basic block type can be pushed around Sokoban style. Blue and green blocks can be only eliminated by stepping on the button of the same color. To get rid of the orange blocks, you have to push a block onto the orange button. The purple blocks cannot be destroyed but can be moved with dynamite blasts.

Now you have to get across those voids. If you push a block or blast a purple into a void, it fills in the void. Another way is to use your boomerang to active a red button. Once activated, some subset of the voids fill in. To use your boomerang, you have to have direct line of sight of the button.

As I said Sokoblast is not a great game. Its biggest flaw is the level design. There are only 27 levels which are all quite easy and quite repetitive. I didn't have to think more than 30 seconds on any given level. A couple of times, I made a small mistake and did something in the wrong order and had to start the level over again. It is more annoying than anything else. Sadly, no level editor was included.

Sokoblast comes with no documentation. Use the arrow keys to move, space bar to light a stick of dynamite, and x to use your boomerang. To save your progress, you have to return to the main menu. Doing this after completing each level gets a little tiring. Two of the three graphic tile sets are nice; the middle one is ghastly. The audio is nice.

Sokoblast is still a fun little ego boost.