Sunday, February 25, 2007

Laser Frensy

Title: Laser Frensy
License: Freeware

The author of Laser Frensy claims the game is a "really, really hard puzzle game," and he is right. This game kicked my butt. There are only 18 levels, but it took me a lot longer than it should have to finish. A real ego bruiser, this one.

The goal in Laser Frensy is to shot the exit (the white circular tile) twice. The first shot opens the exit; the second completes the level. Your only tools are the lasers. By clicking on a laser, it fires. Some lasers are on tracks and can be moved left/right or up/down by clicking on the arrows. The tough part is aiming lasers. Hitting a laser with a laser blast rotates its firing direction 90 degrees clockwise. A big part of this game is planning ahead to get the lasers aimed correctly.

The effect of a laser blast on other objects is pretty logical. The black walls stop the laser blast. A blast bounces 90 degrees when hitting the glass side of a mirror. The mirrors can be moved one square by hitting them on one of their other two sides. Red brick walls need to be hit twice to be knocked down. There are these nifty bombs (radiation symbol things) which blow up other objects when pushed into them.

One laser blast can pass through the tiles with a cross on them, then they become solid. The one direction tiles only allow a blast through in that one direction, but toggle their direction upon doing so. The small boxes move one square, if open, when hit by a blast. I think that is it.

While there are only 18 levels, that was more than enough to challenge me. The levels are very well constructed. On most levels, there is an "a-ha" moment when you see the trick to solving the level. The level pictured above is one of my favorites. For the longest time, I was sure that you had to rotate the laser just above the exit three times. Finally, I realized that you can use the bomb to blow up the wall just to the left of the exit. Then the level became easy with a little careful planning.

Complaints? The screen size is small and fixed. A level editor would be nice.

There is one odd thing about the game. It somehow reads the keyboard at a low level. If you start laser frenzy, open notepad, and start typing, then every time hit the m key, the music in laser frenzy will toggle on and off. This means that it is reading the keyboard even when another program has focus. I did not think Windows allowed programs to do this. So, don't go typing in you on-line banking password while playing. I do not think it is doing anything bad, but it could be. Who knows!

Laser Frenzy reminds me a bit of Laser Tank.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

No Friction

Title: No Friction
Author: Daniel Remar
License: Freeware

A quick one this week. In No Friction, you control the large blue ball. You have to collect all the small green balls and make your way to the exit. The constraint is that once you send the ball in motion, it keeps moving until it hits a wall. Thus, the title of the game.

You also have to avoid the traps. The gray traps are fixed. The red traps move back and forth, but timing is not really an issue. One more thing, some of the walls are breakable. Once you hit one, it breaks and disappears. That is all there is to the game.

No Friction has only 20 levels, and they are not too hard. At each move, you have at most four options and many of them can be quickly eliminated. This is a fun little game which you can play in a few sittings.

There is something about about simple little games like No Friction which I really like despite their obvious faults. It guess it is the indie thing. My only real complaint is that I could not turn off the music.

Thursday, February 08, 2007

Sokoban YASC

Title: Sokoban YASC
Author: Brian Damgaard
License: Freeware

Sokoban is an ubiquitous puzzle game. The first version came out in early 80s. Over the years there have been many clones and variants. I have wasted a bit of time with ksokoban which comes with most linux distros while I should have been working. But, for some reason which I cannot explain, I have never been a huge fan of sokoban. It has a simple idea and gives rise to some great puzzles which be really tough. Objectively, I should be a huge fan. Personal taste is a funny thing.

Just in case you have never played sokoban, here is a quick description. The goal is to get each crate, box, or stone to one the destination spaces. To do this, you use the man or bulldozer to push the crates about the maze. You can only push one crate at time into an empty space. Simple rules but some levels require thousands of moves.

Among the many windows clones, I like YASC (Yet Another Sokoban Clone) the best. It has a simple interface and controls, and comes with all the features you would expect: 1521 levels, unlimited undos, solution recording, and a level editor in case you solve all 1521 levels. There is deadlock detection which keeps you from doing really bone head moves. There are a dozen skins if you do not like the default graphics.

There are two unusual features of YASC which put it on top. The first is reverse mode. In this mode, the destinations and crates are flipped. Instead of pushing crates to destinations, you pull destinations to the starting positions of the crates. The reverse mode is logically equivalent to the forward mode. Strangely, some puzzles seem easier working in reverse.

The other unique feature of YASC is YASS (Yet Another Sokoban Solver). It turns out that solving sokoban puzzles can be quite hard. For some problems, the search space gets unmanageably large. YASS cannot solve all 1521 levels, but it does a pretty good job, and I have enjoyed playing with it.

A while back, I wrote my own sokoban solver using a best-first A* algorithm approach. I was surprised how difficult these problems can get. So, YASS impressed me. The University of Alberta gaming group have also taken stab at sokoban.

One odd feature of YASC is a built in music player. There is nothing like solving puzzles while listen to a little Moby.

I wish YASC recorded completed levels in a clearer fashion. I have no other complaints.

There are many other good sokoban programs. I have not tried them all, but one of the best is Sokoban++. The oxyd clone Enigma contains a set of sokoban levels. Another interesting program is Spherical.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Blue Ball

Title: Blue Ball
Author: H.Yamaguchi
License: Freeware (I think, I cannot read Japanese)

One of my favorite freeware gaming sites is One problem for me is that the site is in Czech, but I have made due. It does not require a PhD to figure out that Logicke means logic. Then using the screen shots, I have found some good games over the years. Recently, they started an English version of their website which is wonderful for us English only folks. They have not translated every description yet, but they seem to be working on it.

I found this week's game, Blue Ball, going through the English listings at It is a simple little logic game which lacks polish, but contains some good puzzles. The goal is simultaneously fill each of the end tiles (indented tile with a small blue dot) with one of the blue balls. The controls are simple, the four arrow keys. Hitting an arrow key moves all of the balls one space in that direction unless the ball bumps up against a wall or other unmovable block.

Solving most levels comes down to figuring out how to get the correct separation, both horizontally and vertically, between the balls. The walls allow you to move some of the balls while keeping the others fixed. However, you have to make sure that none of your balls falls into an void tile, never to be seen again.

There are several special tiles which add additional complication to the game. The red blocks can be pushed around so long as there is an empty tile at the end of the row. Things can be hidden under red blocks. This comes into play in a couple of the levels. The yellow blocks can also be pushed about. They also fill voids when pushed into one, forming a bridge. The blue blocks act as locked doors. The keys are the small blue topped pyramids. There are breakable tiles. One type can only be walked on (rolled on?) once; the other can withstand two transversals. Finally, the tiles with arrows on them restrict which direction a ball can move off them.

Blue Ball contains 64 levels. They are arranged in eight groups of eight. Once you complete five levels a group, the next group of eight levels becomes available to play. The quality of levels is a mixed bag. Some are quite easy, others quite hard. Some are just plain annoying. One level contains three blue blocks, but the blue pyramids are hidden under red blocks. You have to find them. I actually have not finished all 64. Assuming that you can solve five out of eight levels, you can skip the annoying ones.

Beside the arrow keys, the only other keys you need are the space bar and escape key. The space bar toggles between the level selection screen and the levels. Hit it twice when you mess up and want to restart. The escape key exits the game.

It is easy to find faults with the blue ball: poor level quality and pacing, weak graphics and sound, general lack of polish, and no level editor. But, I suggest you overlook all this. There are some good puzzles mixed in here. And, it is free. Well, I think it is free. I cannot read Japanese, so I cannot be sure. Why not play it?