Monday, April 30, 2007

Abstractica 2

Before getting to this week's entry, I want to ask a favor. I would like you to email me ( a list of the five best, in your esteemed opinion, logic/puzzle games which I have not previously mentioned in this blog. I will compile the results and report back.

Title: Abstractica 2
Author: MJK Games
License: freeware

Most logic games are set in a small, usually finite, world with well-defined rules. The goal is easy to understand even it is hard to get to. There are no gray areas. You know when you have succeeded. Pejoratively, logic games require thinking inside-the-box.

Abstractica 2 is just the opposite. It requires thinking outside the box. Each level consists of a picture and sometimes sound. All you have to do figure what answer the level designer was thinking. The picture is your only clue.

For example, the answer in this one is "banana". Type it in left text box and click on "Try It!" Opps, wrong answer. Hmm... Stuck? Click on "Tip" and "Read that text carefully :D" appears in the text box on the right. Thinking outside the box and making a few more wrong guesses, you try "very easy". Woo-Hoo, the right answer. On to the next level.

Let's try another one. All you have to do is figure out the mathematical pattern. After flailing about for a long time, I finally typed those 5 numbers in a search engine. It turns out that those are the product numbers for 5 different Noika cell phones. The answer is "Noika".

Abstractica 2 requires many different skills and sometimes some inspiration. Using the Internet to research an answer is fair game. Sometimes you have blow up an image using some paint tool to determine the secret. On one level, I had to use Audacity to slow down the audio.

This is a great game to play with multiple people, all throwing out ideas. Each person with their different strengths adds to the whole. Plus, you might learn something about your friends. When you really get stuck, there is a forum for hints.

There are 250 levels. You can skip three levels and get hints for fifteen. The level quality varies greatly. Some levels are real groaners. The most logical answer is not always the right answer. It can be frustrating. One annoying feature of Abstractica 2 is that it only saves the game every five levels.

Abstractica 3 is available for $8.50.

Sunday, April 22, 2007


Title: Gems
Author: GameCave
License: Freeware

Ultimately, the finally evaluation of any puzzle/logic game rests on the quality of its puzzles and level design. This, ultimately, is why Gems falls flat. It has high production values in terms of graphics and audio. It contains some unique twists on old ideas. But sadly, the level design is awful. Juvenile is a better description. This could have been a great game. I still want to review Gems because it comes with a level editor, and I hope that the user designed levels will be better.

Gems is at its heart a simple game. The objective is to get each of the goal gems (the red ones for example) to a disposal gem (light blue). The game is played top down. The moveable gems such as the red one are selected with a mouse click. The selected gem is then moved by hitting an arrow key. Once a gem starts moving, it keeps moving until it hits a wall or another gem.

There are many similar games out there, but Gems adds some interesting twists. There are pink gems which blow up and force a restart if touched by one of the other gems. The yellow defuser gems can be used to remove pink bomb gems. One nice twist is that several pink gems arranged in a line can be eliminated at once with a pass of a yellow gem. The next twist is the line gems which are goal gems but cannot be allowed to leave the rails. You must use the red gems to block and keep the line gems on the rails while transiting to the light blue disposal gem. Another nice twist is the light green gems with a number on it. These are also goal gems which must get to the disposal gem. However, they must do this in that number of moves. This makes for a tricky puzzles. A standard but nice addition is the deflector gem. Any moveable gem hitting one bounces back. Then there is once-through (dotted circular tile) which transforms into a solid wall after any gem passes through it.

Now, I need to start on the bad innovations in Gems. The first is the blue moving bombs. These just bounce back and forth. You have to time the moves to avoid them. The level designers relied on these moving bombs way too much. The resulting levels can be really annoying. In the level below, the upper blue gem has a range of only three spots. Timing this one is a pain, and it has to be done twice to complete the level. Sorry no saves.

The next problem is teleporters. Enter a blue X and come out a red X. These are ubiquitous in puzzle games. How can they be so bad? In Gems, there is no indication which blue X goes to which red X. Take a look at the level below. For each red gem, you have to guess which blue X leads to the red X next to the light blue disposal gems for each red gem. The other one leads to the pink gems.

Finally, there are these annoying timer gems which have to get to a disposal gem within a certain number of seconds. Ugh. After all this, the levels do not involve one of these annoying gems are usually fairly easy. There were only four or five that really took any thinking.

Gems comes with 62 levels broken into one introductory level, 6 sets of 10 levels each, and a final elite level. Each set introduces another item with a demo level. Once 8 out of 10 levels are completed in any set, the next set of 10 becomes available. This level structure is very good if only the levels were better designed.

Luckily, Gems comes a level editor. Maybe some user made levels will be good. We'll have to check back.

Sunday, April 15, 2007

Blocks 5

Title: Blocks 5
Author: David Scherfgen
License: Freeware

Blocks 5 was released a little over two weeks ago. I heard about it in a forum and downloaded a copy right away. Over the next couple of days, two regular readers emailed me about this great new puzzle game called Blocks 5. A sure sign that this one is better than most. Keep those suggestions coming.

Blocks 5 is a great hardcore puzzle game similar to Escape and Rocks'n'Diamonds. At a high level, it is a very simple game: collect the required number of diamonds and make your way to the exit. Movement is simple enough: up, down, left, and right. Easy it would be if it were not for the doors, lasers, and other obstacles. To get a feel for the game and the various items, watch the opening screen.

Before describing the game, I want to mention its quality. The graphics, audio, and level design in Blocks 5 are all professionally done. It is bug free and has the fit and finish of a commercial program. I suggest you download it and give it a spin just for this reason.

There is a large number of items in Blocks 5. I cannot list them all, but I will mention a few. There are gates, and switches to lower the gates of the same color. There are brown crates, blue blocks, and stones which can be pushed around. Some blocks feel the force of gravity, other do not. Oh, unlike most similar games, you can push multiple blocks. There are anvils; don't let one fall on your head. The game contains one way arrows. Oddly, the arrow restricts the direction which a character can walk onto one, not the more standard constraint on the direction you can walk off an arrow. This confused me for a while. Blocks 5 also includes the puzzle game standards: lasers, mirrors, canons, teleporters, bombs, and conveyor belts. While there is no documentation, the level editor gives a quick description of each item when you hover the mouse over it.

While most are not new, Blocks 5 puts an interesting twists on some items. For example, bumping into a magnet rotates all of the arrows 90 degrees. I enjoyed some of the puzzles this resulted in. There are separate teleporters for characters and objects. Teleporters, laser, and conveyor belts can be powered on and off at the switch.

Taking a feature from Triogical, some levels contain multiple characters. In these levels, the characters have to work together to complete it. The TAB key is used to rotate among the characters. These levels require a bit of planning and preplacement of characters. One thing to keep in mind is that bombs are not shared across characters. Each character can only use bombs which it picks up. And only one character has to make it to the exit to complete the level.

There is more. Some levels contains baddies to avoid. Other levels transform into a darkness mode where you can only see small area around your character, all colored items change to a shade of green (night vision, I guess). This makes it hard to determine which switches control which gates. I will leave the rest for you to discover on your own.

Blocks 5 comes with a campaign containing 42 levels plus a bonus level. The quality of these levels is in general quite good. The various game items are slowly introduced often with a helpful hint message. There are some good tricky puzzles in the mix. I enjoyed playing through the levels. At any time, the next three uncompleted levels are unlocked and available to be played. This kept me from getting too stuck.

A nice level editor is included. Another campaign is already available. I have a feeling that Blocks 5 will gain a loyal following and many user designed levels will follow.

Where Blocks 5 falls down is the high frustration factor in many levels. One small mistake and you have to start over. I cannot tell you times I had to hit Shift-F5 to restart a level. This game would be greatly improved with the inclusion of a take back button which allowed the user to undo the last dozen or so moves, or maybe a save/restore feature. Also, some levels require fast fingers. It is usually not too bad but does result in some restarts. To be fair, some levels contain a hotel which allows you to save and restore the current state of the level.

My next complaint with Blocks 5, as with many similar games, is that there are too many items and their interaction is not always logical. Lasers destroy certain items but not others, likewise with bombs. Some items can be pushed, others cannot. Some items fall down when pushed over a ledge, others do not. Sadly, there is no documentation.

I have a couple of final minor complaints. Blocks 5 calls home and checks for updates when started, and this feature cannot be turned off. It also requires and installs the Microsoft Visual C++ redistribution. These are things which many programs do. Still, I wish one did not.

Complaints aside, this is great puzzle game for anyone looking for a challenge. Download, play, enjoy. It is easily the best new puzzle game I have played this year. Still, I feel it could be better.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Loop-De-Loop 3

Title: Loop-De-Loop 3
Author: Smith from Australia
License: Freeware

DRoD: The City Beneath has been eating up my time this week. That and various Christan and Jewish religious meals (I am an atheist who loves to eat) has not left me with time to finish anything new this week. So, I am going to give a quick review of a great slitherlink program I ran across recently. The objective of a slitherlink puzzle is form one loop such that the edges adjacent to each numbered square equals the number in the square.

Loop-De-Loop generates random slitherlink puzzles and lets you solve them. You pick the size, say "14x10" and hit "new". It generates a random slitherlink problem of that size. Now it is time to solve. Left click to place an edge; right click to forbid an edge. Great, an almost infinite supply of slitherlink puzzles!

Looking a little deeper, there is a lot to this program. First, it supports other grid types, such as hexagons. Then take a peak at the puzzle creation options. Using the "Full Generator" option results in some tough puzzles. I personally like the difficulty of puzzles using the "Simple Generator" with "Lookahead" 2. You can use "AutoStart" to automatically fill in the obvious edges. One last thing, to get an idea as to how it solves slitherlink puzzles, try the "Use Visual Solver" option and then hit "Solve" on a tough one. I find this oddly entertaining to watch.

This is a great program. Any slitherlink fan will have a blast playing with it and the various options. Thanks Smith for making this program.

My only real complaint about Loop-De-Loop is the "hints" are often fairly obvious edges that have already been filled in. I would prefer that hints are always edges which are not currently assigned. Another complaint, which is very personal and I cannot really justify, is that random slitherlink problems are often a bit sterile compared to human generated problems. And to be picky, Loop-De-Loop does requires Microsofts's .NET Framework 2.0.

There are lots of other slitherlink programs out there. A decent one is Loopy, although some of its puzzles are uninspired. Online, my favorite is still, but some people prefer