Monday, August 18, 2008

iPhone Apps

Ok, I know this supposed to be a blog on PC games. But for the last month and a half, I have been playing logic/puzzle games on my iPhone. These games are a great way to kill a few minutes, and the iPhone is a convenient platform. You can get a level or two in anytime or anywhere. Also, the iPhone allows for simple intuitive interfaces.

Here are five games for the iPhone, ordered from great to good. One interesting thing is that many of them are ports from PC versions which I have already reviewed.


This is my favorite iPhone game so far. Masyu falls into the class of so called Japanese puzzles. The goal is to form a loop which goes straight at each white circle and makes a turn at each black square. There are some additional constraints so read the instructions. This is my favorite game so far. There are 60 puzzles, they are great, and I wish there were more. There were even two puzzles which I thought were impossible. I highest complement possible for any level designer.


I had previously reviewed the PC version of Enigmo. The port to the iPhone is very faithful. I have not played all of the levels, but it plays very similar to the original. The iPhone interface is perfect and has made this one of the most popular downloads at the apps store. Add to that, the graphics and audio are top notch.


This is a Bloxorz clone. You have to roll a 2x1x1 object to the target tile. They add a couple of twists. For example, there are triggers which raise other tiles allowing passage to the target. The puzzles are good, but you have to complete them in order.

The interface on CubicMan is odd. You zoom by touching the the screen with 2 or 3 fingers. I can never remember which is zoom in and which is zoom out. Panning is similary odd. It makes playing the game difficult. With a better interface, say use the accelerometers to rotate and pinch to zoom, this could have been a great game.


Lumen is a puzzle game in the class of Aargon Deluxe and Chromatron. I played the demo version of PC version of Lumen a while back, but did not think it was worth $10. However for $2, I was willing to try the iPhone version. I was underwhelmed with this version. First, the iPhone port supports only 7x7 boards. Second, the colors are hard to make out which can be annoying with games of this nature. Still there are ton of good puzzles available.


PuzzleManiak has ported many of Simon Tatham's Puzzle Collection to the iPhone. Simon Tatham is not directly involved and is not getting any of the money from sales of these games. In a quick email exchange, Simon indicated that this is allowed by the MIT License under which he released his collection, and he does not seemed bothered by it. To be fair, PuzzleManiak gives him credit for the writing the "game engine" on the about screen. However, they did not include a copy of the license as required.

I have only purchased two games from the collection: Galaxies and Unequal. Both are very good ports. PuzzleManiak added a couple of nice features to both game. One being a daily web challenge. Your score on the daily puzzle can be uploaded, and you can see just how good you are. I am not very good at either game.

Sunday, August 10, 2008


Title: Magicor
Author: Peter Gebauer
License: Creative Commons License

Magicor is a classic simple platform puzzle game. The objective of each level is to put out all of the fires. To douse the fires, you have to push or drop ice on each one.

You control the linux penguin guy. As is the norm in platform game, you can move left or right. You can fall off ledges. You can also step up but one step at a time. However, the unique feature in Magicor is that you can create and destroy ice tiles. Using the space key, if the space one ahead and one down is open, it gets filled in with ice. If the space one ahead and one down is ice, hitting the space key causes that ice block to degenerate.

The actual rules for the behavior of the ice is a little confusing at first. This raises my biggest complaint with Magicor, the lack of in-game documentation. There is a manual available, but it still takes some time to get use to the rules. The primary rule is that an ice platform connected to a wall will stay in place. But if you destroy the ice block connecting the group to the wall, the rest will fall. If it falls on a fire, it will extinguish the fire.

The other way to put out a fire is to push an ice block onto it. A single ice block can be pushed by your penguin along a platform. It will keep moving until it hits something, like fire, or falls off a ledge.

There are a couple of other twists. One is the tubes. They act like teleporters. There are also spikes, lava, and spider like things to avoid. Some of the levels require some quick figure work. But this raises one of the best aspects of Magicor, you can play the levels in any order. There are sixty levels plus three tutorial levels. The level quality is pretty good, but they could be put in a better order. Some of the hardest levels came early, but again you can play any level at any time.

The graphics and audio in Magicor are good, but nothing special. The program is solid (i.e. no bugs which I could find). I encourage you to download and play it. If you enjoy Magicor, a similar (and maybe better) game is Zep's Dreamland.

Sunday, August 03, 2008

BUKU Sudoku

Title: Buku Sudoku
Author: Merscom
License: Commercial

A couple months ago, Merscom released a version of their sudoku game for Xbox Live. As part of their PR campaign for this release, they contacted everyone under the sun to get the word out. We grass root bloggers are the best advertising possible, you know! They even contacted me. I don't even own a Xbox or Xbox 360, but that did not stop them. They suggested a little interview. I agreed, what the hell.

Not owning an Xbox and having never used Xbox Live, I cannot review this new version of Buku Sudoku. Here is one review. I have played the PC version. It is part of Buku Brain Blast along with a kakuro and mahjongg game which I grabbed out of the bargain bin one day for $10. An aside: I like the Buku Kakuro. I do not know of a good freeware version of kakuro. If you are a kakuro fan, Buku Brain Blast might be worth $10.

My favorite sudoku is Simple Sudoku. Overall, it is a better game than Buku Sudoku, but Buku does offer a couple of interesting features. One is that it supports larger sizes. In particular, it has 12x12 and 16x16 size sudoku problems. The Xbox version adds additional new features including cooperative play. This could result some intriguing new twists to puzzle games. I am not sure exactly sure where this might end up and am curious.

On to the interview. I passed few questions on to Ben Moy, one of the primary developers of
Buku Soduko. Here are my questions and his answers.

Q: Toughest question first. Why should someone pay $6.99 for the PC version of Buku Sudoku when there are many fine freeware sudoku programs such as Simple Sudoku available?

A: We created Buku Sudoku to cater to the market that demands crisp visuals, lots of game options, and endless puzzle boards. Through the Puzzle ID, It's easy to email or verbally send puzzles to friends and family. There are multiple control schemes that fit different levels of mouse or keyboard familiarity. Players choose between three themes, and each has the option to use corresponding shapes instead of numbers. Finally, all these options work well with the 5 different puzzle sizes to offer all ages something to fit the Sudoku experience they are looking for every time they sit down. These are some of the perks you just can't find in freeware games. Also, please keep in mind that the PC product came out over two years ago, and options were much more limited then.

Q: Are any of the interactive features in the XBox Live version going to be ported to the PC version?

A: This is something we would like to offer PC players as well, being able to include HD graphics, the many highly configurable interfaces, the ambient and active animations, fun music, co-op couch and internet multiplayer, the ability to use various USB controllers (in one handed configurations as well) and other features we were able to bring to the Xbox 360. This coming out will depend on a few things, like the launch of Microsoft's PC Arcade and Buku Sudoku Xbox LIVE reception.

Q: Buku Sudoku generates puzzles in three difficulty levels. Can you give some insight on how this is done?

A: Rather than remove or add givens which I've seen various books and software Sudoku offerings do, we analyze puzzles upon generation to be minimally solvable by various technique groupings.

Q: Buku Sudoku generates 12x12 and 16x16 puzzles. It is known that solving large sudoku puzzes is in general NP-complete. Do you have any quantitative data, such as search tree size or average solution time, for these larger sizes? How much harder are they?

A: We lean to the easier side on these, with the average user spending an hour or so to solve. These grid sizes have the potential to be very difficult, but it's more a slight exercise in memory expansion in Buku Sudoku to maintain accessibility.

Q: Any thoughts on generating puzzles with irregular shapes instead of the usual 3x3 blocks? I think these often go by the name Logi-n for various sizes of n.

A: We have non 3x3 blocks in both the PC and Xbox LIVE This is one thing I've wanted to do from the start of doing Sudoku games, and from having areas where users could create their own puzzles. Allowing border and rule changes would be a lot of fun. Similar to PC, XBLA offers updates and content packs that could make these a reality. I also like some of the variations with symmetry and diagonals in their initial layouts or solutions.