Sunday, October 19, 2008

Snakoban Dash

Title: Snakoban Dash
Author: Tom Beaumont
License: Freeware

Tom Beaumont is the author of my 2006 Game of the Year, Hex-a-hop. So, when I saw a new game from him, I got excited, very excited. His new game Snakoban Dash is an interesting mix of sokoban, snake, and boulder dash.

To get a feel for the game, here is a youtube video produced by IndieGames.

The sokoban part: the goal of each Snakoban Dash level is to push a crate to each of the target squares. The usual rules apply. You can only push one box at a time into an empty square. In later levels, some of the crates are ice crates which once pushed keep moving. One deviation from the usual sokoban rule set is that there can be more crates than target squares.

The snake part: instead of controlling a one square character as in standard sokoban games, you control the head of a multi-square snake which slithers along behind. This means you have to be careful how you approach a crate as your own body can block the path. Also, upon eating an apple, the snake grows one square longer. On the other hand, if you eat a mushroom, your tail falls off and you become a two square long snake again. Then there are grapes, you will find out about them.

The boulder dash part: certain items (boulders and toxic barrels of something or another) feel the force of gravity. If you eat out the ground underneath such items, they will fall. Boulders fall in the usual boulder dash fashion, meaning I do not really understand all rules for how they fall and roll. Toxic barrels will blow up upon hits something. Such explosions will destroy brick walls potentially giving access to other parts of the board and freeing up paths for those boxes. Explosions will also kill you if any part of your snake is next to one.

Putting it all together, Snakoban Dash results in some great puzzles. This is due to Tom Beaumont's top notch puzzle construction skills. Many levels combine puzzle elements the three types. One example, you can use your snake body to support a toxic barrel while your head pushes it left or right. Another example, you can use your snake body to stop an ice crate.

There are 40 levels which are divided into groups of three. To gain access to the next group, you have to complete two out of three of the previous set. As you work through the levels additional game items are introduces.

One great feature is that there are unlimited undos. This is a life saver.

There graphics are intentionally bad. The readme file calls it "Retro TV emulation". I am going to say something awful, but I found the graphics distractingly bad. I know ... I know ... I always say the graphics don't matter, the puzzles matter. Here the graphics actually interfere with the game.

Thursday, October 09, 2008

Marble Seals

Title: Ohajiki Azarashi (aka Marble Seals)
Author: Anahara Masataka
License: Freeware

About a year ago, I wrote an entry on Crocodile Garden, a good puzzler with simple rules and tough puzzles. At the time, I added two other games from Anahara Masataka to my personal to-play-list. A couple of weeks ago, Crocodile Garden and the other two appeared in the new games list on Caiman Free Games. This pushed me play one of the others, Marble Seals.

I really like Masataka's games. They have simple rule sets, often thoughtful variants of standard puzzles. The key is the good puzzles. This holds for Marble Seals. At first glace, it is just sokoban clone: push a seal to each target circle. However, it adds a few twists which result in a fundamentally different games.

Twist #1: the surface is slippery: ice or maybe marble. Once pushed, a seal slides along until it hits a wall, another seal, falls off the board, or hits a door.

Twist #2: you cannot push seal if the next square is occupied. However, similar to Newton's cradle, when a seal is pushed into a row of seals, the pushed seal stops and last seal in row pops out and keeps moving.

Twist #3: doors. There are 2 by 1 doors which can be pushed open. These can be used to access other areas and form bridges. If there is a seal on the other side on the door, instead of opening the door pushes that seal.

The interface is simple, arrow keys to move and space bar to push a seal. One difference with Marble Seals versus most sokoban like games is not all of the seals are need to arrive at a target square. You can and have to on some levels sacrifice some seals.

Marble Seals comes with 40 levels. The level construction is very well done with many good aha moments. As levels are completed, additional levels become available allowing some tough levels to be skipped. Some levels are tough, but usually a bit of thought will lead you to a solution.

Marble Seals does have some stability issues. It crashed every time I switched users or resumed Windows. Also, an undo feature would dramatically improve the game. Those are the only serious minuses. Some might be put off by the simple graphics, but they are effective do not get in the way. The audio is also simple. The key here is the good puzzles and it's free. There is no reason to skip this one.