enfrdeitptrues

Puzzle

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    boxart
    Game Info:

    In Between
    Developed by: Gentlymad
    Published by: Headup Games
    Release Date: June 8, 2016
    Available on: PC, Mac, Linux, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle-platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $11.99

    Thank you Headup Games for sending us this game to review!

    Death is inevitable and sometimes people die in an undeserving manner.  The nameless protagonist in this game is diagnosed with a type of terminal cancer that is unusual given his lifestyle.  He’s struggling with anger and depression as he’s coming to grips with his diagnosis.  Throughout the sixty levels you’ll get to relive some of his fondest memories in his life.

    At first the puzzles only have gravity defying challenges.  The main character can walk along walls and float up to the ceiling to avoid the spiky areas that will kill him (in a bloodless manner) upon impact.  The death effect is like a shattering of glass with all of the fragments spreading across the screen.  I got to see it more than one-hundred times and even got an achievement for dying so much.

    In Between
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Challenging puzzles; neat visuals; great story, background music,  and voice acting
    Weak Points: Some of the levels are very frustrating with not enough checkpoints
    Moral Warnings: This game revolves around the main character dying and reminiscing on his life; many bloodless deaths will be experienced while attempting these puzzles; drinking references

    Other achievements are earned by watching all of the memories and completing the life sections on depression, anger, denial, and bargaining.  Throughout the game you’ll get to relive the character’s interactions with his father, mother, wife, and daughter.  As great as the story is, it takes a lot of patience and persistence to get through it. 

     I enjoyed the puzzles until the timed ones appeared.  While there isn’t a timer that’s counting up or down, there is a darkness that creeps up on the player that can only be temporarily thwarted by facing it.  Since you only have a limited amount of time before it catches up with you, you’ll have to be quick and precise with your movements.  Sadly, there are not enough checkpoints to reduce the amount of frustration that have caused many gamers to rage quit on this title.
    In Between
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 82%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 9/10

    I watched some helpful YouTube videos on how to solve some of the puzzles in the levels that were stumping me.  Even with the guides, I lacked the agility and patience to complete the trickier levels.  Before purchasing this game, I highly recommend checking out the demo on Steam or watching a YouTube video or two to see what’s expected of you.

    If you like challenging puzzles and platformer games, In Between is well polished and has a lot to offer.  The art style is neat and the levels have a lot of variety to keep things interesting.  The background music is pleasant and the voice acting is well done.   While nothing is shown, the game talks about drinking and drunkenness.  Though this game is clean enough for kids to play, I can’t imagine them having the patience needed to complete these trials.  The regular price on the Xbox store is $11.99, but I have seen this game for less than $5 on Steam and for that price it’s worth looking into.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
    Developed by: Steel Crate Games
    Published by: Steel Crate Games
    Released: October 8, 2015
    Available On: Windows, macOS, PlayStation 4, HTC Vive, Oculus Rift, OSVR
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: 2 or more
    Mode: Local co-op
    Price: $14.99
    (Humble Store Link)

    “Hello, this is the bomb defusal hotline; how may we assist you today?” This was my friend Bob (all names changed). Over the speaker phone we heard Sara’s answer: “Hi, I seem to be locked in a room with a bomb.” She was down the hall with my laptop, a phone, and no idea what to do.

    “I’m sorry to hear that,” I said. “Could you describe the bomb, please?” Bob and I had no idea what we were doing, either. This was our first time playing Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. In the next five minutes we would experience the stress of communication troubles, logic puzzles, and a pressing timer. With five seconds left, we also felt the thrill of triumph. The bomb was defused; Sara was saved.

    Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes is a cooperative PC game in which one player, the Defuser, is stuck in a virtual room with a bomb on a timer. The rest of the players, called the Experts, have a manual; inside are instructions for defusing the bomb. The Defuser can’t look at the manual, and the Experts can’t look at the bomb. They all have to keep talking to save the Defuser from a digital explosion.

    This game requires different resources than the average PC multiplayer setup. There is no single-player mode. Players need a computer for the Defuser, a way to communicate with the Experts, and a manual. My first game used a phone, but players can just as easily sit in the same room as long as the Experts keep their eyes off the computer screen. The manual is available for viewing and download from http://www.bombmanual.com/. I recommend printing for the best experience. While the manual can be viewed on a phone or tablet, a paper copy allows faster page flipping and note taking, tasks essential to the Experts’ role. There is a VR version of the game and manual available via Oculus Rift, HTC Vive, OSVR, and PS VR. Although I have not had the opportunity to try the VR experience, gameplay is identical in all versions.

    Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Team/communication skill building; short levels mean mistakes don’t hurt for long; only one copy needed for multiplayer; simple controls
    Weak Points: Brief overall; no single-playe moder; repetitive without resorting to community-made levels; puzzles are less challenging once players become familiar with the game
    Moral Warnings: Centered on bombs; within the world of the game, the player, not the character, "dies" when you lose

    The bomb can have anywhere from three to eleven separate modules that need solving. They range from the basic—a yellow button labeled "Disarm"—to the complex—a maze with invisible walls. There are wires, passwords, symbols, Morse code, and more. Each module has a corresponding page in the manual. The Defuser might see a box with five wires. Which should be cut? Only the Experts can answer, using the page titled “On the Subject of Wires.” As the Defuser describes the bomb and Experts figure out what to do, time leaks away. If the players make a mistake such as cutting the wrong wire, they get a strike, and the timer ticks down faster. If the timer hits zero or the Defuser gets three strikes, the bomb explodes.

    At its heart, this is a game about communication. The Defuser describes what he sees, and the Experts give instructions. The manual is filled with mini logic puzzles such as, “If there are no yellow wires and the last digit of the serial number is odd, cut the third wire.” The manual is clever and obtuse. "On the Subject of Complex Wires" features the most convoluted Venn diagram I've ever had to use. "On the Subject of Who's on First" exploits homophones to great effect. Generally, the puzzles would be trivial if one could see the bomb and the manual. The fun is in the division of information between the two groups. For example, one module is a keypad with four random symbols. It is the Defuser’s job to make the Expert see the symbols without looking at them.

    Defuser: “I see a weird six, a spider with a shield, a smiley face, and an X on an I.”
    Expert: “Wait, an Eye?”
    Defuser: “No, an I.”

    Gameplay is tense. Everyone can hear the timer beeping away, and it prevents players from being entirely certain they are making the right move. You will get lots of laughs from Defusers pressing the wrong button, Experts making simple mistakes, and everybody deciding it's just time to pick a wire and hope. Even when things are going well, you feel the race against the clock. Every successful defusal is a rush.

    Upon playing, you will likely learn how the other players communicate, think, and act under pressure. You will certainly have fun. It is everything office team-building exercises want to be, and levels average only five minutes. Gameplay is inherently rewarding and might forge new friendships. Though there is one Defuser, there can be as many Experts as you want. Keep Talking, which naturally draws people in (how often do you hear someone shout, “Cut the red wire”?), can easily expand to about five players.

    Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 84%
    Gameplay - 16/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 7/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There is no story here unless the players role-play. The tutorial is a two-minute affair which teaches how to use the mouse to interact with the bomb. The controls are easy and responsive, and this tutorial pulls off the difficult feat of teaching people who are not used to three digital dimensions how to rotate the bomb. The graphics are modest, making the information on the bomb easy to parse. When I play in a public area, I make a habit of asking random passers-by if they have five free minutes. Almost anyone who plays can manage the controls and understand the manual. Keep Talking takes the uninitiated and turns them into competent players in minutes. It’s a great party game.

    Simplicity is a strength and a weakness, however. There are few levels and limited modules. Every level is randomized each time you play, but all randomization takes place within the confines of the manual. Over time, players develop codes and procedures for modules. The Defuser rattles off the information he knows the Expert needs; then he just waits for an answer. In short, the more proficient players become at communicating within the game, the fewer surprises and laughs the game can offer.

    Don’t let that stop you from trying this game out. The Steam Workshop has additional modules and manuals which players have added to the base game, should you want to mod it. If not, the solution to rote play is bringing on fresh players and mixing up the roles. The fun will return when the newcomer says, “There’s an abort button. I’m pressing it.”

    If the premise of the game is not a moral concern, nothing else about it will be, either. The “explosion” is limited to a stock sound and the screen turning black. The game takes place in a small room that shows slight damage from previous explosions. The game is first-person; it is you, not some character, who explodes when you lose. There is music typical of a spy thriller that slowly builds as the timer counts down. Stress builds, too, and it can cause conflicts amongst the players if they let it. Then again, so can office team-building exercises.

    I highly recommend Keep Talking and Nobody Explodes. The price is reasonable for the fun you can have as a group. The game is lightweight and can run on a laptop. If you are close to anyone who hasn’t tried a video game before, buy this game and ask for five minutes of their time. You will be glad you did.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Kill The Bad Guy
    Developed by: Exkee
    Published by: Exkee
    Release Date: May 28, 2014
    Available on: Linux, Mac, PC
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of Players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Exkee for sending us this game to review!

    Kill The Bad Guy is a unique and violent 3D puzzle game that puts you in a secret society that kills criminals that the justice system has left on the streets.  Many of these bad guys have a fictitious and gruesome back-story that justifies their need for a bloody death.  One of the back stories is said to be true about a murderer that castrated, sexually abused, eventually killed and ate the child victims and wrote to their parents explaining the gruesome details of their death.  While it’s not right to seek vengeance (Romans 12:19), as a parent, I don’t mind letting a tree fall over and kill this guy.

    Not every story makes your blood boil like that example.  One of the missions has you take out a guy that does the back stroke in crowded public pools.  The unlockable mini-games are pretty light hearted as well and let you kill groups of zombies or fling Rottweilers at bad guys Angry Birds style. 

    Kill The Bad Guy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Creative but violent puzzle game with over 60 levels
    Weak Points: Not much replay value or flexibility on how to kill the bad guys
    Moral Warnings:Plenty of violence, gore, graphic details and language

    The main game consists of sixty increasingly difficult scenarios.  There isn’t a whole lot of wiggle room when it comes to orchestrating the demise of the bad guys.  Many levels only offer one or two ways to kill the criminals.  It’s bad enough when the bad guy can see what you’re up to and flee, but later in the game you have to be discreet enough to avoid cameras and eye witnesses.  While it is not condoned, killing of innocents is possible, but you will fail the level for doing so.   

    Like many Steam games there are various achievements including one for merely launching the game.  Other achievements can be earned for failing, killing the bad guy, or pedestrians a lot.  With each successful kill you get to watch a replay of it and have the option of sharing a screenshot on social media sites.  

    Each level has a primary and secondary objective along with a hidden passport and each of these items earns you a star for completing or finding them.  Another star can be earned for collecting the golden tooth that flies out of the bad guy as he dies a creative and bloody death.  

    Kill The Bad Guy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 48%
    Violence - 1/10
    Language - 5/10
    Sexual Content - 6.5/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 1.5/10

    Some killing methods include dropping a piano, running over, flinging objects (including a dead dog), impaling with a javelin or burning with fire.  Since there are not many ways to kill per level, there is not much re-playability other than to locate the hidden passport or killing the bad guy on the first day for more points/stars.

    Other than the obvious violence, there is some language in the scenarios and rap music playing in the background.  The bad guy even says “Dah fu..”when he sees something fishy.  There are several sexual and graphic details in the back stories.  Lastly, some of the levels allow you to distract the bad guy with porno magazines.   

    Kill The Bad Guy will entertain you for a few hours and the price is a reasonable fifteen dollars.  This game hasn’t been rated by the ESRB and if it was, it would earn a Mature rating.  With the gratuitous violence and language, this is not a game that should be played around or by children.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Light Tracer
    Developed by: Void Dimensions
    Published by: Oasis Games
    Release date: September 26, 2017
    Available on: PSVR, Windows
    Genre: Platformer, Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $14.99

    Thank you Oasis Games for sending us a review code!

    A mysterious princess is in need of your assistance. Her kingdom is suffering from a serious sickness and she needs to reach the top of the Tower of Bellbatis to find the cure. As a helpful deity-like being, your job is to guide her by showing her the path she must take to save her people.

    To play this PSVR exclusive 3D puzzle/platformer, you’ll need to have two Move controllers. The controller on the right is in charge of illuminating the princess’ path while the left controller rotates the tower to get a better perspective. Like many platformer games you can make the princess jump across moving platforms and collect floating gems/coins along the way. Some of the platforms are controlled by you using circular and up/down/left/right hand gestures.

    In total, there are eight chapters with five levels in between them. Each chapter unveils new terrain and challenges to master. In the beginning, you’ll have green grass and stony ground, but later you’ll need to contend with slippery icy surfaces and gravity flipping platforms. In the event that the princess falls off of the tower or comes in contact with an enemy or dangerous object, she’ll be teleported to the last checkpoint. Thankfully, the checkpoints are plentiful in this title.

    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun, challenging, and fresh concept in a flooded VR marketplace
    Weak Points: Some rage-quit inducing puzzles; the world rotating may cause motion sickness
    Moral Warnings: Mild fantasy violence

    Despite the numerous checkpoints, many of the puzzles are frustrating to get past. To make matters worse, it takes a while to get everything positioned properly to attempt a difficult jump or avoid injury from enemy attacks. If you have past bouts with motion sickness, you may experience it in this title with all of the world shifting and standing position required to play this title.

    Because of the difficulty of this game, I don’t recommend it for gamers who are easily discouraged. It is pretty tame morally speaking with the possibility of the princess plunging to her death or being attacked by enemies and bosses. At first, the princess can’t attack and has to rely on defensive only maneuvers.

    Dexterity is a must to successfully climb this tower. Your left and right hands will have to do different tasks and one wrong move will put the princess in harm’s way. If you can multitask, then you’ll do well in this unique VR game.

    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The visuals are colorful and the variety between the chapters is good. The level design is solid if not cruel at times. Throughout the game you’ll learn several new tricks and maneuvers to keep things interesting.

    From an audio standpoint this game is decent. There’s a fair amount of background music variety and the voice acting is good. Given the high levels of frustration some more soothing music would have been appropriate here.

    In the end, Light Tracer does a lot of things right but can easily frustrate some gamers. Like other PSVR titles, I ran into some controls/tracking issues but when I repositioned myself they were corrected. If you’re looking for a unique and challenging VR puzzle/platformer, Light Tracer is worth adding to your PSVR library with a reasonable $14.99 asking price.

    **Steam Version Update**

    The content on the PC version of Light Tracer is virtually identical to the PS VR release. The graphics are a bit sharper, and if you use a higher resolution headset, quite a bit sharper than on PS VR. The PC/Steam version was originally designed for HTC Vive, and even though I was using it with an Oculus Rift S (which did work fine), all of the button prompts and tutorials were written and designed around the Vive controllers. For example, when it says you need to touch the touchpad, you instead need to push in on the joystick. Pushing in on the joystick to simulate pressing the touchpad to rotate platforms and such works, though it was a bit unwieldy until I got used to it. You could just touch and direction on the right controller to encourage our friend to walk, and was much easier to do than moving things around.

    The company logos were double-vision blurry when starting the game on the Rift S (they were actually clear if I crossed my eyes, which I can do on demand) but there were no other graphical issues that I noticed during gameplay; it looked crisp and sharp. The most important control, the pointer, worked just fine, which is a big improvement over PS VR's easily glitched tracking. Even with the more accurate controls, the game is still a bit cumbersome, and falling off is quite easy to do on accident.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Link-a-Pix Color
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: January 18, 2018
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this game to review!

    We have reviewed several titles from Lightwood Games and Link-a-Pix Color is a bit different from the rest. It’s still a grid style puzzle game, but you have to draw lines connecting the similarly colored numbers. The numbers represent the length of the line. The colored lines can be straight, but that’s not always the case.

    Link-a-Pix Color
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One hundred and twenty puzzles to solve with many of them taking over an hour to complete
    Weak Points: Simple visuals and background music; experienced a glitch where one of my moves wasn’t registered and had to redo it to complete the puzzle
    Moral Warnings: None!

    In total, there are one hundred and twenty puzzles to solve and they come in various sizes. As expected, the smaller puzzles take minutes to complete while the largest ones took me over an hour to finish. The puzzle sizes are 10X15, 20X30, 30X45, 40X60, and 50X75.

    The game will keep track of the time spent on a puzzle and will resume it if you close out of it. If you’re not happy with your time you can retry it and see if you can solve it faster. There is an error checking feature that will let you know if there are any invalid lines drawn. You can have it automatically remove the errors, but if you do that, you won’t get a gold medal on the solved puzzle. Unsolved puzzles have question marks while the finished ones show the final picture.

    Link-a-Pix Color
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 72%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The visuals are pixel art styled and not the most detailed, but you can usually figure out what the final image is while you’re solving the puzzle. A few of them I didn’t get until the very end. The background music is upbeat and chiptune themed. I didn’t mind the background music, but more variety would have been nice. The swooshing sound for drawing lines was fitting.

    Not surprisingly, there’s little to complain about morally in this title. The images are all family friendly and there’s nothing objectionable here.

    If you like Picross styled puzzles then you’ll probably enjoy what Link-a-Pix Color has to offer. With all of the bundled in puzzles you’ll have several hours worth of entertainment. If you want to try example puzzles in your browser, you can check out Conceptis’s website.

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    boxart
    Game Info:

    Link-a-Pix Deluxe
    Developed by: Powgi
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Released: January 2, 2020
    Available on: Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, and PS Vita
    Number of Players: Single player
    Genre: Puzzle game
    ESRB Rating: E for Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you, Lightwood Games, for sending us this game to review!

    Link-a-Pix Deluxe is a title bursting with clue-linking puzzles in which every grid has a picture hidden inside. The objective is to reveal the picture by painting paths to link the clues. Connect the pair of clues that have the same number and color. These numbers show the number of grid squares that will be filled in with that color in order to reach the other number, or the length of the connection. The only clues that don’t need linking are 1s, which represent squares that are only one grid square long. These are automatically filled in when the game begins.

    Draw lines and connect clues using the touch screen and double-tap to remove a line. You can use the stick to explore the puzzle and X to zoom. If you’re like me, however, preferring not to use the touch screen, you can press A to start using button controls and use the stick to move the cursor. Hold a while doing so to create a line, and press A to remove one.

    Link-a-Pix Deluxe
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Interesting and enjoyable; challenging; DLC available
    Weak Points: Music is repetitive and the same as previous Powgi creations; frustrating at times; not mutiplayer
    Moral Warnings: None

    The difficulty comes in, however, when the fact is noted that there is only one way to link each pair correctly. Several methods are possible, but only one way is correct. How do you tell if a method is incorrect? Well, you must make sure it is possible for all of the pairs around it to be linked. Players are required to be creative enough to find new ways to link those two fives, or those two sixteens, without interfering with the connection between those nearby eights.

    Link-a-Pix puzzles are always larger than the screen, even in the smallest puzzle sizes, so it is important to scroll around to find all of the clues and reveal the full picture. There are several different puzzle sizes to choose from, each measured by the number of grid squares horizontally and vertically.

    It comes with five 10x15 puzzles, ten 15x23 puzzles, fifteen 20x30 puzzles, fifteen 30x45 puzzles, fifteen 40x60 puzzles, fifty 50x75 puzzles, and ten 100x65 puzzles. That adds up to one-hundred-twenty puzzles included with the game. Downloadable content is available on Nintendo eShop if you need more puzzles.

    Link-a-Pix Deluxe
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 80%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5 /5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    I completed a few puzzles of each available size, and since the game records how many minutes it takes you to finish each individual puzzle, I thought I’d take advantage of that feature to give readers a basic idea as to how the grid size relates to completion time. My best record for the 10x15 was 1:38; for the 15x23 it was 5:23; for 20x30 it was 7:48; for the 30x45 it was 29:47; for the 40x60 it was 39:26; for 50x75 it was 39:15; and for the one 100x65 I tried I spent 69:08 to finish it. Some of these scores are ones that I am not proud of, but thank goodness they incorporated this feature: You can redo any puzzle you have already completed to beat your best score.

    The graphics are simple and pixelated, yet very vivid and colorful. It is fitting for the purpose of the game in my opinion, and that goes for the music in it as well. It sounds like it compliments the graphics in style and in overall quality. I recognize it from other games made by Powgi, and it is repetitive when being played during a puzzle. Other than that factor, though, I think it very well fits the style of the game and its whole purpose.

    Overall, especially since there is nothing to worry about in the moral category, I would to recommend this title to anyone looking for a lovable Nintendo Switch game to occupy their time with.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Lode Runner Legacy
    Developed By: Tozai Games, Inc., O-TWO inc.
    Published By: Tozai Games, Inc.
    Release Date: July 13, 2017
    Available On: Windows (macOS and Linux planned)
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Genre: Puzzle Platformer
    Mode: Single Player
    Price: $15.42
    (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Tozai Games for sending us this game to review!

    When I was (much) younger, one of my friends introduced me to Lode Runner when he mentioned that his mom liked the game very much. As a result, when I saw Lode Runner: The Legend Returns for Windows 3.x all those many moons ago, I picked up the CD and understood what she saw in the game – a simple concept that was genuinely fun to play, and required quick thinking to succeed.

    There were a couple more sequels on PC, with the last one being Lode Runner 2 (which is a very different game). Imagine my surprise when I went to play this game again, and found that there hasn't been a substantial update on PCs since the 1990s, and that my old copy isn't so easy to play on modern computers anymore. Thankfully, consoles have fared a bit better, with Nintendo, Xbox, and mobile platforms getting more recent releases. Nevertheless, this series started on PCs (Apple II was the original), and it sure is great to see it return once again with Lode Runner Legacy.

    For those who have never played Lode Runner, the concept is rather simple: your goal is to grab every coin in the level, while also avoiding death. Once you do this, it unlocks the level exit, which you must make your way over to and climb to get out. That's pretty much it, but you are rather restricted in how you can move and what your tools are. For one thing, you can move left and right, or up and down ladders. But you cannot jump at all – so if you can't reach it, you can't get there. Also, you can destroy blocks directly to the left and right side diagonally below you (assuming they are destructible), but not underneath, above, or next to you. Given your limits, every time you move about a level it requires very careful planning, because it is very easy to trap yourself or accidentally kill yourself.

    Lode Runner Legacy
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Long overdue return of the classic gameplay formula; nice graphical update; level, item, and character editors; online leaderboards
    Weak Points: Limited custom resolution options
    Moral Warnings: Technically you can kill bad guys by embedding them into a brick; online custom items could theoretically be obscene

    You see, when you destroy a block, it starts to fade back in. Once that completes, anyone in that spot will die, including yourself. So you have to move fairly quickly, avoiding self-made traps. Also, since you can only break blocks diagonally below you, dropping down to get something can require significant planning, since you can't just break one block and drop down if there is no escape from wherever you land.

    Most levels have moving enemies in them. You can break blocks and have them fall inside as an easy way to avoid them (which may lead to their death), or if your footwork is fancy, you can stand on top of them. This can be tricky because they can move under your feet, and lead to unexpected deaths if you aren't careful.

    Each level plays out like an action puzzle, which can be fairly quick on its own, and there is both a timer and point system that judges how good of a job you do. There are online leaderboards, which is always a fun feature, and encourages replays. I loved seeing my name on there (since I had the opportunity to play the game pre-release) though since the game has now been released, the hardcore fans quickly eclipsed my scores (well, most of them, as of release date).

    Lode Runner Legacy
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 88%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are four main game modes, along with some editors to round out the package. There is the adventure mode, which attempts to wrap a very simple story around the game, while gradually introducing more and more new enemies and other challenges to round out those fifty levels. There is also a puzzle mode, which is more about solving the level the only way possible (usually) in the fastest time, rather than the focus on points. There is classic mode, which makes our character look much simpler, and includes all one hundred and fifty original Lode Runner levels. The new levels have our hero take up more space on the screen, so a smaller classic character was necessary.

    The final game mode is world levels, which are user created levels, which integrate with Steam Workshop. In these levels, there may also be user created characters or items as well. As you would expect, there is an editor for each of these types built into the game, so if you fall in love with this classic, and love making levels, there is a ton to do here. I am sure other Lode Runner fans would also really appreciate it – with Steam Workshop integration, the potential content is virtually limitless, dependent only on the creativity of the players.

    Lode Runner Legacy is a competent and long overdue revitalization of a true gaming classic. The older releases have had hardcore fans for decades, and for good reason. Despite some minor flaws, like limited resolution support (720p and 1080p only), lovers of puzzle games everywhere should take note: a time-tested classic is back. While I prefer playing games like this in short spurts, it fits that purpose quite well and is always entertaining. Highly recommended.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Magical Brickout
    Developed by: Cunning Force Games
    Published by: Black Shell Media
    Released: October 17, 2016
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, SteamOS
    Genre: Puzzle, action
    Number of players: 1 offline 
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you, Black Shell Media, for providing a copy of this game to us to review!

    Most people who know the history of video games will admit that one of the first was a primitive table tennis simulator called "Pong." But the game required two players, and some wanted a version they could play themselves. Thus, in 1976, "Breakout" was created, and appeared in arcades – and Atari home game consoles – since then.

    The game has proven to be so popular that it has been imitated and replicated many times over the past four decades. But for the most part, the formula has remained the same – the player controls the paddle and moves it back and forth to try and keep the ball from leaving the playing field, and destroying bricks in the process. Once all the bricks are destroyed, you can move on to the next level, wave, or puzzle.

    Magical Brickout does something new with this formula – a move that I would even describe as truly innovative. Rather than moving a paddle back and forth, you actually rotate the entire playing field. The field is circular and, with the possible exception of indestructible metal bricks on a few of the levels, contains nothing that represents a paddle. This simple twist completely changes the formula – and the gameplay – of this familiar old design.

    Magical Brickout
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Original approach to "Breakout"; challenging levels
    Weak Points: Steep learning curve; mediocre music
    Moral Warnings: Some undead references

    The story behind the game is presented through a series of animated cartoon panels, and some text windows that appear at the beginning of each level. An evil wizard has built a magical castle, and has trapped several fairies inside bricks. Your job is to free the fairies by destroying the bricks and, eventually, the evil wizard's sinister guardians. A gremlin will appear on the levels, and if you manage to whack it with the ball you can score extra points. Some of the bricks also contain power-ups, and others will contain penalties. A few other bricks will appear, which change based upon which stage you're playing. Each of the eight stages contains six levels, for a total of 48 levels, not counting the tutorial.

    In addition to the bricks, there are a couple of other mechanics involved as well. Along the sides of the playing fields are two potion bottles. As you destroy the bricks, the bottles fill up, providing the possibility of free balls and multiplier bonuses to your score. If you lose your ball, the potions drain away and you have to start all over. Leaderboards are available, and you can see how your scores stack up against others. My name is in the top 15 as I write this, but given the newness of the game, I doubt it will be there long!

    The controls to the game are sharp and responsive, and I had no trouble using either the keyboard or my gamepad. The music is pleasant, but gets repetitive before too long. The graphics are cartoonish and cute, with funny signs in the background. They can be a bit distracting at first, but as you get familiar with the level, you can focus more upon the bricks, rather than the scenery. Interestingly enough, the levels aren't randomized. The bricks are arrayed in a fashion that highlight the background elements, and the fairies always appear in the same location. The bonuses and penalties do change location every time a new ball is launched, though, so there is some randomization to keep the levels fresh. 

    Magical Brickout
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 94%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The lack of variation helps with the game, though. Although this is an original spin on the "Breakout" model, that hardly means that the game is easier. This simple difference is enough to ramp up the difficulty significantly. It can often be difficult to tell how the ball is going to bounce off a brick, especially if struck on the shorter end, rather than the broad face. The fact that the bricks don't change location helps immensely, as once you've played a level enough times, you can figure out what maneuvers tend to work the best in removing the bricks in the shortest amount of time, and with the fewest balls lost. You can score one to three stars on each level, and achievements are available for getting stars on every level. There are a total of 44 achievements to unlock, but most of them are not easy to obtain.

    From a moral perspective, there isn't a lot to worry about in the game. There are a few references to undead, especially in the "Graveyard" levels, and the décor occasionally features skulls. The game focuses on magic and fairies, but it isn't apparent if you're casting spells. There isn't any occult imagery or language issues to be found here. The gremlin that appears on the levels can be hit with the ball, but simply falls backwards with a stunned expression.

    Altogether, Magical Breakout is a tough, sometimes frustrating challenge, but is original enough that it's worth a try. The price is a reasonable $7.99. This is a whimsical, solid game and a fun variation of an old, familiar formula.

    Incidentally, if you would like to play a free variation of the original Breakout, go to http://www.google.com. Click on "Images" and then type in "Atari Breakout" into the search field. Wait a few seconds, and then the screen will transform into the game.

     

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Magical Star  Pillars
    Developed By: Toolkitz Games
    Published By: Toolkitz Games
    Released: April 25, 2018
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Platform, Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: Not Rated
    Number of Players: 1 player
    Price: $6.99

    Thank you Toolkitz for sending us this game to review.

    An adorable little girl by the name of Tiff is the star of the game Magical Star Pillars, a 2D puzzle-platformer where the main goal is to navigate levels to collect stars. Tiff’s journey starts off with her and her unnamed bird companion relaxing on their island, when they come across a strange star. This star grants the duo a telepathic message that the Star Pillars are in danger. It is now their job to restore power to the Star Pillars.

    As mentioned above, there is a story to all of this, and a narrative is played during the tutorial, whenever an ally is encountered/rescued, and when a Star Pillar regains its power. The overall plot is something I didn’t expect from the game and it does give life to the world that Tiff runs and jumps around in. Of course a plotline in a puzzle-platformer is unnecessary, but it’s nice to have. The starting island you begin on acts as a tutorial, explaining the mechanics of both the levels and the overworld. The overworld can feel weird to navigate at times, especially on certain islands, as Tiff will have to squeeze through tight spaces which she easily gets stuck on. Maybe it would have been better if the overworld was more like a menu, but the developer is aware of these problems and has fixed some of these collision issues, as well as planning to fix more of them in later updates.

    Magical Star Pillars' levels are the strong point in the game. After the tutorial, there are four islands that Tiff must go to. Any island can be started in any order, but some levels do require allies obtained from previous levels. In a way, the game is both linear and non-linear because even though you can start any island by your choosing, you will have to at least partially complete one island to complete another. There are over one hundred levels spread across the four islands with many puzzles and platforms. A lot of these levels contain robots that can be avoided, and depending on the level can also be destroyed (they mostly act as obstacles to avoid).

    Each island has a special gimmick attached to it such as Steam Island focusing on using geysers to jump very high, and Storm Island using turbines and ice to mess with or hinder movement. The final level of each island contains a boss, which you have to overcome with the combination of the allies gathered throughout the game. The Steam Island boss in particular can be fairly buggy as I had it glitch out on me four times before I successfully defeated it.

    Magical Star Pillars
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Strong platforming; some puzzles are very engaging; a large amount of puzzles
    Weak Points: Overworld can be clunky to navigate; sometimes the allies can slow down the pace of the game; music can get repetitive 
    Moral Warnings: Robots are out to get you, and that’s a bad thing; supernatural setting

    I enjoyed the majority of the levels due to their layout of the design, the unique attributes to some of the levels, and a good variety of puzzles. The game also has a moderate amount of challenge to it as well. It never feels too easy nor too hard at any point of the game and many levels do test the platforming skills and puzzle knowledge of the player. There is no life system attributed to Magical Star Pillars; instead, each level keeps track of how long you took to complete it, as well as how many restarts it took or how many deaths.

    The solid mechanics are greatly attributed to the controls. The control scheme is very simple with standard movement using the arrow keys, jump by using the spacebar, and the shift key to your character’s respective ability. The F5 key can be used to retry a level, and the escape key to exit a level as there will be some levels that can only be completed with certain allies. Keep in mind that F5 and the escape key have to be held down for a second for the action to work. It’s rather strange, but understandable as it prevents accidental pressing of the button. Controller support is also available for people who want it; it's serviceable, but I personally prefer the keyboard for platformers. The controls are extremely responsive and the characters can both start and stop at a moment's notice, allowing precision platforming.

    Later on in the game, you gain allies and can switch between them with A, S, D or F. You start off with your bird companion, who's action is toggled by the A key. He acts more as panning for the camera, a very useful ability to see what comes up ahead in the levels and to come up with a good plan for the puzzles. The other allies can also move and jump, but are typically limited in other aspects, and also cannot be used to collect the stars, even if they can reach them. Sometimes the allies can slow the pace of the game down, due to their slower movement, but this only comes up every once in a while.

    Magical Star Pillars
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 6/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 9/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics are okay, I guess. The world itself very basic, and some of it looks like it was done in MS Paint (especially some of the areas on Clay Island). The characters have a special charm to them. I found them to be very cute and they have an appeal. Even the robots I found to be cute. Though the designs are simple, every piece of scenery is clear as to what is and isn’t something that can and should be interacted with. The music is a nice little retro style with MIDI aspects, but can get repetitive fairly quickly as there are only a handful of songs in the game, and they loop after 30 or so seconds. If you get annoyed by it, the music can be toggled off in the options menu.

    There is not much wrong morally in the game. There are robots that are out to get you, and some of them have spikes, some shock with electricity or bombs, and the little moments you can retaliate are all against robots. It’s all portrayed in a cartoon manner and when your character is struck, death is similar to how a classic Sonic the Hedgehog or Mario game deals with it. Basically the bare minimum. As evident in the title, there is also magic, but I’ve never seen it used throughout the game by the players or the enemies and is only mentioned and seen through exposition during some of the cutscenes.

    Magical Star Pillars has some rough spots in and around, but the enjoyable mechanics and levels make it a very solid puzzle-platform game. I had a good time going through it. It’s not too long, only being 3-6 hours for your first playthrough, but the semi-linearity and the quick-play nature can warrant repeated playthroughs. There is also DLC being developed that will release around September of 2018 that contains more levels and more companions. It’s rather cheap for the amount it gives you and I can recommend it to any platform and puzzle fans, as well as people of all ages.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Mahjong Crimes
    Developed by: Spil Games
    Published by: Spil Games
    Release date: November 9, 2017
    Available on: Android, iOS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Not rated
    Price: Free with microtransactions

    Thank you Spil Games for sending us a Rubik’s Cube and $20 of Google Play Store credit to review this free game!

    Mahjong Crimes is a free to play, but pay to complete mobile game that’s available on Google Play and the App Store. Upon launching the game you’ll see a permission rationale pop up box which explains why this game requires access to your photos, media, and files for reliably storing data and to provide the best experience possible. Wi-Fi internet is also required as cell phone service is not stable enough for it apparently. I’ve played many mobile games that do not require such permissions and are perfectly playable on any kind of internet connection. If you’re not concerned about your personal and network data, then please read on!

    If you’re new to Mahjong games, the goal is to match similar tiles that are on the edge or in the same row. Many tiles are inaccessible until the ones above them are removed from the game. The symbols on the tiles are similar and hard to distinguish at times unless you’re paying close attention. Sometimes the symbols are different, but related and in those cases they will have a matching marker symbol on the upper right hand side of them.

    Mahjong Crimes
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Gripping story based off of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express; fun and challenging Mahjong gameplay
    Weak Points: Steep difficulty curve that practically requires purchasing power-ups to complete levels required to progress the game
    Moral Warnings: Blood and murder; some language (hell)

    Mahjong Crimes is based off of Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Orient Express. The story is quite riveting and I looked forward to the story sequences spread out among the two hundred and fifty levels. Since the difficulty ramps up as you progress, getting to the later chapters requires some serious Mahjong skills and/or a lot of money spent in micro-transactions. Real money can be spent to purchase in-game money, which is needed to buy power-ups or additional time in timed levels. Power-ups can be earned by unlocking treasure chests throughout the game, but they are few and far between.

    Like many mobile games, you can earn up to three stars per level and many puzzles require a perfect score to obtain a key. Keys are required for unlocking chapters and there are no extras so you have to keep retrying until you obtain each one. In the beginning, earning three stars per level was relatively easy. Toward levels fifty and higher two stars was my average. By then I’ve spent some of the Google credit provided to purchase some power-ups.

    Some of the power-ups include revealing a matching set of tiles, shuffling the tiles, highlighting the playable layer of tiles, and zapping away five sets of tiles. Reshuffling is necessary at times but the power-up I used the most was the layer highlighting one. Though zapping away tiles on the timed levels does come in handy. Instead of sacrificing a life heart, I often opted to buy more time with in-game currency if I ran out during a timed puzzle. 

    Mahjong Crimes
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 3.5/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Besides timed puzzles there are ones with different objectives like revealing a photograph beneath the tiles, or freeing up items that are being propped up by tiles that need to be cleared away. Some number and letter matching levels don’t require clearing all of the tiles. In fact, you’ll get a bonus for having left over tiles or time in timed levels. In order to secure three stars you’ll need to be quick and maintain a high multiplier bonus. Having leftover time or tiles has increased the number of stars I’ve earned as well.

    The story and artwork is quite exceptional. As fun as the Mahjong gameplay is, I think it will be more cost effective for me to simply read Agatha Chrustie’s book instead of purchasing power-ups to see the ending. There is a murder that takes place and the scene of the crime does show some blood. There is no voice acting but the word hell does show up in the dialogue. The background music was soothing though.

    In the end, Mahjong Crimes is a fun game with an excellent story. Sadly, you’ll have to spend some serious money to see all of it. Some of the coin packs sell for as much as $99. If the price and necessity of the micro-transactions don’t scare you away, the network and device permission requirements should.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
    Developed by: Press Play, Stage Clear Studios, Flashbulb Games
    Published by: Wired Productions Ltd
    Release date: December 21, 2017
    Available on: PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox 360, Xbox One
    Genre: Puzzle platformer
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for Fantasy Violence, Mild Language
    Price: $19.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you Wired Productions Ltd for sending us this game to review!

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood was originally released in 2013 and was re-released on next-gen consoles in 2017. One of the biggest complaints about this game was the controls. Hopefully the Switch version resolves those issues. This is my first time playing it so I can’t compare the versions unfortunately. The story remains the same though.

    Max is annoyed with his brother Felix and finds an incantation online that will make him disappear. He chants it and his brother is quickly whisked away. Immediately regretting his actions, Max jumps into the portal to save him. At first, Max doesn’t have any weapons but it doesn’t take long before his famous marker comes into play.

    With his marker, Max can cause specially marked sections of the ground to form and collapse columns, branches, and vines. The last two abilities he’ll learn are controlling water flows and using gas to propel himself. There are equal parts of platforming and puzzle solving in this 2.5D game. You’ll have to move around blocks and work around enemies that cannot be touched due to spikes or poisonous gas they emit. Every level also has these big eyeballs on trees that Max has to uproot if he doesn’t want the evil mastermind Mustacho to keep spying on him. There are seventy-five eyeballs to remove and eighteen amulet pieces to collect through the seven chapters and twenty levels in this game.

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Lovely visuals; fun gameplay
    Weak Points: Some of the obstacles require more luck than skill to overcome
    Moral Warnings: Cartoon violence; sibling rivalry; gross enemies; Max is guided by a spirit lady

    The only replayability this game has to offer is to collect eyeballs and pendant pieces you may have missed in previous levels. In all honesty I was happy enough to get through the levels and have no intention of going back.

    Though the 3D Pixar-like visuals are charming, it doesn’t take long for frustration to set in as you try multiple times to get the drawing physics to cooperate only to die quickly after and go through the drawing puzzle all over again. When the puzzles are simple the drawing mechanics work really well. That’s not always the case though and there are many drawing puzzles that have to be solved during action sequences where Max has to keep moving or die. Sometimes the game will slow down time and give you time to draw, but there are some instances where you have to draw on the go and those are annoying.

    If you’re not a fan of quick time events you will not enjoy this game at all. There are more quick time events than you can shake a hand-drawn stick at! There are some boss-like creatures or just elements in general that Max has to flee from. Sometimes there is a logical jumping pattern and other times it seems that you have to preemptively jump when it doesn’t make sense to do so in order to succeed. Thankfully you have an infinite amount of lives and the amount of checkpoints are pretty generous.

    Max: The Curse of Brotherhood
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 70%
    Gameplay - 12/20
    Graphics - 9/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 2/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8.5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10
    +3 for promoting good family values

    The sound effects are good and the voice acting for all of the characters is well done. With some of the screams and shrieks from Max I really felt guilty for accidentally killing him.

    From a moral standpoint, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is pretty clean. There is some cartoon-like violence, but no blood or gore. Though the ESRB mentions mild language (without examples), I haven’t come across anything concerning. During Max’s journey he is guided by a spirit lady that teaches him how to obtain and use his marker abilities. Many of the marker abilities are acquired in ancient temples and ruins. On a positive note, I like the theme of forgiveness and brotherly love that this game promotes.

    In the end, Max: The Curse of Brotherhood is a cute game that is flawed by too many quick time events and complicated drawing puzzles. I only enjoyed the game in short spurts and it felt like a chore to complete the levels at times. If you see the game on sale it may be worth picking up.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Mixups by POWGI
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: February 12, 2019
    Available on : Android, iOS, PS4, Vita
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this title to review!

    Now that the Vita is no longer being manufactured, this could very well be one of our final game reviews for this portable handheld gaming system. Thankfully, Mixups by POWGI is cross-buy so you can play it on the PS4 or the Vita with a single purchase. I prefer to game on the go so this review is based on the Vita version.

    We have reviewed the Wii U and Switch versions of Word Puzzles by POWGI. Mixups was one of the many mini-games in that collection. Now it’s a standalone title with six hundred themed puzzles to solve.

    There are one hundred and twenty themes with roughly six puzzles in each one. You can resume at any time without having to restart from the first puzzle. This is a great game to consider when you’re waiting in line at the doctor’s office or for your favorite rollercoaster.

    Mixups by POWGI
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 600 brain-bending puzzles to solve; hint system; cross-buy
    Weak Points: Had to use a search engine to solve some of the mixups
    Moral Warnings: None!

    If you’re new to the game, the goal is simple. You have to figure out the three themed words by using the available letters only once. When a word is solved, the letters are no longer available for the remaining words. If you need a hint you can press the left and right shoulder buttons and the first letter of the word(s) will be revealed. Even with a hint provided, I was not able to solve many of these and relied on Internet search engine results for guidance.

    The restricted themed puzzles like US States are easier to solve than boy's names. There are only fifty states to work with and when you use a hint for the first latter that narrows things down significantly. However, with boy's names there’s at least fifty names for each letter of the alphabet!

    Some words were completely foreign to me like “poppet” in terms of endearment. In nearly twenty years of marriage, we’ve never used that word. While cute, I also haven’t seen degus in the pet stores near me. Guinea pigs and hamsters are and I was able to solve those in the pet-themed group.

    Mixups by POWGI
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 5/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are thirty-three PlayStation achievements available and I unlocked Sir Cumference for solving all of the shapes puzzles. The trophy names are witty and the dog mascot usually says something goofy after completing each puzzle.

    The visuals are crisp and this game runs smoothly on the Vita. The background music is peppy, but a little repetitive at times.

    Morally, this game is clean and suitable for people of all ages to play. With that said, many of these puzzles threw me for a loop so I can imagine it being quite challenging for younger kids.

    If you like word scramble puzzles, Mixups by POWGI is worth checking out. The asking price of $7.99 is reasonable and playable on both the Vita and PS4. There are plenty of puzzles to keep you scratching your head for hours.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Momentum
    Developed By: Projectile Entertainment
    Published By: Projectile Entertainment
    Released: August 11, 2016
    Available On: Windows, Xbox One
    Genre: Physics puzzle platformer
    ESRB Rating: E
    Number of Players: 1
    Price: $.99
    (Kinguin Affiliate Link)

    Thanks to Projectile Entertainment for the review key!

    Are you annoyed with how well life has been going? Has constant success plagued you every step of the way? Have you ever stopped and thought that today would be much better if you were faced with nigh-impossible tasks and lengthy, repeated failure? Or do you simply like rolling balls through obstacle courses? If you answered “yes” to any of these, Momentum is the game for you.

    Momentum’s premise is simple: get the ball to the goal by rotating the stage around in any and every direction, with bronze, silver, and gold medals awarded based on the time you take to do so. This should be recognizable to those familiar with Super Monkey Ball or the infamous Rollgoal minigame from the Legend of Zelda: Twilight Princess, though Momentum doesn’t limit your rotational ability – you get a full 360 degree playing field. While tilting the stage is the primary method of moving your ball, you can also make it jump as well as use the “brake” button to slow it down and give you greater control. Expect to keep that brake on most, if not all, of the time, as it’s your only hope against the suspiciously frictionless floors.

    The ninety levels in the game are separated into three worlds, each with their own obstacle focus. The first world is standard, with only complicated, stationary structures impeding your progress. These stages tend to have the goal on the other side of the platform you start in, essentially making you traverse the stage twice; it makes the stages longer, but isn’t exactly engaging. The second world introduces moving platforms and laser beams, with the stages laid out more creatively than the first world. The final set adds blue fields that modify your ball, either by pushing you in a direction or removing your jump and/or brake.

    Momentum
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Varied, lengthy gameplay; good presentation
    Weak Points: Excruciatingly, frustratingly difficult; some quality-of-life issues
    Moral Warnings: A stage named “Escalator to Hell”

    What this all adds up to is an extremely complicated, horrifically difficult game. The courses are already designed to be as hard as possible, but the addition of moving platforms and especially the control-altering fields make some stages nearly insurmountable. Longer stages contain periodic checkpoints, with some giving you freely-placeable ones you can put anywhere you can stand still at for a moment, but every fall or laser-based incineration adds two seconds to your final time. Expect to fail dozens of times on the later stages, and don’t be surprised to only get a bronze time at best when – if – you finally succeed. It’s telling when the game, which unlocks new balls for use as you gain medals, only requires you to get sixty bronze, thirty silver, and twenty-one gold medals out of the possible ninety. Momentum’s Steam description often talks about its “Zen” atmosphere, but the only enlightenment you’ll reach is becoming one with your frustration.

    For what it’s worth, the game controls as well as it needs to, considering the challenge mostly derives from fighting said controls. The stage and camera movements are customizable, both in terms of mirroring directions and sensitivity. The physics make sense, and the ball never acts in an unrealistic way. The ball’s handling will certainly feel anywhere from slippery to uncontrollable, but it’s by design, not technical flaw. It is worth mentioning, however, that the keyboard and mouse controls are rather clumsy. The mouse controls stage rotation when holding down the left button and the camera when pressing the right, making manipulating both at the same time nearly impossible. The keyboard has re-bindable controls, but limits you to rather imprecise command over both stage and camera. You can finagle a workable control scheme out of both mouse and keyboard together, but they still don't quite reach the level of control a gamepad does. To put it simply, there's a reason the screen after the developer logo shows an outline of an Xbox One controller.

    The main flaws in Momentum lie not in its gameplay but in a few quality-of-life issues. There’s no way to check the medal times in-game; you have to quit out to the menu to see them. Some of the later stages get very convoluted, but outside of a wide-angle shot of the whole stage when you first load it up, you’re unable to move the camera away from your ball to look at where you need to go. When you fall, you’re treated to three seconds of watching your ball plunge away, followed by three more seconds of watching it respawn, potentially followed by even more waiting if there are moving platforms that need to line up again. It’s almost as if the game is reveling in your failure, and forcing you to savor it as well.

    Momentum
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 79%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4.5/5

    Morality Score - 98%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Momentum does try to keep it calm with its proficient presentation. Each stage is set to a soothing backdrop – a city at dusk for the first world, a skyscape the second, and a sprawling library for the third. You’ll be staring at your ball and its immediate surroundings for the most part, but both the various ball types and the ground are textured well and won’t strain the eyes; the metallic balls also have a slight reflection to them. The music is gentle and pleasant, though there aren’t a whole lot of songs; at the very least, it’s easy to tune out when you need to focus. The sound effects are realistic and aren’t very loud or distracting – the sound of your ball rolling along, clacking on the ground, and blipping out of existence are fitting and easily ignored when necessary. In short, there’s nothing in the game’s graphics or sound that you can blame when you fail for the fiftieth time in a twenty-second stage.

    With no dialogue, plot, or characters to find, there’s next to nothing to worry about morally. The only exception is a stage titled “Escalator to Hell” – which is ironically one of the easier stages. If anything, the game is a solid test of patience and persistence.

    If you don’t mind the brutal difficulty, Momentum is a competent, long-lived game that’s more substantial than it lets on at first. For the $9.99 it asks for, you’ll get over a dozen hours of gameplay just trying to complete each stage, let alone achieve gold medals on every one. Should you choose to undertake that impossible challenge, know that you’ll come out the other side with either the patience of a saint or the temperament of the Incredible Hulk.

    -Cadogan

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Monumental
    Developed By: Whipstitch Games
    Published By: Black Shell Media
    Released: January 22, 2016
    Available On: Windows
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB Rating: N/A
    Number of Players: 1 
    Price: $9.99

    *Advertising disclosure* Though Black Shell Media is an advertising partner, this review is not influenced by that relationship.

    Thanks to Black Shell Media for the review code!

    The first-person puzzle genre has endured quite a few twists and turns over the years. In the early years, games such as Starship Titanic or Rama reveled in presenting an unknown world full of complicated challenges for you to solve. More recently, games such as Portal introduced a more action-styled element to the puzzles. Others either toe – or blatantly cross – the line of “walking simulator”, where the only puzzle is how they got so much media attention and praise in the first place. Occasionally, however, you can find a game that throws back to an older age that expected you to play with pen and paper at the ready, and Monumental certainly fits that bill.

    Monumental is a first-person puzzle game set in a mysterious alien world. The Mandrake Research Facility has gone some time without a transmission, and you are sent to check up on the five researchers stationed there. In the process, you’ll comb through the facility, poke around an abandoned ruin, and plunge into the depths of the central temple – and uncover some details about the alien civilization yourself.

    The entirety of the game involves wandering around each of the three aforementioned areas, discovering obstacles, data nodes, alien runes, and so on. The puzzles have a decent amount of variety to them, though you’ll mostly solve math problems, manipulate colors, or activate sounds in a particular order. While you only deal with good old fashioned English and Arabic numerals in the research facility, out in the ruins you’ll need to decode the aliens’ language and base-8 number system.

     

    Monumental
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Satisfying puzzles; interesting alien world
    Weak Points: A few unintuitive puzzles; occasional freezes/softlocks during loading
    Moral Warnings: A few dead bodies, one with a blood-covered shirt; text descriptions of one-sided attempts at adultery; Barbie-style naked humanoid aliens; a single minor curse (hell)

    The puzzles, as the main attraction, do their job and do it well for the most part. While the game is mostly linear, some small sequence breaks are possible with enough thought. There are a rare few instances where the puzzles simply don’t make logical sense, the most egregious being gaining entry into one researcher’s room: the password requires a combination of colors that’s found randomly plastered to a wall in such a way that it just looks like part of the futuristic scenery. The code also requires you to back out of the terminal entirely if you get it wrong, which is different than every other terminal in the game. Luckily, there’s an in-game hint system for moments like these, with each one giving you somewhere between a light nudge or a heavy push in the right direction. There’s no punishment for using these, aside from the total number of used hints being displayed on your save file as a monument to your shame.

    That said, even that puzzle could be figured out with enough thought, trial-and-error, or simple desperation, and the vast majority of the puzzles are similar. The interface only adds to the experience: you can, and are required to, take pictures and record audio, and can display those recordings at any time. It’s a quick, user-friendly solution to writing everything down on paper – though that old method still comes in handy quite a bit. The relative ease of access to your references, combined with the standard high quality of the presented puzzles, creates a truly satisfying experience.

    The controls are a bit hard to get used to, however. You use the mouse wheel to scroll between your various gadgets, and right-clicking activates them - this is rather simple and intuitive enough. Complicating matters, though, is the addition of device-specific menus where your notes, pictures, or sound clips are stored; these are brought up by clicking the mouse wheel, and right-clicking from there displays or plays the selected data. While there is no way to delete unwanted pictures or audio, which is especially annoying when you mess up the controls and snap a photo of the bare floor, the ease with which you can scroll through them makes it almost a non-issue. There are keyboard controls for the interface as well, but the game never outlines them and you can’t configure the keys, making it one puzzle the game could do without.

    Monumental
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 76%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 8/10
    Stability - 2/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 92%
    Violence - 9/10
    Language - 8/10
    Sexual Content - 9/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Monumental’s presentation is decent enough, neither impressing nor disappointing. The graphics look rather nice even on the lowest settings, but a few objects – mainly otherworldly flora and the like – have strange muddy textures on them that at best make the world look alien but usually just make it look unappealing. Each of the three levels as well as the title screen and credits has their own song, and while none stand out, they do convincingly set the intended tones and never get irritating to listen to. The audio cues you’re intended to record and input stand out clearly from the music, and replaying something via the menu cuts the music entirely to provide unimpeded access – though sometimes the music won’t come back at all without a visit to the pause screen. Finally, the alien civilization itself is engaging and fun to explore, with the only real complaint being how underutilized it is: the developers clearly mapped out an entire alien language, but never use it anywhere but the title of the game on the title screen. All puzzle hints and solutions are instead plastered as-is on seemingly random walls, which can break the immersion somewhat.

    The biggest issue Monumental has, however, lies in its stability. As mentioned previously, the music can cut off after listening to an audio recording. Changing the graphics quality in-game results in an unplayable mess of random textures that requires a restart to fix. The game itself runs smoothly – but only when it loads at all. While the first level loads reliably, the ruins and temple levels can and will get stuck at about 90% loaded. Sometimes even successful loads will visibly freeze the game, spinning circle mouse cursor included, but at least you know it’s loading when that happens. If you softlock on a loading screen, your only options are to wait the fifteen minutes or more for it to sort itself out, or open up the task manager and manually end the process. Worst of all, this happens in up to a third of all loading attempts. Needless to say, the flow of the game is severely hampered when you’re forced to quit playing, and it makes entering a new area something to fear rather than be excited about.

    There are only a few minor moral issues to find in Monumental. You’ll stumble upon some corpses along the way, one of which wearing a blood-soaked shirt. Among the notes left by the researchers, a few describe one man’s attempt to seduce a woman away from her husband, though neither of the two married individuals want anything to do with it. The aliens are depicted as humanoid and naked, but it’s only as disturbing as an Academy Award. Finally, there is a single use of the word “hell” in one of the research notes, but the language is clean otherwise.

    Overall, Monumental is a superb puzzle game marred by a few leaps of logic and some severe technical issues. While solving the challenges and exploring the alien civilization are rewarding, it’s hampered when the game fights you to simply view them. The loading issues are such that it’s hard to recommend it at full price to anyone but the biggest puzzle genre fans or those with extreme patience, but there’s definitely a rewarding experience waiting for you if you decide to pick it up.

    -Cadogan

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
    Developed by: Cornfox & Bros
    Published by: FDG Entertainment
    Release date: May 17, 2017 (Vita) March 17, 2015 (PC) November 14, 2013 (iOS)
    Available on: Android, iOS, macOS, PS4, Switch, Windows, Xbox One, Vita
    Genre: Action, puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: E 10+ for fantasy violence
    Price: $12.99
    (Amazon Affiliate Link)

    Thank you FDG Entertainment for sending us this game to review!

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas was originally released in 2013 and has sold over a million copies since. The fact that it’s available on every current gaming system has something to do with that. The positive reviews and homage to Zelda are two other reason for its success. Fans of The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker will find much in common, though I will be upfront and state that I have not played a Zelda game since the original two on the NES. With that said, I did enjoy my twelve hours into this title and wouldn’t mind playing Wind Waker if the opportunity arises.

    In Oceanhorn you play a nameless young man whose parents are gone. The father hasn’t returned since trying to battle Oceanhorn, but he left behind his notebook as a guide. The mother passed away and the main character is in possession of her pendant. The pendant has a mind of its own and guides him to a cave where he’ll find a sword and a shield. Until then, he can throw vases at enemies to defend himself.

    A hermit on the island shares the story of Oceanhorn. The Islands were the mighty kingdom of Arcadia. The age of enlightenment led Arcadia to amazing scientific discoveries as engineering and magic came naturally to them. A dark mage, Mesmeroth, led a war against Arcadia. Three sea monsters appeared, one of them being Oceanhorn. Since the father hasn’t returned, it's now your job to seek it out; staying on the island is endangering the inhabitants as monsters are attracted to your mother's pendant. To unravel the mystery of Oceanhorn you must discover the secrets of the three sacred emblems (Earth, Ocean, Sun). You’ll also need to upgrade your sword and shield before facing this sea giant.

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Fun Zelda-like game with plenty of dungeons to explore and puzzles to solve
    Weak Points: Can be beaten in less than twelve hours; got stuck once
    Moral Warnings: Fantasy violence; magic use; numerous deities you’ll interact with as you collect various emblems; undead enemies 

    In the beginning, you have four hearts and they each take two hits before depleting. If you chop up some plants and break jars, you may find gold coins, bombs, arrows, magic potions, or hearts to replenish your health. Many islands have heart pieces to increase your maximum health and blood stones that needs to be mined to unlock a powerful spell. Be sure to comb over every island and you can buy a radar to let you know how many secrets remain on an island. It doesn’t take long before you acquire a boat that enables you to explore the next island. On Tikarel Island, you’ll have the opportunity to vanquish a rat in a cellar. Blue diamonds are awarded for each slain creature and this experience is used to gain levels and earn abilities like holding more bombs and arrows.

    Be sure to talk to all of the villagers as they may give you a useful item or information on other islands to visit. Once an island is mentioned, it becomes available to sail to from the world map. When you’re sailing, you’ll have to aim your pumpkin seed shooting gun at monsters, bombs, and other debris in your ship’s path. At docks, you can go fishing and compare your catches against other gamers on the global leaderboards.

    Many of the dungeons follow the same formula where you have to collect regular keys until you can obtain the master key which opens all of the doors and the treasure chest with the main item inside. The emblems are protected by a boss that has to be defeated before you can take your prize. The bosses have an attack pattern to work around and weaknesses to exploit to secure your victory. If you die in battle, you’ll only be revived with three hearts no matter how many you have unlocked in the game. Thankfully the boss rooms have plants and jars nearby which can yield hearts if destroyed.

    Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 86%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 8/10
    Sound - 9/10
    Stability - 4/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 83%
    Violence - 6.5/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 5/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    Each emblem represents a god that gives thanks for being purified and lends its power to the hero. The father also makes a reference to Gaia in one of his journal entries. Magic use is required for damaging enemies and solving various dungeon puzzles. Most of the puzzles involve moving crates to certain floor tiles. If you mess up a puzzle there is usually a reset button nearby. One time my character got stuck between crates with no way out. I had to exit to the title screen to continue my journey. Thankfully, there are plenty of checkpoints and auto-saves so not much progress was lost.

    Visually, Oceanhorn is very colorful and it looked and ran great on my Vita. I enjoyed the portability and didn’t have to sacrifice much performance in return. Upon reading the game’s opening credits, I recognized Nobuo Uematsu’s name. He’s one of my favorite composers and I enjoy his work in many of the Final Fanstasy games. Not surprisingly, the music is really good in this title. The voice acting is well done as well despite the gods speaking in gibberish.

    If you enjoy Zelda games, then you’ll want to look into Oceanhorn: Monster of the Uncharted Seas. The bosses and puzzles are not too challenging, but there are plenty of walkthroughs and videos available if you get stuck. The asking price is a reasonable $12.99 which is slightly less than the PC version when it’s not on sale.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Osmos
    Developed by: Hemisphere
    Games
    Published by: Hemisphere Games
    Released: August 18, 2009
    Available on: Windows, Mac OS X, Linux, Android, iOS
    Genre: Puzzle
    ESRB rating: E
    Number of players: 1 offline
    Price: $9.99 (Humble Store), $2.99 (Google Play), $0.99 (App Store)

    In nature, there tends to be one dominant rule – eat, or be eaten. This seems to apply in the microscopic world as well. In the abstract game Osmos, by Hemisphere Games, this simple mechanic is foremost among the challenges.

    You control a bright blue orb, surrounded by other orbs, on a dark surface in a 2D world. You can absorb those smaller than you – which are demonstrated by their dark blue color – but those orbs larger than you will absorb some of your material instead if you touch them. The larger orbs can be identified by their reddish outline, but as you grow in size, the outline becomes thinner and paler until it also switches to blue – meaning you can absorb them without worry. The bulk of the challenges in the game consist of absorbing smaller orbs and growing in size. The more you absorb, the larger you grow. Each level has different goals, but the mechanics are the same – eat, or be eaten. 

    Osmos
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Great music; challenging puzzles; simple concept to understand
    Weak Points: Steep learning curve; can often get frustrating
    Moral Warnings: Blobs absorb other blobs

    Moving around in the game further adds to the challenge. You use the mouse to steer yourself. Pressing the mouse button will cause your orb to squirt out some of the substance you are comprised of. This has the effect of making you move in the opposite direction of your mouse clicks, but you also shrink a bit in the process. You'll continue moving in the direction you indicated, unless gravitational forces pull you in a different direction, or you run into something larger than you (which will strip away your material). So even the process of moving towards smaller orbs – or away from danger – is something that needs to be calculated into your moves. If you shrink to such a point that you cannot win, a warning will pop up at the bottom of the screen. You can then choose to restart the level from the beginning, or just steer yourself into the closest red circle and end it all. There isn't a way to save your progress in the middle of a challenge, but the individual challenges are short, so it isn't much of an irritation.

    You can slow down the action on the screen, allowing yourself more time to react. You also can speed things up, but playing at the slowest speed is generally preferred. If you are having trouble with a level, it's also possible to set it up to randomly arrange the level, rather than stay with the preset design. I've found that this actually can make some of the levels easier, oddly enough. 

    Osmos
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 8/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The graphics are polished and smooth, with the color contrast of the orbs making it easy to tell at a glance what's a threat, and what is your prey. The music consists of ambient electronica, surprisingly soothing given how tense the game can make you feel at times. The game can get a bit redundant after too long – at least when it's not getting tooth-grindingly frustrating. Fortunately, each puzzle can be completed in just a few minutes, so it's all right to play this game in small doses. Complete a level or two, then move on to another game before returning, if you'd like. It works well for a casual game. There are a total of 47 different challenges, so there is quite a bit to accomplish in the game. If played on Steam, there are 11 achievements to unlock as well, but most of them come only at the end of a chain of challenges, so they aren't pushovers to obtain.

    From a moral standpoint, there really isn't too much to worry about in this game. The only sort of violence that can be found consists of absorbing the blue orbs, or being absorbed by the red orbs. Some of the challenges feature a green orb that is implied to be intelligent, but that's about the extent of it. 

    Osmos is an entertaining puzzle game that can occasionally be quite frustrating. It operates on a simple mechanic that can be tough to master. For those looking for a casual game to spend just a few minutes at a time, but still provides a solid challenge, Osmos could fit the mold.

     

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Paint it Back
    Developed by: Casual Labs
    Published by: Casual Labs
    Released: October 14, 2015
    Available on: Windows, macOS, SteamOS/Linux, iOS, Android
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: 1 
    Price: $7.99 (Steam), free (Android, iOS, with different levels available for purchase)

    Many, many years ago, a new type of puzzle appeared in one of my favorite magazines. Called "Paint By Numbers," these were logic puzzles from a company called Conceptis, Ltd. in which clues can be used to form a picture. So when "Paint it Back" by Casual Labs popped up for sale on Steam, I quickly added it to my wish list! This style of game has been done by other companies – including Nintendo with the popular Picross games – but Casual Labs' approach is just as entertaining, and provides 150 new puzzles to solve.

    Paint it Back has a fairly simple, silly story. A ghost has appeared in an art gallery, but while he wandered about, he frightened all the artwork away, leaving nothing but blank canvases. The ghost apologizes to the artist-in-residence, but there's a lot of work to be done to restore the paintings. Fortunately, the artist has an assistant – you!

    A tutorial is included to help you understand the concept of the puzzles. You have a grid of empty squares, with numbers along the top and the left side. The numbers tell you how many of the squares need to be filled in, or painted. If there is a space between the numbers, then at least one blank square separates the painted portions of that row or column. Using logic, you'll eventually be able to figure out what squares need to be painted in, and the painting will be restored.

    Paint it Back
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: Several logic puzzles to solve in an amusing setting; Steam Workshop connection for more puzzles; good price for the amount of content; free demo available
    Weak Points: Bland, repetitive music; average graphics
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and tobacco references; minor occult references 

    Take note that, even though the end result will look like pixellated color pictures, you aren't solving a colored variation of these puzzles. Rather, you'll solve a black and white version of the painting, and the color is added on the little canvas in the upper left corner, and to the final painting once completed. Many of the puzzles have multiple difficulty levels, granting between one to three medals. The more medals you earn, the more galleries will be unlocked. A few other challenges will be added as well, including timed puzzles, or ones where you're not allowed to use any "x"es to mark blank squares. The game comes with more than 150 puzzles to solve, but the Steam version also includes Steam Workshop integration, so others can create and upload their own puzzles for people to solve. 

    The cartoonish figures that appear in each of the galleries are cute, but move stiffly. You'll see them very seldom, though, as the bulk of the game will be spent with the grid of squares against a pale blue background. The music is pleasant, with a bit of a retro video game feel to it, but hardly memorable. In fact, it grows repetitious before too long, since you'll be hearing the same tunes repeatedly as you spend time on the puzzles. The controls are simply done with the mouse, and except for typing in your name at the start of the game, no other peripherals are even used.

    Paint it Back
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 15/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 5/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 8/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    There are a few parts of the game that may lead to moral concerns, but these are fairly minor. A few of the puzzles have alcohol and tobacco references, and one of the painters can be seen using his paintbrush as a cigar, complete with smoke rings. There is the aforementioned ghost, a witch and even the devil are the subject of some of the paintings. Fortunately, even though it is an art gallery, I didn't spot any nudes among the collection. I can't say the same for any of the Steam Workshop content, though – as that is created by some of the players, it's outside the scope of this review.

    The Steam version includes all of the puzzles. Although the Android and iOS versions are free, each separate chapter isn't included and must be purchased separately. The full version can be purchased from the App Store or Google Play for $2.99 though, so if you're looking for a way to get the entire game, this is the most economical way to do so. The game also is available on Amazon, for those that use Kindles, and is completely free for Amazon Prime members.

    Paint it Back is a fun puzzle game that brings a familiar favorite to the computer screen. Those who enjoy logic puzzles will get a kick out of these challenges as well – especially while they create amusing pictures at the same time. Although it does have its flaws, the puzzles in the game are very well done. A free demo is available on Steam, and if you want more of these types of puzzles, do a search for Conceptis, Ltd.

  • boxart
    Game Info:

    Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: November 2, 2017
    Available on: 3DS
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this title to review!

    Lightwood Games specializes in puzzle games and Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure is their latest entry. In this game you’ll need to help Phil develop one-hundred of his pictures taken from around the world. The pictures range in size and complexity and some of them are up to one-hundred squares wide. Some of the pixel art photos are truly stunning in the end. The problem is that it takes a lot of time and patience to see them come to fruition. One of the puzzles took me an hour and a half to complete! Thankfully, you can close out and resume where you left off if needed.

    Fill-A-Pix is a combination of Picross and Minesweeper. On the puzzle board, you’ll see lots of numbers and they represent the total of squares in a nine block radius that must be shaded in. For example, if you see a zero, you can shade it along with all of the surrounding squares in gray. On the flip side, a number nine will need a majority of the blocks filled in with black. Since these photos are monochrome, you will only need to color them black or gray.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One hundred puzzles that will take some time to complete
    Weak Points: Rather pricey in comparison to puzzle books you can pick up at a dollar store
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and gambling references


    You can fill in the blocks square by square, or you can switch to a wider radius mode which will auto fill in sections if the majority is already solved. While the wider radius is supposed to save time, I didn’t find it very helpful and stuck with the single cursor mode.

    Like many puzzles, there is a chance of messing up. Thankfully, the nearby numbers will turn red if a box is shaded incorrectly. You can also do an error check at any time and it will let you know how many mistakes there are and give you the option to automatically fix them if desired.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 13/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 5/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    There’s plenty of variety in puzzle types and sizes. The locations range from Africa, Australia, Egypt, England, France, Italy, Japan, Las Vegas, Mexico, and Russia. A couple of the pictures have gambling and alcohol references but this game is still suitable for puzzle lovers of all ages.

    The background music is calming and the sound effects are serviceable. If you don’t like either, they can be disabled in the options menu. The visuals are good and some of the pictures look really well done while others are merely okay. I like the art style for Phil.

    In the end, this is a good game for puzzle lovers. It’s a decent way to kill time, but there are more entertaining games for $7.99. There are plenty of puzzle books available at the dollar store but they are one time use. When it comes to replayability in Phil’s Epic Fill-A-Pix Adventure, you can try to re-do a picture quicker than you did before. Puzzle books won’t keep track of your completion time for you.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood Games
    Release date: July 12, 2018
    Available on: 3DS, Switch, Vita
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone for Alcohol reference
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us this title to review!

    Last year we reviewed Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix on the 3DS. Since then, twenty more puzzles have been added to the base game and a $3.99 USA Road Trip DLC has been released. Switch and Vita owners can now join in on the puzzle solving fun. In this game you’ll need to help Phil develop one hundred and twenty of his pictures taken from around the world. The pictures range in size and complexity and some of them are up to one hundred squares wide. Some of the pixel art photos are truly stunning in the end. The problem is that it takes a lot of time and patience to see them come to fruition. One of the puzzles took me an hour and a half to complete! Thankfully, you can close out and resume where you left off if needed.

    Fill-a-Pix is a combination of Picross and Minesweeper. On the puzzle board, you’ll see lots of numbers and they represent the total squares in a nine block radius that must be shaded in. For example, if you see a zero, you can shade it along with all of the surrounding squares in gray. On the flip side, a number nine will need a majority of the blocks filled in with black. Since these photos are monochrome, you will only need to color them black or gray.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: One hundred and twenty puzzles that will take some time to complete
    Weak Points: It’s easy to accidentally fix a puzzle and lose the gold border completion bonus
    Moral Warnings: Alcohol and gambling references

    You can fill in the blocks square by square, or you can switch to a wider radius mode which will auto fill in sections if the majority is already solved. While the wider radius is supposed to save time, I didn’t find it very helpful and stuck with the single cursor mode.

    Like many puzzles, there is a chance of messing up. Thankfully, the nearby numbers will turn red if a box is shaded incorrectly. You can also do an error check at any time and it will let you know how many mistakes there are and give you the option to automatically fix them if desired. I’m not sure if it’s just me, but I accidentally “fixed” many of the puzzles and lost out on the chance of getting a golden border around the completed picture as a result.

    Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 74%
    Gameplay - 14/20
    Graphics - 7/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 96%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 8/10

    There’s plenty of variety in puzzle types and sizes. The locations range from Africa, Australia, China, Egypt, England, France, Italy, Japan, Las Vegas, Mexico, and Russia. A couple of the pictures have gambling and alcohol references but this game is still suitable for puzzle lovers of all ages.

    The background music is calming and the sound effects are serviceable. If you don’t like either, they can be disabled in the options menu. The visuals are good and some of the pictures look really well done while others are merely okay. I like the art style for Phil.

    In the end, this is a good game for puzzle lovers. It’s a decent way to kill time, but there are more entertaining games for $7.99. There are plenty of puzzle books available at the dollar store but they are one time use. When it comes to replayability in Phil’s Epic Fill-a-Pix Adventure, you can try to re-do a picture quicker than you did before. Puzzle books won’t keep track of your completion time for you.

  •  

    boxart
    Game Info:

    Pic-a-Pix Classic
    Developed by: Lightwood Games
    Published by: Lightwood games
    Available on: PS4, Vita
    Release date: February 26, 2019
    Genre: Puzzle
    Number of players: Single-player
    ESRB Rating: Everyone
    Price: $7.99

    Thank you Lightwood Games for sending us a review code!

    Now that the Vita is discontinued, I doubt we’ll have the opportunity to review any more games for it. I’ve really enjoyed the Vita and the portable gaming entertainment it has provided. The puzzle offerings from Lightwood Games have kept me entertained in doctor office waiting rooms and in rollercoaster lines at theme parks. My kids enjoy these games, and they’re fun for people of all ages.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic offers one hundred and fifty puzzles ranging from 5x5 simple puzzles to more challenging 30x20 grids. Each puzzle is only one color that’s randomly chosen every time you begin. If you’re familiar with Picross, Nonogram, Griddlers, or Hanjie puzzles then you’ll know how to play this game. If you’re new to this style of puzzle game you’ll quickly learn that the concept is simple but mastering it takes some time. The goal is to fill in the correct pixels using the vertical and horizontal clues provided.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic
    Highlights:

    Strong Points: 150 puzzles of various sizes/difficulties to complete; cross-buy between PS4 and Vita systems
    Weak Points: Some of the pictures are not very clear as to what they are; it’s too easy to have the puzzle errors automatically fixed
    Moral Warnings: None

    If you’re new to Picross games, I highly recommend starting off with the 5x5 puzzles to get the hang of it. There are only five puzzles of that size so be prepared for bigger and better challenges. Your record time is recorded for each of these puzzles and the 5x5 puzzles took me between thirty and forty-five seconds to solve apiece. The 10x10 puzzles took me between one and nearly three minutes. Most of them were solved in less than two minutes though. The 15x15 puzzles took me close to three-and-a-half minutes to complete. A 20x15 puzzle took a little over eight minutes to solve. The next size, 20x20, kept me occupied for a few seconds under ten minutes. The biggest size, 30x20, will really test your eye sight. One of these puzzles took me well over fifteen minutes to complete.

    Once the puzzles are completed, you’ll see the finished pixel art in black and white. Most of the time the images made sense, but a few of them were head scratchers and a bit farfetched in my opinion. I was reminded of when my kids would draw something and I would see what it was after they told me, but not beforehand. On the audio front, the peppy chiptune music is fitting but a bit repetitive.

    Pic-a-Pix Classic
    Score Breakdown:
    Higher is better
    (10/10 is perfect)

    Game Score - 78%
    Gameplay - 17/20
    Graphics - 6/10
    Sound - 7/10
    Stability - 5/5
    Controls - 4/5

    Morality Score - 100%
    Violence - 10/10
    Language - 10/10
    Sexual Content - 10/10
    Occult/Supernatural - 10/10
    Cultural/Moral/Ethical - 10/10

    The hint system is both a blessing and a curse. It’s helpful to know when there are errors in your puzzle. However, the default action is to fix it automatically and by doing so, you won’t get a medal next to the completed puzzle. On multiple occasions, I have accidentally fixed it when I could have done so manually.

    If you enjoy puzzles and have a Vita or PS4, Pic-a-Pix Classic is worth considering for $7.99. As an added bonus, this title is cross-buy so you can play it on both systems by just purchasing it on one platform. If you’re looking for other portable puzzle titles, Lightwood Games has several offerings on 3DS and Switch.

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About Us:

Christ Centered Gamer looks at video games from two view points. We analyze games on a secular level which will break down a game based on its graphics, sound, stability and overall gaming experience. If you’re concerned about the family friendliness of a game, we have a separate moral score which looks at violence, language, sexual content, occult references and other ethical issues.

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