There are only a couple days left in the Steam Winter Sale and while we’re waiting for the next installment of Portal, here is the scoop on some other puzzle games you can get your hands on cheap.
Q.U.B.E (QUICK UNDERSTANDING OF BOX EXTRUSION) – TOXIC GAMES
Q.U.B.E. feels a lot like Portal in terms of setting; aesthetics; gameplay; story; and the presence of an unnamed, mute, main character. The difference is that Q.U.B.E uses a wider, brighter range of colors, and its story definitely feels supplementary to the gameplay rather than incorporated into it.
The tests from chamber to chamber of this unnamed testing facility involve manipulating various colored blocks around the room in order to achieve your goal and enter the next level. The gameplay is more minimalistic than Portal’s in that the main character cannot pick up anything, but it is more complicated in that your hands (instead of Portal gun) have multiple functions according to the different colored blocks. Each puzzle takes anywhere from two minutes to 10 minutes if you get stuck, or if the puzzle is more dependent on timing than separate steps. The more difficult puzzles are a combination of planning, reaction time, and luck.
There is a high sense of satisfaction after each puzzle, but the end of the game is extremely dissatisfying. The mystery builds up to absolutely no explanation. Also, because there is no break in pace or story, Q.U.B.E. quickly becomes dry, and the puzzles become mundane. If they had spent more time and effort on the story, Q.U.B.E would be a much more fun game.
ANTICHAMBER – ALEXANDER BRUCE
Antichamber takes on a whole new spin of the category “puzzle game.” More a surrealist adventure art game, the player encounters situations with the slightest of clues, and usually with unexpected strategies of solving them. Once you finish a puzzle, you’re rewarded with a proverb relating somehow to your strategy. For example, I came across a door that disappeared as soon as it reached my line of sight. The only way to advance was to walk backwards in the direction of the door. Once I passed through, I was met with the words “A few steps backward may keep you moving forward.”
If you go into Antichamber knowing what to expect, the experience is fulfilling. It forces you to be creative and engage a puzzle game in a way you’re not used to doing. The problem for me is that I went in thinking there would be puzzles, and instead I got a bunch of bizarre situations with what felt like antagonizing proverbs. Once I figured out a “puzzle,” instead of feeling satisfied or successful, I was met with a Confucian proverb that made me feel like I was a preschooler learning my morals. Instead of coming out smarter, I felt stupider by the “end” of the game—which turned out not to be the end, a proverb told me, as I should “Live on your own watch, not on someone else’s.” Great advice, I thought, as I quit the game.
PID – MIGHT & DELIGHT
The aesthetics of this 2D side-scroller are beautifully graceful, but the gameplay is seriously frustrating. It is all trial-and-error: once I died 10 times in an hour, because I didn’t get the timing and aiming exactly right. It is great that the gameplay incorporates the aesthetics: when main character Kurt drops a magical gem, he lifts slowly into the air and floats over obstacles. There is a beautiful contrast between Kurt’s shades of blue and the bright lights of the floating rays and the stars you collect along the way. I wish the aesthetics are worth the constant dying, though. Maybe it actually worked against me: the scenery, the graceful movement, and the soft colors made me feel bad for slowly dropping Kurt into a pit of spikes, over and over again.
PID (Planet in Distress) is definitely all about look and feel. Itis weak in a lot of other aspects. The story is pretty typical: Kurt wakes up in the middle of nowhere and tries to figure out how to get home through a series of obstacles, with clues popping up along the way. The gameplay is easy but frustrating in how specific it has to be, and your health is so low that you die a lot. If you want a game that’s pretty to look at, and you have no problem repeatedly watching the animation of an adorable cartoon boy dying, then PID is the game for you. If you have low patience, maybe not so much.
PID is rated E10+ (Everyone 10 and older) by the ESRB for Cartoon Violence. This game can also be found on PS3 and Xbox 360.
THE SWAPPER – FACEPALM GAMES
The Swapper takes a darker spin with the usual where-am-I-and-how-do-I-go-home story line. Early on, the unnamed protagonist obtains a gun that can create up to four clones of himself that follow his exact movements. The catch is that he can swap main control between these bodies. This means that, if he begins to fall off a cliff, he can create a clone on a safe ledge and transport his soul into it just as his original body cracks its neck. Some puzzles require intense trial-and-error, leaving you to watch your character’s body break bones and die over and over again. These gruesome and ugly images create a dark and eerie atmosphere, especially with the support of the various memory ports revealing the stories of the destruction before the story, existential thoughts, and dead people’s thoughts of disapproval of the swapper gun. However, in a strange way, the extremely dark mood makes the image of four clones walking and hopping backward together ironically funny in a way that two-player Portal 2 does.
The puzzles in The Swapper require creativity and precise reaction time, usually in constant motion. You have to think two steps ahead while moving toward those steps. These puzzles are for no novice.
ENGLISH COUNTRY TUNE – INCREPARE GAMES
There is absolutely no story in English Country Tune, but the game makes up for that with extremely creative gameplay. The fake physics in keep each level fresh, exciting, and fun. For example, in the first level, the goal is to move a ball into a box using a square that flaps back and forth on a plane. The ball falls in whichever direction you hit it to with the square; just as hitting the ball off the board will cause it to fall downward, hitting the ball sideways will cause it to fly sideways off the board, as if sideways is the new direction of gravity. This means that there is no set up, down, left, or right in this space.
Once you get a handle on this rule, you’ve conquered the learning curve. None of the puzzles are incredibly hard; I can knock out about four or five puzzles an hour. What makes English Country Tune fun is the sheer creativity that Increpare Games put into each puzzle using the fake physics. The feeling of satisfaction is incredibly high, and, because you’re brought back to the puzzle map after each game, it’s easy to pace yourself and stretch out that feeling of success for as long as you want. English Country Tune (a title which has no relation to gameplay) may sound boring in concept, but it is an excellent puzzle game in that it makes the player feel smart, excited, and satisfied.