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//A matter of perspective By: Jordan Happach The way we view the world is the culmination of our experiences and feelings which we have grown and become attached to as we grow older. As we see patterns over the course of our lives, we develop a lens through which we look at everything. This is called a world view. Something similar exists in the language of video games as we become complacent and expect a game world to function very similarly to the real one. This paradigm is shattered with Antichamber. The core of the game is focused around defying the expectations and general rules of the physical world. It is a puzzle game with the emphasis placed on traversal though rooms with mind-bending non-Euclidian design. In laymen’s terms this means what you see is not necessarily what exists. Objects and walls may appear or disappear out from underneath the player seemingly out of nowhere but there is always a defined path and a way back to your original location with the helpful main map menu accessible at any time. It is a crucial feature of the game, which would be extremely frustrating if not unplayable without. As the player makes their way through the environments, which are generally white with key primary colors to direct their attention to certain area, they will come across weapons’ which build upon each other in their functionality. The projectiles are cubes which the player uses to solve the various puzzles in the game. From creating bridges to unlocking doors, blocks are the answer to the games sometimes backwards appearing solutions. The end result can be gratifying but also hard fought and finicky specifically with the platforming which is needed at different points. There is no narrative and barely even a premise throughout the game aside from insightful signs along the way that could have a much more transcendent meaning apart from just helping the player get past a specific room. In general, there is a very minimalistic look and feel to everything in the game which lets the player focus on the mechanics and helps them understand when the world has altered it’s state, even if they do not know how or why. Without saying too much, it’s a shame the game doesn’t make good on a more meaningful ending either. Overall there is a trial and error nature to the game. This is by design but can also leave the player feeling that some things are unexplained. Personally I found it a mix of excitement and aggravation depending on the situation. Ultimately, the way one approaches this game is subject to how willing one is to give in to the rules of the world, however nonsensical they may at first seem. As with all things in life and in this case the game, it’s a matter of perspective. 3/5
Have you ever wondered what a real-time puzzle strategy game would look like? Well don’t waste another moment wondering because such a game actually exist! Take a look at the game Vertex Dispenser. Vertex Dispenser Website Steam Store Link My AI companion and I make an offensive push into Pink territory to knock them out of the lead. The goal of Vertex Dispenser is to capture different colored spheres on the playing field by shooting them. This opens up a line that the player (and his teammates in team games) can travel along. If these lines are connected in a triangle, a prism is created which makes each point of the triangle harder for the enemy team to destroy and allows the connected points the ability to fire back. Other than making travel possible, these colored spheres are very important to connect for one major reason: your special powers. In game, there a variety of powers, each connected to a different color, with the most powerful abilities of all associated with the rarest colors. The more of one color you have captured, the faster those abilities charge. These range from teleporting a few spheres away instantly to calling in an airstrike that damages enemies, damages enemy territory, and claims territory for you. The way the player gains the rarer colors is by having all of the more common colors surrounding it. So, first the player captures a Blue then any connecting points will be made Red and any points touching both Blue and Red become Green which when combined with Blue and Red connections make a Yellow connection and so on and so forth. The objective is to eliminate all opposing players (AI, Teams, what have you) ensuring total domination of the map. Speaking of maps, they take on quite an interesting array of shapes. Any geometrical shape you can think of (and even those you wouldn’t) is a playable level, with the little Player ships moving along them without falling off, like Giants running around the Earth. There can be gaps in the map as well as thinly connect spheres that do not create a prism when connected. There are also options for shrubs and trees to get in the way though these are usually quickly destroyed in the beginning game. A 2v2v2 match on a simple sphere map ensures constant conflict while making it hard for any one team to become dominant. The player moves around in real time blasting points and other ships in a rush to claim victory. So where are the puzzle and strategy elements? Well those come from carefully claiming territory in a certain order to maximize the use of your special powers against the enemy. Also, large blocks of connected territory are much more dangerous for the enemy to push into, since it will take much longer to break up, and the number of spheres able to return fire increases the further the enemy advances . When playing, you realize that you really are just in a strategy game with a puzzle like interface where you make color combos to get the best combination. Sounds easy until your perfect color combos are constantly being destroyed by the enemy and you barely have time to think, and you push forward to break up their big color combo then fall back to repair your own. It may look silly, but getting into a close match is quite the rush. The AI is surprisingly intelligent at higher levels though their biggest advantage is their reaction time, never needing to slow down to plan the next move as it’s always right in front of their eyes. They live and breathe Vertex Dispenser, so clever strategies are necessary to win at that point. Speaking of clever strategies, be careful when challenging human opponents. The most strange and seemingly useless special powers may be utilized in ways you would never expect. Die you blasted Blue AI! All in all Vertex Dispenser is an innovative game; you would be hard pressed to find anything like it. Though I don’t get around to playing it often, when I do it is simply a blast and a completely different experience from everything else out there. Feel free to try the demo on Steam to see if it suits you as the rapid puzzle-like gameplay may not capture all of our hearts and minds, though for some of us out there it is a refreshing change of pace. The after-game menu shows when each side used what powers as well as their relative control over the map’s territory.
BattleBlock Theater is one of those games that comes along and makes you think, “Wow, I hate my friends.” For the low price of 1200 Microsoft Points (somehow 1200 becomes $14.99) you too can experience the…experience..that is BattleBlock Theater available on Xbox Live Arcade. BattleBlock Theater (henceforth known as BBT) is the third game developed by The Behemoth studios following years of playable demos at conventions and press conferences. Behemoth’s first title Alien Hominid had one or two players fighting through levels in a completely 2D beat-em-up style of gameplay. Later came Castle Crashers utilizing the same 2D style and also playing like a beat-em-up only now with an extra axis of movement and character growth. This entry uses the same cartoony art style and poop jokes Behemoth has become famous for and even includes some basic fighting mechanics. What is strange though is that BBT is no beat-em-up, instead being a fast paced puzzle game. Behemoth has added what every puzzle game has been missing, pig mounts! The mechanics for the puzzles are more or less the tried and true platformer mechanics gamers have come to known. After briefly inspecting something, players should be able to quickly realize what exactly it is doing in the puzzle…and that’s a good thing! Spike traps hurt, catapults launch things, conveyor belts…convey things, and teleporters teleport. Everything acts as you would expect it to, and even those who only play the occasional platformer or puzzle game should be able to identify what they can successfully interact with. Where BBT gets especially interesting is the way it utilizes these puzzles. The goal of each level is to get from the starting point to the end, trying to collect at least 3 gems along the way to open up the exit. Each level contains anywhere from 5-7 gems and a ball of yarn. Collecting all of the gems and yarn gains the player a higher Grade on the level and a fast clear time can allow that to go all the way to A++ which rewards the player with even more gems. Gems are not only useful for completing a level but also let players “free” additional prisoners on the island (oh yeah you are competing in death matches on the island, that’s the basis of the story), which unlocks different cosmetic heads. While not important in beating the game it does fulfill that urge for completionists to “collect” them all, as there are over 200 prisoners to set free which will require a lot of gems. If you are not a completionist and suck at platforming puzzles, that is okay, you can still advance through the game due to only needing 3 gems to complete each level. Your score will be much lower and you will have fewer cosmetic choices but the game will not prevent you from progressing and I think this is a rather wise design choice. One thing you shouldn’t skip over though given the chance is Yarn. Yarn is the currency you use to bribe the cats on the island (yes, the prison guards are giant cats) to unlock additional weapons. While you don’t particularly NEED any specific weapon to complete a level, certain ones can come in handy, such as a dart gun that can make impromptu platforms when shot into a wall. Essentially there is a lot to collect and unlock but if you only want to play through for the experience and the story you don’t need to try and 100% everything. Now onto more important topics, like co-op play! You don’t need to be fast, just faster than your teammate. BBT has two campaigns as well as a few different multiplayer modes. The two campaigns share the same story progression but the levels are completely different with one campaign being built for single player and the other built entirely for co-op. Between the two there are literally hundreds of levels to play through. While each level will only usually last you a few minutes, some can take as long as ten or so minutes (it was a REALLY hard level!), and even at the speed in which you can complete them, that is a lot of content packed into one game. If you are no completionist and only play each level once you are sure to run out of content after a while. That is until you go online and discover this game comes with a level editor and allows for users to share their custom made levels with one another. As long as the community stays active there should be a constant stream of new levels available to play. In order to encourage such a community the game also has several multiplayer arena modes which are basically different variations of Team Deathmatch, Capture the Flag, and Race to the Finish. While none of these modes are incredibly unique it must also be said that they are quite enjoyable and the inevitable chaos that emerges makes them all the more fun/aggravating. Different colors mean opposing teams, though to be honest your color is meaningless when the grenades and fireballs start flying. All in all BattleBlock Theater is a game that oozes polish in its overall design and you will be hard pressed in finding a better co-op game in the platformer genre. The single player is an enjoyable experience, but the game truly shines in its co-op campaign. If you plan on playing alone go ahead and take a look, but if you have a friend willing to play with you, go out and at least get the demo right now. Also prepare to make new friends as the co-op campaign will test how much you really care about somebody when they throw you into the spike trap for the fifth time in a row, giggling madly. Oh and I almost forgot to mention the game’s opening cinematic…