Tag Archives: puzzle

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Vessel

Vessel is probably a game I would have spent a ton of time on in my younger years, when videogames were scarce and my collection only grew by a title of two every few months. Now, I get free videogames to play every single day from all the various programs I’m subscribed to, plus the Internet is just full of freebies, and, frankly, it’s becoming a bit too much for my brain to keep up with. I’m not bragging; this is just reality. This ultimately means that if a game doesn’t really hook me from the start I don’t have to fret too much over walking away from it, knowing there are plenty of other fish in the ocean to eat. Sorry, Vessel, but you’re the equivalent of a monkfish in this scenario.

The main character of Vessel is M. Arkwright, an inventor who creates a liquid-composed, labor-performing automaton called the Fluro. He creates this automaton in order to perform laborious tasks more efficiently than human beings because…well, in the end, we’re all truly lazy. However, the Fluros begin to run amok and cause machinery to malfunction. In order to restore the machinery back to a functioning status, Arkwright must travel through Vessel‘s world and fix the broken parts, which more or less means solving physics-related puzzles. Expect lots of locked doors and levers and pressure plates to push.

A supply of Fluro “seeds” enables Arkwright to conjure these critters wherever he chooses. Drop one down, submerge it in water, lava, or even fruit juice, and a helper will arise, eager to assist you in solving the current puzzle. Different seeds provide Fluros of different behaviors too, as some are fixated on button pushing while others will chase you or seek out light sources. Environments often have grills through which only Fluros can pass, so much of the game involves working out where to place a Fluro so that it can run through a bunch of switches in the right order. There’s a lot of trial and error, of course, and, as with anything based on physics, not everything works as you expect it to. Sometimes the thing you control with a lever won’t stop exactly where you want it, but that’s okay.

Viewing screenshots shows that Vessel does not simply stay in the factory-esque world of the first hour or so of gameplay. Which is good, because it is both dark and boring-looking there. I almost had to turn up the brightness level on my TV to solve a puzzle. You will, in fact, get to go outside, and it’s a shame I never made it that far, as the environments look much brighter and visually stimulating than a bunch of muted machinery. Oh well, maybe next time.

Much like other puzzle platformers or puzzle-driven exploration romps, like Unmechanical: Extended and Quantum Conundrum, I played this for a bit before the puzzles became just a wee bit too much for my brain to handle. Again, there was a time in my life that I probably could sit and bang my head against the puzzles until something gave, but that time is no longer now. So, I’ll just let the Fluros continue running amok, leaving Vessel unsolved and in a state of disrepair. My bad.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Hope your alchemy skills are strong enough for Sokobond

This may not surprise anyone, but my strongest classes in high school were English, art, and, uh, study hall. By that logic, my weakest classes were mathematics, science, and gym. That’s not to say I don’t appreciate things about math and science, as they are fundamental to life, but gym can seriously take a hike down a long, uneven road full of potholes, dog droppings, and ankle-biting snakes. Yes, yes…I was the kid in gym class that walked the mile, each and every time. Anyways, Sokobond is all about chemistry, and I dig it.

Hey, have you heard the one about a chemist who was reading a book about helium? He just couldn’t put it down. ::cymbal crash::

Well, Sokobond comes from Draknek, who you might remember was behind another puzzle game I played recently, specifically A Good Snowman Is Hard To Build, and is an elegantly designed puzzle game about chemistry. Yup, chemistry. Don’t worry–it doesn’t play like a homework assignment. It’s logical, minimalist, and crafted with love and science, full of fun facts that making completing each level worth it. All in all, Sokobond is a tricky puzzler that tasks players with pushing atoms around a stage to form molecules, and while that might sound simple, just like rolling snowballs to form snowpeople, it is more complicated due to certain rules and restrictions.

Sokobond does not feature a tutorial. and that’s a good thing. It invites you to immediately start experimenting, opening without explanation. sitting on a board of squares are three circles–two of them are red, each with an H displayed in its middle and with a single little orb orbiting it, and one is a blue O with two orbs. One of the Hs bears a dotted rather than solid circle, and you can move it around the board with the cursor keys. If you move a circle next to another and they both have orbs, they’ll bond together and an orb will disappear from each. A few moves later, you’ll have maneuvered each circle into a small cluster and discovered that the object is to remove all the orbs, leaving you with a little structure. Many will have already immediately worked out that the circles represent atoms; the H circles are hydrogen, the O is oxygen, and when you’ve put them all together you’ve made water (H2O).

Sokobond is quite varied, not your standard sliding puzzler that just repeats its one trick over and over, with levels divided into sets themed on different mechanics. For example, the first set introduces you to the concept of bonding; the next brings in a bond cutter, which divides molecules if you move their bonds over it. Further along, there’s a bond doubler, which uses an extra couple of orbs if they’re available on adjacent atoms. There’s also a rotation element, which can change a molecule’s shape if its form allows. In one level, these mechanics will be the main part of the solution, allowing you to manipulate your atoms with greater flexibility; in another, they’ll provide its core challenge, cutting a bond into parts when it looked like you had the whole thing solved. The difficulty naturally ramps up with the more mechanics to deal with, but it is never overwhelming or frustrating.

Evidently, Sokobond came into existence after Alan and Shang Lun met one another at GDC 2012 and realized they’d played and loved each other’s games. On the final evening of the conference, they decided to make “a quick four-hour jam game,” which, a year and a half later, turned into the game I’m talking about in this very blog post. There’s over 100 levels to go through, and the music and sound design by Allison Walker is blissful and soothing.

You don’t need to know much about science to enjoy Sokobond‘s puzzles, but I guarantee you’ll appreciate it a bit more if you know what type of compound you are trying to create from the start. Still, I’ll never be able to buzz on on Jeopardy! and answer anything science-related or about the periodic table confidently, but I can totally slide cells around a small board to make compounds.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #21 – Baba is You

Follow simple rules
Think outside, break them to win
Baba is unique

And we’re back with these little haikus of mine. Go on, gobble ’em up. However, if you want to read more of my in-depth thoughts about these games that I’m beating, just search for them by name on Grinding Down. As always, enjoy my videogamey take on Japanese poetry, even if they aren’t instant classics, such as the works of Matsuo Basho, Yosa Buson, or Kobayashi Issa. Hey, not everyone gets to be that great.

Paul’s Preeminent PlayStation Plus Purge – Sparkle 2

I never played Sparkle 1, if it was even called that, but I can’t imagine it being too different from Sparkle 2, today’s game du jour for being on the chopping board. I feel like I’m making a good dent on this sojourn of mine to rid myself of all these PlayStation Plus titles, but there are still so many left on my PlayStation 3 to go through. Woe is me, I know. How I must suffer at the hands of all these freebies of varying quality.

Anyways, Sparkle 2 is a marble shooter action puzzle game–woah, that’s way too many adjectives–that tasks you with eliminating snake-like lines of colored balls by matching three of them to make them vanish. Yup, it’s a match three, but the twist of the lines moving along a path helps keep the experience somewhat fresh. I say somewhat because, well, there’s only so much that can be done with a match three style game. I dip into these every now and then, such as with Tumblestone, Frozen Free Fall: Snowball Fight, and Adventure Pop, but never hang around for too long. Actually, the only one I truly continue to check in on these days is Gems of War, and that’s probably more because it reminds me so much of Puzzle Quest, where I really got hooked.

Evidently, Sparkle 2 comes with a story, a reason to match all these differently colored marbles. See, a long time ago, five enchanted keys were created. The keys were scattered around mysterious lands and still remain undiscovered. Many have come to find them, but alas, so far, all have failed. Now is your chance to shine and find these keys and unlock their secrets. It’s either that or join the endless ranks of souls forever trapped within this fantasy land. It’s honestly not much to go off of, but it is at least something, a thin carrot on a stick to chase after. That said, after finding two keys, I still don’t really follow the plot one bit.

I played Sparkle 2 for at least four hours, finishing about thirty or so levels and finding two of the five missing keys. How do I know I put that much time into it? Well, one, there’s an in-game timer, and two, you get a Trophy for playing that long. Go me. The game’s controls are thankfully tight, which they need to be if you are going to try and shoot marbles as quickly as possible at moving targets. There’s no guide though, so you have to do your best to line things up, and some power-ups help more than others. I really liked the one that turned into a bunch of fireflies to clear out multiple balls at once.

Well, I’ll fire one more colored ball, this time at Sparkle 2 itself, eliminating it from my PlayStation 3 and making room for whatever PS Plus game is next to cross my path.

Oh look, another reoccurring feature for Grinding Down. At least this one has both a purpose and an end goal–to rid myself of my digital collection of PlayStation Plus “freebies” as I look to discontinue the service soon. I got my PlayStation 3 back in January 2013 and have since been downloading just about every game offered up to me monthly thanks to the service’s subscription, but let’s be honest. Many of these games aren’t great, and the PlayStation 3 is long past its time in the limelight for stronger choices. So I’m gonna play ’em, uninstall ’em. Join me on this grand endeavor.

Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily kinda puts your detective work to work

Y’all remember when I snatched up that Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi earlier this year despite not having the specific type of mobile phone required to play any of the games on? The one with 10 games when all was said and done? Good, good. Then I don’t need to rehash many of the details of how I’m working my way through them. However, I am happy to report that I’ve now completed two of these narrative-driven hidden object romps, the first being Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova and the second being the hilariously titled Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily. I’m not going to say I’m on a roll, but things are certainly rolling along.

Let’s just get into what Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily is all about. I bet you think it’s about a crime, as well as some secrets. You’re not wrong. A grim murder interrupts a private detective’s vacation plans to have some time alone at a secluded hotel in the snowy mountains. Alas, she only has one clue to work from: a mysterious paper lily attached to the victim’s frozen body. As anyone who saw The Shining a bunch of times could expect, a blizzard has cut off all communication with the outside world, leaving her to her own devices and curious wit–aka, your ability to click everywhere. The story is campy and melodramatic, but some fun is to be had at figuring out who is involved and how. It’s a more grounded affair, even going to the effort of scientifically explaining how our killer is quickly freezing his victims.

I never know what to think about these types of hidden objects games when it comes to graphics. Visually, Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily looks all right during the scenes where you are finding a list of objects, but poor elsewhere, especially the cutscenes or where action is supposed to be taking place. There are some animated effects that help liven up the frigid scenes, but every single person you encounter is factory-made, extremely stiff, and only capable of a limited number of facial expressions. The voice acting is no better or worse than it was in Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova, to the point that the game might’ve been stronger without it. Also, at one point after being away from the game for a few days, I got mixed up two characters until one of them died, cementing that I had him pegged incorrectly as the game’s villain. All of that is to say that the art direction, writing, and voice acting did little to make these people stand out from the crowd, let alone each other.

One feature found in Crime Secrets: Crimson Lily that I didn’t see in Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova are “crime scenes.” These are sections that must be thoroughly searched for clues. Instead of searching for a list of items, you must examine the scene and click on the elements you think are related to the crime. Once you find them all, you must then put them in chronological order, which, thanks to the inclusion of colored lines on multiple tiles, is easier than it sounds. After you arrange everything correctly, our detective will walk herself through the crime to see how it ultimately happened. It’s nothing amazing gameplay-wise, but it helps break up the puzzles a bit from the hidden objects scenes and mind-benders. Strangely, hidden object scenes can be substituted for a game of Mahjong if desired, but I come to these things for the hidden objects so I only tried this once, despite my affection for ruining games of Mahjong.

Steam Achievements–I got them all. This doesn’t happen often, and I actually missed one for Vampire Legends: The True Story of Kisilova. Anyways, they weren’t terribly hard, with a number devoted to moments in the story, not using skips or hints for puzzles, and finding every collectible in the forms of snowflakes and origami. Origamis? Whatever. These were a bit tricky to spot in many of the scenes, but that wonky part of my brain refused to let me move on to the next scene until I scoured every clickable corner.

All that said, I’m not sure which title from the Humble Mobile Bundle from Artifex Mundi to tackle next. I’m leaning towards Eventide: Slavic Fable, but Mythic Wonders: The Philosopher’s Stone also sounds like a hoot, even if I already know it has nothing to do with that boy wizard that lived under the stairs. We’ll see. I’m beginning to head into that part of the year where I unfortunately don’t write as much about the games I play, and if the rest of these hidden object affairs from Artifex Mundi are, more or less, the same experience then we might just have to settle on review haikus and move on with life. It’ll be tough, but we’ll get through it, together.

Y’know, you have to explore the darkness to move forward in Lampshade

lampshade gd indie game impressions

I recently got a ring in Stardew Valley that emits a small circle of light around my character, which makes exploring the dimmer parts of the mines much easier, especially for my old man eyes. Thankfully, it’s not my only source of light, and it plays a super tiny role in the grand scheme of raiding a mine for resources that you can sell or use back at your house to help fill out those progression-essential Community Center bundles. Wait, I’m not here to talk once more about Perdido Farm. Certainly not until I get through my first winter, at least. This post is about Lampshade from Mister No Wind’s Studio, where you are, more or less, the only source of light, which makes navigating through a dark, labyrinthine cave all the more troublesome. Step by step, as the song goes.

Lampshade tells the story of a nameless woman–let’s call her Lamprini–who must travel through some mysterious, dark cave across six different chapters…for one reason or another. It’s not explicitly said, and the things that are said are said slathered in lyricism and pretentiousness. This is an odd retro world full of platforms and dangerous spikes, but also glitches and strange, old men and rules that are meant to be broken. Also, ghosts that affect your vision upon contact. Every chapter switches things up, and so the simple platforming found in the first chapter becomes hindered by total darkness in chapter two and then completely bonkers after that, with the edges of the screen no longer predictable as merely edges of a screen. It reminds me, as many things often do, of Fez, of Persist.

I’ve had to write some stuff down for Lampshade. I suspect many other players did too, unless they have the mind of three elephants combined. In which case I don’t know if they need to go to the hospital or a museum first. Right, writing. It’s a good thing I like writing because the notes-taking for this under-lit adventure feels…wholly unnecessary. Sure, it is necessary for me to map out where to jump on platforms in pure blackness, but it’s not like the path changes every time I die or if it is even different for other players in their game. It’s the same road, just hidden, and that I guess equates to puzzle platforming. The challenge comes from not being able to see, but that twist doesn’t make it a lot of fun to play.

By the way, Lampshade is played in a browser, using only the arrow keys. Up jumps, and left and right move Lamprini around the level. However, the longer you hold the up key, the higher she jumps. You can use this to your advantage to master hopping up stair-like platforms, but I still found myself losing control of her and missing a landing here and there. Or simply walking off a ledge. You’ll occasionally need to pause in front of lamps, which will reveal the entirety of the screen until you move away from them, leaving you to your memory and platforming skills. Sometimes you have to traverse across several screens before getting to the one you are supposed to have memorized, which can test your total recall ability.

Chapter 4 of Lampshade is most likely where many will walk away or rage quit. I certainly did…of the former. Despite giving you a map, which tells you very little actually other than what square cube you are in…in relation to the other square cubes, you are forced to replay many sections of the level if you make a single mistake towards the end in terms of where you jump and how you land. Naturally, you don’t know this the first time going into it, and so you’ll mess up and feel punished. It’s a cheap means to stretch out the gameplay in the middle, to ask a lot of a player already giving up things like eye-sight and security.

By all means, give it a go yourself. Do let me know what the last few chapters are all about and whether Lamprini ever sees the light of day. I don’t have a lot of faith that she does.

2015 Game Review Haiku, #52 – Dragon Quest

2015 games completed dragon quest armor games capture

Not the Dragon Quest
We all know, find stolen friend
Through physics puzzles

From 2012 all through 2013, I wrote little haikus here at Grinding Down about every game I beat or completed, totaling 104 in the end. I took a break from this format last year in an attempt to get more artsy, only to realize that I missed doing it dearly. So, we’re back. Or rather, I am. Hope you enjoy my continued take on videogame-inspired Japanese poetry in three phases of 5, 7, and 5, respectively.