Tag Archives: puzzles

2019 Game Review Haiku, #30 – vApe Escape

An innocent ape
Must destroy vape dispenser
To find peace, homeland

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.

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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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #27 – Earthling Priorities

Late for work, mean door
Sneak past mob, Big Bro watching
You win, you cretin

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.

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.

If you play Pikuniku, you’ll get free money (not really)

With a name like Pikuniku, you’d think this game would be harder to explain or some kind of Pokemon offshoot, like Hey You, Pikachu!. It is, in fact, deceptively simple, and that’s not at all a bad thing. Weird, for sure, but weirdly simple, and I’m sitting here smiling just thinking about it. Before you read anything further, I highly suggest you put this game’s soundtrack from Calum Bowen on.

Right, so…Pikuniku is an absurdly wonderful puzzle-exploration game that takes place in a strange but playful world where not everything is as happy as it seems despite all the bright colors and bouncy tunes. You play as a “monster” from a cave and must help out a number of peculiar characters overcome struggles, uncover a deep state conspiracy, and start a fun little revolution in this delightful dystopian adventure. Down with robots, as they say, and don’t let the free money bit fool you; when it comes to money, nothing is ever truly free.

The main thrust of Pikuniku is its platforming, which I can liken to things like Night in the Woods and LittleBigPlanet. A bit floaty, but you can still get to where you need to go and, if not, try jumping on a tree, cloud, or citizen for extra reach. After that, there are several light-hearted puzzles to deal with, but none of them are overly complicated, and the same can be said of the boss fights, which are fun and easy, grandiose even, and that’s all good. I’m not a huge fan of splatformers–I just started to play Celeste, and I don’t see myself getting too far up that mountain–and sometimes I just want to jump around in a relaxing fashion and explore the world leisurely without being chased by some nightmarish monster or having to have super reflexes when it comes to pressing buttons and landing on teeny-tiny platforms.

As the red “beast,” you can run, roll, and kick things, and the animations for all these actions are smooth and hilarious to see happen. Plus, you can put different hats or cosmetics on the main character to change its look and perform specific abilities, such as the watering can hat that lets you water flowers to reach new areas via jump-pads. There are coins to collect, along with trophy statues and small scenes involving bugs, but all these are just that–collectibles. The world is full of fun characters to interact with, ranging from web-spinning spiders to round worms to people that look like they came straight off the pages of the Mr. Men books. The dialogue is goofy and enjoyable, and it is worth chatting with characters just to get a vibe for how they live in this world, and you’ll occasionally get a dialogue choice though it definitely doesn’t make a big difference overall.

Alas, I did not get to try out the co-op mode of Pikuniku, but that’s okay, as I can only imagine it being slightly frustrating considering the somewhat non-precise controls for steering your character and hitting rocks around. But it’s there if you want it. The main story mode is only a few hours long and pretty linear, and I played through it in multiple phases, usually pausing after a boss fight; a part of me wanted to go back and find all the hidden collectibles, but I didn’t get a sense that anything would truly come of it…so I’ll leave those for others to gather up. I wonder how many hats you can get, too.

As it currently stands, Pikuniku is one of my favorite games of the year so far. It’s delightful. It’s quirky and embraces its strangeness, and I love that. Don’t be surprised when it shows up on my end-of-year GOTY list.

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.

2019 Game Review Haiku, #17 – Ego Hearts

Warm paper airplanes
To heat up stone-cold bodies
Banish frigid months

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.