Opus Magnum (Early Access Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £15.49
Where To Get It: Steam

Opus Magnum is, as you might expect from a Zachtronics game, clever, mildly frustrating at times, but overall very good if you like puzzles that use programming logic as their core element. This time? The logic of an alchemical machine, used by a recently graduated alchemist who very quickly gets way, way over his head. Solid stuff.

Anateus, as you might have guessed, is a slovenly genius.

So what’s clever about this? Well, it encourages tight, simple designs with fewer moving parts. Sometimes, this is positive reinforcement, like the warm glowies you get when two arms, a special kind of bonding machine, and a glyph to turn elements into salt take the element of Fire, and make it… Well, more fiery. Not that you’d see that, but rest assured, you’re making explosives, there is story to it, both before and after, it’s written well, and it makes sense (More bonds, in chemistry = More energy when they break. KABOOM.)

Sometimes, this is more restriction than anything else. The robot arms (your means of manipulating the elements) can’t be programmed until you place your element sources and the output down, and no, these sources are the sources you have to work with. Move them around, shuffle them for optimisation, but when it gives you one Water Sphere, and you have two waters to bond, then you just have to deal with it… And it’s fun to do so.

This took about an hour to program (including checking everything), and was slow, expensive, *and* taking up a lot of space. Don’t do this, kids.

Finally, there’s the negative reinforcement. The more complicated the machine you’re making, the more it costs, the more area it takes up, and the longer it’s going to take to program to work right (Although I really do feel a “Start from a certain place in the program” option would help there.) Two of those are things you’re scored on, compared with other folks… And this is the other joy of Opus Magnum… Different designs having different efficiency, efficiency that often comes at the sacrifice of other qualities. The game makes this pretty damn easy to make these designs, with multiple design saves per puzzle possible, so for some puzzles, I have designs that are quick (because I threw lots of arms in… Arms can overlap, even if collisions with their bases is not allowed. This is a useful tip) , and for some, I have compact and cheap (but sloooow) designs. Somewhere, you’re going to compromise.

The ability to make your own puzzles, puzzles not related to the story, but part of the world, a little side game… There’s a fair amount to Opus Magnum, and all this, combined with the good music and visuals? Makes it a good choice for folks who like puzzle games with a bit of bite. I would also recommend this to folks who liked previous Zachtronics games, but… Well, they probably already have it. While it is in Early Access, the game is pretty much complete, save for balancing.

The side-game, an interesting take on matching puzzles, with commentary by the two main characters.

The Mad Welshman likes the GIF record feature. It lets him gloat when he has a reaaaaally good machine. Or horrify people with overly complex creations. That too.

Pixel Puzzles Picross (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £4.99
Where To Get It: Steam

You’d think, after all the times I’ve said “It does what it says on the tin”, that Pixel Puzzles Picross would be that. And you know what? Mostly, it’s true. At its most basic level, P-P-Picross (R-R-Raggy?) is exactly that: You logically deduce what bits should be filled in in a grid made of 5×5 grids, using numbers at the top of each column and the left of each row, and the knowledge that there has to be a single space between each number. Do it right, and you get a pixel picture that the game colours in, and the sweet, sweet acknowledgement of your intellectual prowess. Go you.

LOOK, IT’S A SPOILER, A MASSIVE SPO- h, wait, no, it’s just a fire hydrant. Silly me!

However, this is not quite the whole story, and what’s left… Somewhat confuses me. You see, there are bits of Normal mode that feel like they would have fit better in Hard mode, and bits of Hard mode that would have felt better in Normal mode. Normal mode doesn’t use lives, while Hard mode does. So far, so good. But Normal mode doesn’t properly inform you when you’ve filled a segment in properly, and has a timer, while Hard mode… does tell you, once you’ve done things the right way, that yes, you no longer need to worry about that 2, 1, 1, 3, and only have to worry about the 1, and 1 (To give an example), and has no timer to feed your ego.

This doesn’t really detract from the game, per se, but it does feel off, and I find myself flailing about a lot more in Normal mode than Hard. Beyond this, though, there’s honestly not a lot to say that hasn’t already been said. Normal puzzles and Hard puzzles have separate scores, despite the fact they appear to be the same images throughout, there are only a few tunes, the UI’s pretty friendly, but it’s not recommended to run this maximised unless you like to be annoyed by your steam overlay messages not going away and being drawn over by other steam overlay things (A relatively common draw problem, fixable, but also easily avoided), and the option exists to turn off what I found to be a very helpful feature (Once you’ve held down the left or right mouse button to draw and chosen a direction, it won’t go outside of that row or column until you release it.)

OMGIOD SPO- h wait, no, this is a good illustration of how you play Picross without finishing the image.

Beyond that, well… It’s a Picross puzzle game, it has a fair few puzzles, from ones you’ve probably seen before (Oh look, a heart) to things like space shuttles, pitcher’s mitts, and seahorses, all thematically arranged. It works, niggles aside, and it’s a perfectly serviceable game, all told. Are there better ones out there? Yes. But there’s very few puzzles here that are annoying, it’s accessible, it’s clear, and it’s got a perfectly acceptable price-tag about it.

I’m still somewhat confused about the difficulty differences though, and will probably remain so.

There are quite a few categories, with lots of levels, although, as mentioned, I’m somewhat befuddled by the idea that completing it on hard doesn’t also complete it on normal.

The Mad Welshman loves him some Picross. He will stamp those pixels down aaaaall day when he’s in the right mood.

Alphabear (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: 6.99
Where To Get It: Steam

For a while, Alphabear was a sensation. Haha, look at the often strange things they say using words I spelled in game! Oh dear, Alphabears, I don’t think you really meant to say that! I’ll freely admit, I was mostly confused when this happened. Confusion is sort of my base state when it comes to what becomes a darling, so I think we can safely move onto the fact that Alphabear is now not just on your phone, but on your computer. So how is it?

Hehehe. When Thesaurus butts.

Well… It’s a word puzzle game. It’s kind of cute. And if you’ve already got it on your phone, you’re not missing out on special PC only content, just having it on a bigger screen. You make words with letters, which have point values that add up depending on the length of word and the kinds of bears you brought into the puzzle, and each time you make a word, the letters you used become bears (or become part of a bigger bear), the point value of any letters you didn’t use goes down by 1, adjacent letters get exposed, and if any of the letters go down to 0 point value, they become rocks that permanently block bear expansion. The bigger the bears you have at the end, the bigger the bonus, and you unlock more bears and levels by beating the score it asks you to. Did you get all that?

Thankfully, it’s much less of a mouthful to play than explain, although sadly, if you screw up spelling a word, you’re better off just clicking the big X to completely erase than to try and remember the specific letter you were trying to get rid of. That niggle aside, it’s pretty clear, it’s pretty accessible, and the difficulty curve is just that… A curve, rather than a spiky mess.

Yes, I quite agree. Thunderous Plagiarisers be warned, neither I nor an actual thieving bear like you for plagiary.

Indeed, pretty much all of my problems with the game are not problems, but niggles. “Leaderboard” just links to the limited Steam Achievements. The bear unlocks are pretty much random chance, although you’d have to be fairly unlucky not to unlock all non-legendary bears before the end of a chapter. But the core of the game works, it’s just as cute as its original mobile/tablet incarnation, its dictionary has the same limitations (Sometimes it doesn’t have a definition for a word, like Wastel, sometimes, it doesn’t know things that totally are words), and essentially, whether you like it or not is dependent on whether you like word puzzles, specifically this kind of word puzzle, or not.

I happen to quite like it, and would thus finish by informing you that wastel bread was perhaps the best kind of bread you could get in the middle ages. So now you know.

As much as you may hate to admit it, this is the perfect Alphabear body.

The Mad Welshman is very fond of word games. Alas, generally he can’t enjoy them as much, since they are his 1.5th epileptic trigger. Sad times.

Sin Castle (Experimental Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £3.99
Where to Get It: Steam

You’ll notice the “Experimental” in the title here, and this is for a very simple reason: Sin Castle has not yet been translated into English, and I was curious to see if it was as accessible as it seemed from the video. Could it, in short, be played without knowledge of the language?

In short? Yes… And no. Now let’s get into the long, unpacking where it does well, and where it fails (Sometimes regardless of language.)

There was this Serpent, see? And he convinced the first two folks to… And then THINGS HAPPENED.

To give a brief summary of the game and what I understand of its story, it’s a puzzle game with roleplaying game elements where you click on things to interact with them, and use items to get ahead in what will be your main interaction, clicking on monsters to kill them (While they do their level best to kill you too.) The eight levels are themed on the Tree of Knowledge (Which started this whole Sin mess, if you believe some interpretations of the Christian Bible) and the Seven Deadly Sins of Christianity (Sloth, Greed, Envy, Wrath, Lust, Gluttony, and Pride. Not in that order.)

After only four hours of what can best be described as “Bumblefucking my way through”, I have reached what is either Greed or Envy. The level graphic could, to be fair, mean either, but I’m tending toward envy, as equipping good items seems to raise enemy stats. Each level, as you might have guessed from this, has a somewhat thematic set of gimmicks. And sadly, it’s these gimmicks that make the game harder if you don’t speak the lingo, and at times bring the game down regardless.

Let’s take the first chapter, the Tree of Knowledge, and its two main gimmicks to start with. One gates progress, while the other simply makes things more difficult at the end. Let’s start with the one that makes it more difficult to beat the level: Some of the enemies (Demons of some variety, I’m guessing) have a two-faced symbol on them. There are two items you get fairly early on: A stocks (of the “Put someone in the stocks!” variety) and a Rod of Asclepius (Symbol of healing and medicine.) Kill the monsters with the two-face symbol without using the right one of these two on them (And it is not always the Rod, unsurprisingly), and they buff the Tree’s draconian guardians, with a worst case scenario of making the final three guardians tedious, and the last one nigh impossible to defeat. Use the right symbol, and a blue winged shield will appear, presumably saying it’s fine to kill them. Wrong one, and you might as well not kill that enemy.

Each level of the castle is its own thing, with progress not being carried over. And, after the prologue, maps can get big.

This is an interesting gimmick, but the language barrier makes this one a bit trial and error, as does, for example, the gimmicks of three of the four boss monsters in the second level, Gluttony. The other gimmick of the first level, however, is…

…Look, you can’t kill certain monsters (As you don’t have the right weapons) until you beat the Serpent of the Garden in Rock-Paper-Scissors. Except it’s Sword (Quicker than axe, breaks on shield), Shield (Blocks sword, axe breaks shield), and Axe. And, unless you went fully Hitpoints on your stats, you have, at worst, 2 incorrect answers before you die and start again, compared to the Serpent’s 5. To say I am not enchanted with this is an understatement along the lines of “The Atlantic is a bit damp.” I am also less than amused with how certain monsters are a matter of slooooooowly out damaging them, waiting for your regeneration to hit safe levels before hitting them for just more than they can regenerate in the same time, and… It takes a few blows to see, on average, if you’re actually doing anything with said creatures.

Hrm… 50HP deducted for each wrong answer… I feel the deck is *slightly* stacked against me, Mister Snake!

You can, for a certain (rising) fee, respec your character, or attain silver and gold keys you might be running low on or out of, and you do slowly get money on a timer, but these both feel, not so much balancing out, but padding. Especially as both price and timer on the keys go up as you attain more. Each Sin’s level is self contained, starting you at Level 1, no stats, no keys, and some levels, yes, have less keys than others. It can be frustrating at times.

Overall, though, this is an interesting concept, it does some interesting things, and it has a cool and good aesthetic to it with what appears to be good colourblind awareness, nice music, and okay sounds. It’s just the execution could use a little polish.

The Mad Welshman knows a fair bit about Sin. Kind of comes with the territory of being a moustache twirling villain, really…

History 2048 (Review)

Source: Cashmoneys
Price: £1.59
Where To Get It: Steam

Sometimes, it’s nice to take a break and look at a puzzle game. A nice, simple… Ah.

Oh, it *starts* so very simply indeed. So clear. And the concept is quickly grasped…

History2048 is, in a sense, nice and simple. It’s a sliding block puzzle, in which you move all the blocks in a 4×4 grid (appearing randomly on empty squares) in one of four directions, and if two tiles match, they form “better” tiles (Furthest row first.) It’s called History 2048 because the puzzle it’s based on, the 2048 puzzle, is based on 2’s complement counting. So the tiles are, technically, 1,2,4,8,16,32,64,128… So on up till the extremely difficult to reach 2048. And beyond.

But just numbers has been done before! It’s visually unappealing! So… History. From the discovery of fire (1), hunting of mammoth (2), up to things like the ride of Attila’s Mongol Horde (512) and the commonly attributed era to which Le Morte D’elle Arthur (King Arthur’s legends, 1024, and where my best-tile score sits), the game uses low poly 3d graphics fairly well to make a simple board that nonetheless is pleasing to the eyeballs. No music, but simple blips, blops, and splooshes, along with the occasional twinkle, mark the road onward.

…But, in the end, complexity wins over the old grey matter. Almost inevitably. *Almost*

So, you slide, and you slide, and the splooshy blops make it look like you’re winning, but… That campfire. Right in the corner. Behind the roman coliseum. To get it, you’re going to have to change the direction of your play, and that… Oh, damn, now there’s a mammoth blocking it!

In summary, History2048 is nice on the eyes, okay on the ears, less than 2 quid, and the only niggle I can think of is that you have to quit via the window button. Which is obviously an appaling pro- h, no it isn’t. So the game’s just fine. Give it a go if you like simple to play, hard to master puzzles.

…Even if, sometimes, I question why certain things have been chosen as historical landmarks.

The Mad Welshman now has a top score of 13440. Feel free to tweet at him if you top that or, even better, beat the game.