Sunday, April 15, 2007

Pathstorm Review

Pathstorm, developed and published by Cavebug Games.
The Good: Unique and simple mechanics, large replay value, lots of levels, random level generator, logical difficulty
The Not So Good: “Find the exits” mode is not as fun as the regular game
What say you? A sophisticated and addictive Minesweeper-like puzzle game with lots of design possibilities and challenging gameplay: 7/8

Along with Solitaire, one of the more ubiquitous games is Minesweeper. From Windows 3.1 to Windows Craptacular, this logic-based puzzle game is very popular. Taking the basic formula and kicking it up a notch is Pathstorm. Instead of mines, you’re trying to figure out the paths of balls hidden under the surface as the come into contact with various hidden objects. Will this logic-based game be logical or illogical (Word didn’t have any synonyms for “logic”…stupid Microsoft)?

Pathstorm features fairly generic 2-D graphics, but the game is still passable. You’ll be spending most of your time staring at the basic grid layout. While the game environment is not that exciting, Pathstorm does have some nice effects that accompany each of the actions in the game. I will say that Pathstorm is very easy to navigate and the interface never gets in the way. In a unique twist, the sound is actually better that the graphics. Pathstorm has great distinctive sound effects for each object in the game, and when action gets intense, you can hear an orchestra of bleeps and clangs as balls impact different obstacles. Pathstorm also has some “earthy” background music that fits the jungle theme of the game. Overall, the graphics and the sound do well enough.

In Pathstorm, you’re trying to figure out the hidden locations of objects by rolling balls around a grid and seeing where they end up. There are four types of objects that you’ll encounter: bouncers that deflect, splitters that spawn two new balls, shifters that move balls to a new row or column, and twirlers that change the direction clockwise or counterclockwise. Each of these objects can be “scrambled,” which requires you to click on them (once found) to correct their orientation. Despite having only these four components, the puzzles of Pathstorm can get quite complex. Solving the puzzles involves finding staring locations that only impact one object and working from there, like a crossword puzzle. You are heavily penalized for revealing a square that does not contain an object, but thankfully the game does not end. Pathstorm has some great gameplay, as there is a definitely solution to each puzzle, and it’s just a matter of figuring out what is causing all of the deflections on the map and where those objects are located. Skilled players can tell where objects are located just based on how long it takes to get there, and more advanced puzzles will require this level of thinking. Pathstorm is definitely addictive, and the multiple game modes add even more replay value to the equation. The journey mode has four tracks of difficulty featuring over 100 levels in all. After you are done with those, you can enter challenge mode that provides a time limit to solving each puzzle. And the puzzle mode features a random level utility where you can customize the percentage range of object type appearing on the map, the level shape, the level properties (such as variable speed balls), and object properties (such as scrambling). This means that you’ll never run out of puzzles to play in Pathstorm. While the basic game is awesome, the “find the exits” mode, where you must trace the ball paths yourself on a revealed map and click on the correct exit points, is tedious and I always groan when it comes up. Still, this is really the only drawback I’ve seen in the game, though, as the rest of Pathstorm is high quality.

Pathstorm takes a unique approach to a conventional mechanic and creates a very intriguing game. The amount of replay value in Pathstorm is staggering: despite only four objects in the game, the number of puzzles you can encounter or create is mind-boggling. Pathstorm strike the right balancing between simple mechanics and refined difficulty, which means the game will appeal to a large audience. It is very easy to increase the difficult of a single puzzle without being unfair to the user; most games would just have the game run faster, but Pathstorm’s mechanics allows for more complicated puzzles that will challenge any skill level. Fans of logic puzzles should not miss this title, and anyone else will find a very satisfying gaming experience.