Wednesday, January 16, 2008

Cryptex of Time Review

Cryptex of Time, developed and published by SOLO Development.
The Good: Circular board makes the game seem original, multiple game modes
The Not So Good: Some gems are too similar in appearance, can’t quickly string several moves together, no indication of when new gems will appear, can’t select specific rules for free games
What say you? Good features and a unique presentation makes this match-three game somewhat distinctive: 6/8

One of the best selling books of all time is The Da Vinci Code. I’ve never read it and could only stand about 30 minutes of the movie (even with Tom Hanks’s manly charm) so I never understood what all the hubbub is about. The author is apparently responsible for coming up with the term cryptex for a thing you rotate to unlock. They also used one at the conclusion of Treasure Hunters, which I found to be at least mildly entertaining. This brings us to Cryptex of Time, a puzzle game that involves rotating wheels of gems in order to match them. Will Cryptex of Time be a “Draconian devil” (is that a good thing?) or is it “so dark” like “the con of Man” (probably not a good thing)?

Cryptex of Time looks fairly decent for a puzzle game. The main cryptex is rendered in 3-D and can be rotated on its vertical axis in order to access the entire cylinder. The cryptex itself features some nice detail with the jewels that adorn it, although some of the jewels are too similar in appearance, making the game more difficult. There is also the usual assortment of special effects when you clear some jewels and remove a wheel. Overall, the game has a clean appearance that promotes ease of use. The sound is also typical for a puzzle game: some average background music and effects that relate to the gameplay. Notable is the gem matching effect, which is well done. Overall, Cryptex of Time falls squarely in the middle of the genre in terms of presentation: not outstanding but not terrible.

While Cryptex of Time certainly has its roots in a classic matching game, it adds some unique features that makes it different enough from previous titles in the genre. Cryptex of Time comes with a story mode which introduces additional complexities to the game while introducing different themed areas (like Mayan and Egyptian). The puzzle board of Cryptex of Time is a cylinder that contains rows of gems that must be rotated in order to match three or more adjacent gems. Because you can only rotate the wheels of the cryptex horizontally, most of your matches will occur vertically. This alone makes Cryptex of Time somewhat more difficult than other games in the genre because of the limited nature of the cryptex. The basic gameplay is unique and manipulating the cryptex provides a good challenge for both beginners and puzzle veterans. The controls are simple, as you grab and move the wheels with the mouse and rotate your view using the right mouse button. It can be difficult to see gems on the other side of the cryptex (since they will be blocked by the side facing you), but you can always rotate your view before making a move. Since you can chain together matches, the game locks out moving the cryptex if you’ve made additional matches you might not be aware of; this can interrupt the flow of the game. Still, Cryptex of Time offers up a fairly unique challenge for the puzzle genre.

Cryptex of Time introduces varied rules that mix up the gameplay and change the level of difficulty. This makes the game less repetitive in the long run, something which tends to plague puzzle games. New wheels can be introduced during the game at normal or fast speeds, or never at all. Matches you didn’t specifically find are removed automatically, but this option can be turned off as well. Some puzzles will limit the amount of rotations you can make, prevent gems from falling down to fill in space, increase the number of matches required to clear gems, or introduce additional colors to the puzzles. In general, more difficult combinations are introduced later on in the campaign, and the open rules structure makes for some interesting gameplay recipes later on. While the game does play the same, the small changes certainly make Cryptex of Time feel different over time. Cryptex of Time can get quite challenging when more restrictive rules are introduced, and gameplay can range from fast-paced play sessions to drawn-out strategic matches: the amount of flexibility is commendable. You can’t specifically set a rules combination in “free play” mode, so it’s not as “free” as I would like. There are also some special gems that explode large areas of the cryptex to complete the gameplay picture.

Overall, Cryptex of Time is an enjoyable puzzle game thanks to unique mechanics and flexible game rules. The title distinguishes itself from “common” match-three puzzle games with its exclusive puzzle format. Controls are intuitive, gameplay is straightforward, and Cryptex of Time features enough variety to keep you coming back for more. Just when you think you have the game figured out, the story mode throws a match-five, move-limited, six-color cryptex at you. I would like the ability to specify the rules in “free play” mode (maybe this could be introduced in a patch), but this is a relatively small complaint in an otherwise solid game. A fresh take on the genre, Cryptex of Time takes a classic idea and expands upon it enough to produce a notable title.