Thursday, December 11, 2008

Chains Review

Chains, developed and published by
The Good: Lots of very unique puzzle layouts and objectives, intuitive physics-based gameplay,
The Not So Good: Needs more levels (and/or an editor), iffy on which bubbles can be linked
What say you? A objective-based puzzle game with some extraordinary levels that only needs more content: 6/8

One of the hardest things to do in game design is come up with a good name. You have to choose something that is unique, catchy, and identifies the type of game you are designing in one phrase. We’ve had straightforward titles, disturbingly long names, and weird foreign games. Now, after a long, drawn-out process of intense thought and imagination, we have come to the ultimate game title: Chains. Rejoice as simple perfection has been reached!

“Simple” is a good way of describing the graphics of Chains. We get some background images with one dominant color (light and dark purple, for example) and multi-colored balls for easy matching. The layouts are all done in black with no real-world tie-ins. Minimalist it is, but it’s also effective at creating a unique look. This is a developer who knows his limits and subsequently designs a pleasing product well within the boundaries of possibility. I would much rather have a game look like Chains than a horrible 3-D shooter. In addition to the crisp graphics, Chains features some nice background music by some Belgians (good for more than waffles, apparently). The music fits the minimalist mood of the game well and I quite like it. The graphics and sound certainly do not push the envelope, but Chains does hold its own against the competition in the genre.

Chains features twenty levels, each of which offers a different objective to complete. This is different from boring, repetitive puzzle games that ask you to do the same thing over and over and over and over (and over). The levels are fantastically designed and you don’t know what is coming up next. The basic premise remains the same: manually connect close, similar-colored bubbles. This was done to some extent in Narobiyu, but Chains changes the objectives and keeps the action fresh. The game lets you connect adjacent bubbles; the range is shown by a rotating indicator that almost works well. There are some times that I think I should be able to make matches but the game does not allow it, and this can get frustrating on occasion.

Not only to the layouts themselves make it difficult to make matches (putting potentially adjacent bubbles too far away), but the objectives are quite varied. One moment you are unclogging a narrow stream by making matches in real-time, the next you are balancing a scale using weights noted on each bubble. More “standard” levels involve linking a minimum number together at once, clearing a specified number in total, clearing a specific color, or not losing and bubbles within a time limit. While each individual level lasts about a minute longer than I would have liked, the compelling and unique nature of each individual level more than compensates for any potential tedium. Chains also uses a very nice physics engine that is not just there for looks: it is a vital component of more than a handful of the puzzles in the game. So why not a higher score? Chains is over too quickly: twenty puzzles makes for a good day’s work, but then the experience is sadly over.

Chains is dripping with innovation and individuality: there is nothing quite like it. Don’t let the short review trick you: there is a great puzzle experience here that is only hindered by the amount of content. Almost every level is a new objective and with a new layout: rare is the puzzle game that has this much variety. One of the main problems with puzzle is repetition, but Chains solves this with a great amount of variety in both objectives and layouts. The objectives fall into a number of categories (clearing a number, survive a time limit), but the layouts help to accentuate the unique nature of the game. Just add more levels and we would have a pretty complete and quite enthralling puzzle gaming experience.