Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Puzzle Dimension Review

Puzzle Dimension, developed and published by Doctor Entertainment.
The Good: Deft use of gravity and perspective, numerous block types, level designs are very challenging but fair, flexible content unlock reduces chances of getting “stuck,” online leaderboards, multiplatform, $10
The Not So Good: Few puzzle solutions, limited camera control, high difficulty comes with no hints, no level editor
What say you? A tricky puzzle game that makes great use of simple elements: 7/8

Remember Marble Madness? Sure you do. Remember the last two reviews I referenced Marble Madness? Neither did I, so that’s why I did a Google search. Poor memory aside, there is something hypnotic about guiding a shiny metal ball through 3-D puzzle layouts. I blame the shininess. Or constantly changing perspective, which is the hook of Puzzle Dimension, a puzzle game coming straight out of Sweden that allows you to roll through, up, and under various environments as you pick flowers along the way. Obviously.

Puzzle Dimension looks good for a minimalist game. The game uses a number of themes (unlocked as you progress) that add a bit of variety to the simple, clean 3-D presentation. There isn't a whole lot of detail to be seen here, although the blocks retain a distinct visual appearance, blocks of the same type have a number of designs, and the transition between pixelated and unpixelated is nice. The backgrounds are generally static though well-designed, detailed, and fit the theme of the game. Special effects are few, but overall the graphics are adequate for a $10 title. As for the sound, we get basic sound effects with a repetitive rolling clip and computerized background music to enjoy while you roll around. In all, I was satisfied with what Puzzle Dimension has to offer in terms of graphics and sound design.

The goal of Puzzle Dimension is to collect all the flowers on each level on the way to the exit portal. The game features one hundred puzzles that vary from “moderately difficulty” to “insanely difficult.” Luckily, new levels are unlocked in groups, so you only have to clear about 60-70% of the levels in a particular cluster to move on. This cuts down on the frustration inherent in puzzles games of this ilk, especially ones like Puzzle Dimension that usually only have one proper solution. There is also no time limit so you never feel rushed. The game features a set of tutorials that describe the basics of the game, but they fail to address all the different types of blocks you will encounter (the manual does, however). If one hundred levels aren’t enough, too bad: Puzzle Dimension lacks a level editor, which seems odd considering the simple layouts. The game does features online leaderboards that compare your scores, and twenty-five achievements to earn along the way. Puzzle Dimension also is available for Macintosh and Windows operating systems, always a plus in my book. The game features a plethora of levels, but lacks some other features I would expect to see in any puzzle game.

Controls are limited in Puzzle Dimension: you can move in four directions and jump. One button press moves your ball one block, which is a great feature that prevents inadvertent falling. You can’t queue future movements (press left-right-up-up in a row), but overall I like the system very much. The camera controls are inadequate, however: you can hold down the shift keys to rotate your view, but mouse look is completely disabled. I realize why they do it the way they do (since movement is based on your view), but I would still love the ability to see using the mouse and have it “snap back” to the original position when you are finished scouting the terrain. This becomes more of a needed feature because of Puzzle Dimension’s unique layouts: your view is rotated with your ball, so the game takes advantage of flipped levels and both sides of a surface frequently. This makes for some truly distinctive mind-bending puzzles. Puzzle Dimension also has a nice suite of nine blocks to move across, each with different properties: broken blocks can only moved across once, jump blocks launch you two spaces, ice blocks prevent stopping, spikes are controlled with switches, and so on. Invisible blocks are the toughest to deal with, as they only reveal themselves when you are in close proximity. These are combined with switches and teleporters to make up the game’s challenging set of levels.

Puzzle Dimension is a very challenging game. There is typically only one solution to each puzzle, so it can be a matter of trial and error to figure out how to navigate each trial. Luckily, the one-square-per-press control scheme helps to minimize accidental death. If you get overly frustrated with a single layout, you can skip a couple per group and still advance in the game, which is a nice feature for a game of this difficulty level. There are no in-game hints, though, so if you do get stuck, you’re really stuck. The game’s dynamic perspective and simple-but-tough gameplay makes it stand out in the puzzle genre.

Puzzle Dimension is quite a difficult, but not unfairly so, puzzle game. It takes relatively simple ideas (blocks with different properties, a constantly changing perspective, and straightforward controls) and combines them into an effective package. The level design is well done, taking advantage of the game's strengths and putting up challenges that require a fair amount of deduction. It's unfortunate that there isn't a level editor to expand beyond the game's one hundred levels, and most of the puzzles have a single solution, but it's a fine ride while it lasts. The game unlocks new challenges in bunches, which allows you to skip past ones that are especially trying and still advance in the game. The camera controls are more restricted than I would like, mainly because of the dynamic perspective the game uses as the basis for control: it can be difficult to spot exactly where you are in the more complex levels. This is a game that emphasizes planning more than quick reflexes, which I appreciate as a gamer that leans toward the more strategic side of things. You are given an infinite amount of time (not if you want a high score, of course) to figure out how to proceed and the controls are set up to minimize accidental falling, so Puzzle Dimension is relaxed even with its very high level of difficulty. Puzzle Dimension's superb execution and wonderful use of simple rules makes up for a lack of replay value and other minor absent features.