Sunday, January 23, 2011

Astroslugs Review

Astroslugs, developed and published by Bit Barons.
The Good: Innovative drawing mechanic
The Not So Good: Rigid solutions, few puzzles and no editor, can't skip difficult levels and lacks hints, low replay value, no scoring system
What say you? This puzzle game has an inventive approach but lacks variety, length, help, and longevity: 4/8

NOTE (1/24/11): Patch v1.01 added the ability to skip the victory animation.

Slugs are gross. I mean, they are basically snails that weren't good enough to get a shell. And you know what's worse than these slimy creatures? Slugs from space. Yes, the extraterrestrial invertebrates have been plaguing mankind for far too long. Thankfully, Astroslugs is a new computer software product that highlights this infinite struggle for dominance, in the form of a puzzle game that is seemingly unrelated to slugs. Well, it's the thought that counts.

Astroslugs has a very typical 2-D presentation for a puzzle game. The puzzle elements are simple color-coded spheres projected against usually static (or vaguely animated) hand-drawn backgrounds: nothing too innovative there. The game features few special effects (a simple glow when a pattern is drawn), but does come with a tediously long success animation that can’t be skipped. At least the system requirements are quite low. As for the sound design, “typical” is the adjective of choice here as well: appropriate effects for making matches and the usual background music selection to accompany your puzzling puzzlement. All told, an average game in terms of graphics and sound.

Astroslugs is a puzzle game where you must draw a specified number of shapes on a grid consisting of pre-arranged spheres, carefully filling each available sphere while fitting all of the shapes. The features leave a lot to be desired. First, there are only about forty puzzles to choose from, and since there is typically only one or maybe two possible solutions to each level, replay value is quite low. Astroslugs lacks a level editor, prohibiting the community from increasing the volume of puzzles. You must also complete every level in each set: if you encounter a particularly difficult puzzle, you cannot move on, even if you have successfully completed all the others. There are some exceedingly difficulty bonus levels unlocked after completing each set, but you still must pass all basic members in a group. Finally, Astroslugs doesn’t offer any method of scoring, either on the same computer or over the Internet, in order to compare your puzzling ability to others. Astroslugs certainly has a disappointingly limited features set.

Astroslugs is a puzzle game where you must draw a specified number of shapes on a grid consisting of pre-arranged spheres, carefully filling each available sphere while fitting all of the shapes (it’s like I just said that!). Using the mouse, you highlight spheres to match each of the patterns you must incorporate into the arrangement (like this), and you can rotate of flip shapes in order to fit them all. I found that the amount of user freedom is low: each of the puzzles seems to have only one or two solutions because every available open spot is always used. It’s just a matter of taking the time (an unlimited amount of time, by the way) to figure out how the developers had the shapes arranged when they designed the layout. Astroslugs lacks hints, so if you are stuck, you are stuck permanently. While I do like the distinctive approach to puzzle gaming, the lack of typical features and the linear nature of the puzzles makes Astroslugs a title to forget.

Drawing to place puzzle elements is unique, but it only goes so far. The game mechanic does make Astroslugs distinctive, but it’s ultimately quite restrictive since there is usually only one developer-designed solution to each puzzle, though you might get lucky and find another. I always prefer games that offer multiple solutions for any puzzle. You also cannot skip past the more difficult levels, and the game offers no hints on how to proceed if you are stuck. The game is also short, offering only around forty puzzles and no possibility to extend the life of Astroslugs through a level editor. The game also doesn’t offer any scoring, either offline or online, and the lack of time pressure makes Astroslugs a relaxing but ultimately limited entry into the puzzle genre.