Puzzle Pavilion


#1

Of course I finally get around to playing more puzzle games right around the time of forum transition. The Pagoda might be closed but rambling about puzzle games is forever!

Pic Pic/PikuPiku/Picture Pix

Pic Pic is a collection of three different kinds of grid-based numerical/logic puzzles with four hundred entries each; we will be ignoring two of them, one because it is boring and the other because I can’t figure out how it works (reading japanese would likely help). The important one is Drawing. As in the aforementioned Slitherlink you are given a vast grid with certain boxes containing a number, except that instead of being limited to between zero and three they can reach into the twenties.

The idea is to connect two like numbers in a line that is made up of the same number of grid squares as said number. A “1” is just filled in by its lonesome, a “2” is always next to another one… err, “2”, and beyond that is where things get tricky. Starting with "3"s there are at least a couple different ways in which to connect them based on their location respective to each other, and the number of theoretical arrangements increases dramatically as the numbers themselves climb higher. Add in that there are often multiples of each number clustered near each other, requiring the player to determine which ones are paired together, and the potential complexity becomes obvious. When the grid is filled in correctly it forms a picture; one puzzle around the midpoint was the Mona Lisa while one of the very last ones was of a giant space turtle with some elephants on its back supporting a disc-shaped world. I liked that one the best.

There are a couple things to help guide the player. One is that each set of puzzles (they are grouped in five different sets based on size and difficulty) has both black & white and color ones. In the color ones there are several different colors that the numbers come in, with numbers of a given color only able to be connected to numbers of the same one. The other is that there is only one possible solution to each puzzle, and that knowledge can be used to the player’s advantage. If there are two possible arrangements between two numbers in a given situation, the player can see if one of them has no effect on the rest of the puzzle in terms of limiting options. If it has no effect while the alternative does, then as counterintuitive as it seems the one that limits options must be correct as otherwise there would be two possible correct arrangements.

It is worth noting that these puzzles become truly massive in scope. I loaded up puzzle #400 and it takes place on a grid 90 squares wide and 45 squares high. That’s 4,050 total squares according to my calculator. Slitherlink’s 36x20 grids were the largest I had come across previously; these are about five and a half times larger and can be overwhelming at times. To give a rough estimate of the time it takes to complete these puzzles I consider myself to have gotten pretty good at them by the end and the final ones were taking me in the area of thirty minutes to fill in. Before that I’d say most were finished in the ten to twenty minute range. One time I multiplied that by four hundred and asked questions of myself.

In terms of how it actually plays, after a quick once over filling in all the gimme squares to start it becomes a game of picking a section of the grid, visualizing all the various line arrangements possible and logically trying to determine which ones are even possible and if there is more than one which is most likely. Sometimes one is lucky and they can solve an entire section on the first go but usually there is not enough information and they have to look elsewhere for a while. In the color puzzles in particular the majority of squares will be filled in (unless the final image has a lot of negative space; these are often the hardest to solve) so solving a given section of the grid has the effect of producing more info with regards to solving adjacent ones. In this way you often get a cascade effect where after an extended run of little progress you will solve a bit that lets you solve an adjacent one, the result being a wave of progress across the entire grid. It ultimately lacks the… elegance of Picross and the aforementioned Slitherlink, the two kings of this particular logic game subgenre, but Pic Pic is a more than worthy entry on the level right below those two giants.

I recall seeing a few games like this available on various android or app stores. I did not get a chance to play any of them but they seemed to be a good bit smaller in scope. Still given the relative ease of access they may be worth investigating.


What is Good in Puzzle Life?
#2

SquareCells

But to talk about Squarecells, I need to look back at its predecessor…

The Hexcells series

…as it is a follow-up to this series that we touched on a bit in the previous topic. To briefly summarize said games they were a cross between minesweeper and picross with the square grids replaced by hexagons arranged in various patterns. The one aspect of those games that defined them and continues on through SquareCells is the various kinds of info available. In most numerical logic games the player is only given one kind of info, be it the numbers along each row and column in picross or the various numbers arranged inside a sudoku grid. You use that info to fill in part of the grid, which gives the player further info to figure out another portion of the puzzle, and ideally/eventually fill it out entirely.

In Hexcells and Squarecells a different approach is taken. In these games, while the first few puzzles may similarly give out only a single kind of information, in short time various different kinds of info are being thrown the player’s way. In Hexcells there are numbers inside the hexagons (both filled in and knocked out), numbers outside the hexagons pointing both vertically and diagonally, and symbols around these numbers that can hint at an aspect of their arrangement. There is even a total hexagons remaining to be marked count. Rather than just deal with one kind of information one must instead combine various different kinds of info in order to figure things out. The flip side of this is that less of each kind of information needs to be given out. Not every line of hexagons has a number letting you know how many in it must be marked. In what would be sacrilege in minesweeper you can knock out a hex and be rewarded with a question mark instead of an actual number. Once you get past the introductory puzzles they are very carefully designed to give you the least amount of info possible while having them still be solvable. This is what gives this series its particular flavor.

Squarecells takes this identity and applies it to a much more traditionally picross base. One complaint that some lodged against Hexcells is that there were so many different kinds of info out there that it became tricky to keep it all straight. In the heat of the moment the symbols could become confusing, and the ability to add guidelines was added after the initial entry as it otherwise was often too difficult to tell exactly which number addressed which hexagon. Squarecells streamlines things to a much more manageable, instantly recognizable set of info. You have the traditional picross notation letting one know the arrangement of filled in squares in a giver row or column. You have an outer number in parenthesis which lets the puzzler know the total number of filled in squares in said row/column, but not their arrangement. You have a number inside a grid squares that indicates the total number of connected filled-in squares in that given cluster (they only connect in the main four directions, diagonals don’t count). You have the total number of squares remaining to be crossed out. That is it, much more straightforward and much more manageable.

What remains is how there is less of each kind of info available than is typical. Playing a version of picross where numerous rows and columns are unmarked is somewhat disconcerting at first. Once more only the bare minimum of information is given, always enough so that one will never have to make a guess but generally limited to the degree that by the later stages one ends up stuck looking at a half-completed puzzle trying to combine various shreds of info to find a single move forward. For a puzzle fan it is a treat.

Still, what it gains in elegance it sacrifices in complexity and variety. Losing a bit of variety in terms of info types isn’t much of a handicap, but shifting back to traditional square cells is. In Hexcells almost every single puzzle was a different shape, in Squarecells every puzzle is a… well a square. If their scope grew large enough it might not be as much of an issue but they max out at I believe either 12x12 or 14x14. The result is that they start to feel a bit same-ish by the end of its 36 puzzle run.

Overall that is a relatively minor mark against it though as it remains an overall very strong logic puzzle game. While I’d consider the Hex series stronger overall it definitely wasn’t in its first entry, and I would be very interested in seeing the base here receive another revision. Beyond that I am glad to see their creator Mathew Brown shake things up just a bit. He has shown himself to have a good eye for this particular strain of puzzle design; I hope that in the coming years we get to see him expand his borders and continue to vary things up a bit more.


#3

I’m really looking forward to grabbing Squarecells at some point.

Have you played either of the Trap Them games?


#4

Y’all, y’all I’ve been messing around with Puzzledrome which is pretty neat.


#5

I have not, although they are still hanging around my Steam wishlist. Someone pointed out to me that the games lack an undo button and perhaps this illustrates how much of a wimp I’ve become over the years but that worries me.


#6

I’ve been playing Lara Croft Go. It’s a very attractive little game; it might be one of the most aesthetically pleasing puzzle games I’ve played:


The puzzles require a bit of thinking, but aren’t terribly brain burning. There are some moments that make you feel clever, but I haven’t really got stuck on anything yet (although I tend to enjoy pretty hard puzzle games, so this might be just right for someone who doesn’t play them often). I haven’t beat it yet, so I don’t know how hard they get, but I doubt they get too terribly complex. I’d also guess it’s a bit on the short side.

Still, there are worse ways to spend $5. I think it’s available on every manner of phone and tablet. It’s a nice game to spend a few minutes on when you’re bored, and damn, does it look nice.


#7

I played Hitman Go amd enjoyed it, and from what I hear this game is even better so I’m expecting good things. I wonder if Ubisoft is going to throw out an Assassin’s Creed Go next just to bring it all home. Or maybe Rainbow 6 Go?


#8

Wow, that looks great. Sad that my Tomb Raider fandom has had to repose itself for the past whatever years in the little spinoff games (Guardian of Light is so, so good).


#9

Yeah, I beat the main area in Lara Croft Go a couple days ago. Was fairly easy throughout, but apparently they added some free content post-release in the form of an extra area (which is fire themed). I’m only a couple levels into that area, but it does have some interesting new mechanics, and the puzzles are a little more complicated (though still nothing that has had me stumped).

Also, the game destroys my phone’s battery!


#10

Just grabbed Squarecells (it’s $2 in the lunat new year sale), and it’s bugging me a little so far–

For one it’s hard to look at, and the black background version makes it even worse.

Having to both delete everything (fair enough) and mark everything that needs to be kept feels a bit excessive, and I don’t remember any other nonogames where that’s a thing.

And I don’t get this (probably my fault):


How does that 4 work? It’s supposed to be in a group of four cells, but it’s telling me what I have there is correct. That’s three cells, and one is diagonal : /
Can that group extend outside of adjacent cells??

The 7 has me confused too, for the same reasons.

This is a tutorial puzzle : (


#11

For the numbers inside of squares (like that 4) diagonals don’t count. That helps you eliminate the square below the one as if that one was filled in then you’d have five linked squares, which obviously would be wrong as that is not four. That also means than when you have a square with a one inside you automatically delete the squares adjacent to it on the cardinal directions.


#12

What I wasn’t getting is that the inside number isn’t just referring to cells in squares surrounding the number, but a string of cells any distance away as long as they’re connected.

I wan’t understanding how that 4 could even be possible, as it was in a corner and there was only one cell next to it.

Anyway, beat it all today!


#13

Puzzle Retreat

I believe Mikey mentioned this game back in ye olde pagoda and Amazon is giving the complete game away for free as part of their weird Underground thing so I figured it was worth giving a shot. It turns out it is worth giving a shot!

The goal of the game is rather simple, being to “slide all the blocks to fill all the holes.” As every block is made of ice, they will continuously slide until they hit a gap they can fall into; if that is impossible the game will not let you slide a block in said direction. This basically makes the real goal of the game to figure out the correct sequence in which to slide the blocks to fill everything in as they will slide over blocks that have already fallen into a gap. This is further complicated by a few other factors that are quickly introduced. Beyond often having to determine which is the correct direction to slide them in many times you will slide a stack of blocks as opposed to a single one, meaning that a stack three high will fill the next three gaps they slide across. There are also “force arrows” that change the direction a block is sliding in when they are hit, non-ice blocks that cannot be slid over once they fall into a gap, and plant gaps that will grow when an ice block falls into it (which again blocks the path).

The one complicating factor that I think is the most interesting is the flame block. It will slide until it hits an empty gap or something that blocks its path. During the course of this slide it will melt every ice block it passes over, in doing so re-opening these gaps. If it runs into an obstruction it not only melts the final block it stops over (or in the case of an open gap just falls into) but it also blocks it, making it impossible to be slid over by any other blocks. This basically results in a portion of every puzzle they are present on having to be solved for twice in two different ways, in addition to figuring out the sequence. One also has to figure out how many ice blocks they should melt given the number of blocks that need to be used in a given puzzle as if every block is not used the puzzle is not considered solved. Counting all the blocks beforehand can help a good deal with this bit.

The biggest issue with the game is its “free to start” origins. You get a set of tutorial levels and the first level pack for free, after that you can pay 99 cents for several other ones if you so choose (or if you have a device that uses Amazon Underground just get the whole thing for free if you let them track your usage or some other mumbo-jumbo I couldn’t follow). Monetarily it is a reasonable enough cost but the problem is that it just screws up the pacing and difficult curve of the game up significantly. In a normal full-sized game you would have those complicating factors I mentioned above gradually be introduced; in this one they are all introduced in the first free level pack and no new factors are introduced afterwards. The difficulty would also likely increase with each set of levels in a full-sized game; in this one you basically restart from easy and work your way up within each level pack. They get slightly harder overall but not notably so.

That would be the other main issue with the game: the difficulty levels off a bit too quickly. There are some tricky levels in there but I think out of the couple hundred or so there was maybe one or two that took me more than five minutes to figure out. If one put there full focus towards it they could probably clear out the whole game within a few hours.

The one random thing I give it credit for is that it somehow has good… game feel? Since you can start sliding a second (or third) set of blocks while the first one is still sliding you can launch the final set of moves to solve a puzzle in rapid sequence and watch all those blocks sliding about only to fall into place perfectly. For whatever reason I found that to be really satisfying.

I don’t think Puzzle Retreat would ever make a list of essential puzzlers, but it is solid and a better use of time than many other various time-wasters available on these platforms.


#14

This might be more for me than anyone else, but I just want to put up some quick links to all the puzzle games myself and others talked about in the previous board’s version of this topic. I liked having everything under one roof and am kinda bummed to see a lot of cool game mentions trapped alone in an archived board.

Hanano Puzzle/Jelly no Puzzle
DROD
Spacechem talk
Puzzle Retreat
Picross
Slitherlink
English Country Tune
A bit of Hexcells talk
link to puzzlescript gallery
undead
corrypt
Mole Mania
Kami
Catherine/Rapunzel
Professor Layton minigames
Quell
Polarium Advance
Trainyard
Bioshock
Puzzles
Cogs
Pushmo
Tappingo 2
Catrap
Mega-Maze
Crashmo
Toki Tori 1 and mostly 2
Fire 'n Ice
The Heart Go Wander
Mosaique
Overrwyrld
Snakebird


#15

I’ve been playing through The Talos Principle (thought we had a topic for that here but could not find it, perhaps it was on the former board). I don’t know if it is because I play a good amount of puzzle games but approaching the 2/3 complete mark and it has been rather easy sailing. The odd “replay” tool has probably been the one thing that made me stop and have to figure things out but in the rest of the game maybe a few total puzzles have felt like any sort of challenge.

I’m glad to get a puzzle game from a nontraditional source and I will say that I find the framing device rather well done but I’m at the point where I’ve been waiting for a ramp up for quite a while now, kinda hoping that the seemingly last area has more in the way of teeth. That said I’ve mostly had a good time with it, I just sorta want it to finally get into a higher gear.

Oh yeah, the star puzzles. They are pretty interesting and I definitely haven’t gotten all of them, heck I don’t even know where all the stars are so far. I think they may lean on the same trick or two a bit too heavily (two of them have had virtually identical solutions). What struck me the last go around is that the way they sometimes mix elements from different puzzles to solve a separate star one is rather reminiscent of the optional puzzles in Toki Tori 2. I think Toki Tori 2 created much stronger puzzles with the concept but it is nice to see it revisited.


#16

I had the exact same experience w/ Talos – I thought it ramped entirely too slowly and I got about 2/3rds of the way through as well. I should go back to it and see if it ever does get any harder.


#17

Completed Talos and I think I liked the last third or so of the game best. It never really gets super hard but by that point it becomes a decent test of the ideas introduced with a few of them making me stop and have to truly think things through.

I did things backwards as I had six or so stars to go back and find with most in the first world and none in the last. I mostly liked the quest for stars as a nice “think outside the box” challenge but there a few that I had to break down and look up hints for (the only things in the game to make me do so) and I’m glad I did as they basically were not puzzles in the way the rest of the game was. A couple were just buried in such tiny nooks that even tracing an entire area I missed where they were and one required translating a QR code to solve a Myst-esque obstacle. I think as long as one could find the star or have enough visual hints to where they likely were the game handled them very well, it’s just the ones that did not where they struggled.


#18

#19

Escape Goat 2

I generally avoided writing about puzzle platformers here as I consider them their own separate genre, but I got the steam key for this game in a trade with @Mikey and he seems to like write-ups (hopefully even dry ones), so what the hell.

Escape Goat 2 is a fixed screen puzzle platformer where your goal is to reach the exit in order to advance to the next room. This sometimes involves gathering keys first in order to unlock said exit, other times simply reaching the exit itself is enough. There is also a bit of a world (tower?) map which mainly serves to frame your progress but does make it easier to locate hidden rooms/puzzles, although not significantly moreso as I only found one.

One of the main mechanical twists in the game is how the room layout is not as static as is typical of this genre. Hitting switches located around the room will cause blocks to move around, closing old paths and opening new ones. This does sometimes make it difficult to figure out exactly what the final solution will look like, but in these situations the focus is instead shifted to figuring out how to get to a given switch and then dealing with the changes it introduces. Sometimes these changes introduce challenges that require reflexes to complete, but generally they aren’t too intensive. This is an improvement from the previous game where it had a second quest that required precision and reflexes that the controls weren’t really capable of handling.

Really that sums up the game itself. Escape Goat 1 had some good ideas but struggled with the balance between the puzzling and platforming, unfortunately saddled with controls not built for the latter. It had a side effect of wrecking the difficulty curve as the puzzle complexity only ramped up so far, and then switched over to a harder but worse platformer. Escape Goat 2 is much smoother and sticks much more in the puzzler lane. To put it another way, it plays to its strengths.

One other mechanical decision they made that helps elevate both games is the addition of the mouse. You can send a mouse out that will walk along the floor, wall or ceiling as long as it can until it hits an obstacle, allowing it to hit switches that you cannot. You can also pick up some related power-ups that last for just a single room that allow you to do such things as exchange places with the mouse or cause it to spring off the surface it is on and become a projectile. This allowed the develop to craft much more complex and involved rooms than would otherwise be possible while giving the game a greater sense of personal identity.

It’s not a can’t-miss classic or anything but I found it to be a decent way to spend several hours. Better yet while I left the original feeling mostly “what if?” I walked away from this one with the sense that the concept was pretty much fully realized.


#20

Patterna

This is the rare occasion where my scanning of the Steam new releases every day pays off. Patterna as far as I can tell has received no press or reviews whatsoever, but it happened to mention that it was inspired by Hexcells in its store description. That was enough to get me to try the demo, which was enough for me to pick up the game.

It isn’t really a ton like Hexcells, although it does share some of the same DNA. It’s also rather tricky to explain. This was updated later but initially the tutorial was fifty or so stages long and it is undeniable that there is a bit of an initial hump to get over. I couldn’t even follow the couple videos showing off the game before playing through said tutorial.

The basic goal is to mark every node in a puzzle as either pattern or non-pattern. In the vast majority of puzzles these nodes are all interconnected via a web of connecting lines in a variety of patterns. There are a few sources of info upon which to determine the orientation of the nodes. In the bottom left corner there are a pair of numbers, the larger number indicating how many nodes have yet to be marked and the smaller (or when near finished even) number indicating how many of those nodes are pattern ones. Above those may be one of four colors (which can be customized for those who are colorblind or just like to mess with the colors). These will have two numbers associated with each of them that function the same way as the aforementioned ones, just relating to those nodes with a marker of that color on them. It is worth noting that some puzzles may have no colors, some just a few, and others where the number will change as you progress.

The other main source of info is on the nodes themselves. Pattern nodes may have a number on them that indicates how many pattern nodes are connected in sequence without a non-pattern break. Worth noting here is that some connecting lines only transmit info one direction, so while a pattern node can continue to “count” while going along an arrow way it will not register a connection if trying to go against it. Meanwhile non-pattern nodes can contain a wider array of info. A number on a non-pattern node indicates that said number of nearby nodes are pattern ones. A single circle around the number indicates that said number only relates to those nodes within one connection of that particular node. If it instead has two or three circles around the number, then the range expands to every node within two or three connections of it. Said numbers may also be within brackets or a pair of dashes. If in a bracket then all the of pattern nodes indicated within that range must all be connected, while if within dashes then there must be at least one break between them.

I know, it’s all a bit tricky. I tried to pick a screenshot up top that at least showed most of these so that one can at least try and picture it better.

On top of this as you unveil more nodes as either pattern or non some of them will likely give you additional bits of info. This can be any of the bits of info mentioned in the previous paragraph, but occasionally one of the non-pattern ones will unveil a colored number. When you get one of these a number of the unmarked nodes will suddenly get a marking of that color and said color will also appear on the bottom left.

Fortunately the game does give you a few tools to help make dealing with all of this easier. By clicking on one of these numbered nodes every node they can possibly affect becomes highlighted in one of four colors, as up to four nodes can be activated as such at a given time. This is a handy way to see which nodes’ info overlaps as often that is the key to solving part of the puzzle. I must note to be careful with the pattern node highlighting as it shows not only all the ones the pattern can extend to but also the ones one node removed as if you know it will be three nodes long you also know the fourth node must be non-pattern. Just because you see the number 3 for example on a pattern node doesn’t mean that there are going to be three nodes in the highlighted range that will be marked as pattern; it could be less if marking one node connects you to another pattern group, it could be more as certain perimeter ones can end up being pattern ones while not actually connecting to the numbered group. An update also gave one the ability to preliminarily mark a node as pattern or not so you can see how it’d affect things without having to commit to it first. This is profoundly useful at times.

Now, that’s a lot of typing up just to get the rather complicated basics established. It can also mostly be skipped (shoulda mentioned that beforehand…). What is ultimately important is how strong the puzzles designed around those basics are, and I must say that the ones in Patterna are on average very well realized. They are broken into groups based around a given concept or arrangement that have their own difficulty curve, which range from “not too hard” to “oh god my brain!”. If I had to level a complaint against them it is that some of them felt like they had to be brute forced after a certain point, although it is certainly possible that if I was a bit more clever that would have been less common. Even with that this is a very strong set of puzzles that should challenge a player for likely a good ten or so hours.

What nudges it to a higher level is that it has a random puzzle generator that regularly produces puzzles that may lack a layer of refinement seen in the better premade ones but that are nonetheless on average pretty good in their own right. I’m generally not a big fan of randomized design, and even in Hexcells Infinite the random ones left me feeling a bit cold, but they work well here and you are given a decent amount of options to tweak before generation. There is also a Steam workshop integration that is collecting dust as… well the game has gotten like zero press.

And that ends up being a shame as this is pretty strong numerical puzzler all things considered. My Steam playtime puts me at about 30 hours after a few weeks, and while that is inflated due to me minimizing and doing something else on the computer from time to time it really sunk its hooks into me. If you like these type of puzzlers then I would strongly recommend at least giving the demo a shot as I’d hate to see such a good game never get a legit chance to find its audience.