Puzzle games are a bit of an enigma to me, as it amazes that simple games can be so fun and addicting. The category of games is one of the few that doesn’t take flashy graphics and top of the line technology to deliver and enjoyable gaming experience. At first glance, Puzzle Dimension (PD) has all of the elements that would make it fall directly into the above mentioned category; in the long run though, will it earn the label of a quality puzzle game?
Puzzle Dimension is the first title from the group at Doctor Entertainment. The independent game dev studio which opened up back in 2009 as a result of the collaboration between veteran developers Jesper Rudberg and Anders Pistol. The game was originally released back in June of 2010 for the PC via Steam, and made its way to the Mac a few months later. Tthe game made the leap to the home consoles with its launch on Sony’s PlayStation Network just a few weeks ago.
The premise of the game is simple: players control a small sphere which can be moved in one of the four basic directions. In addition to rolling, you can also jump the length of one square in order to traverse the various obstacles and traps. Some gamers will recognize the game as being very similar to the 1998 title Kula World (aka Roll Away) for the original PlayStation. Comparisons between Kula World and PD are actually pretty accurate, especially considering that Rudberg was involved in the Kula World project as well. Your goal is to roll a small sphere / ball around the various maps and stages and collect a set number of flowers (different per stage) in order to open a portal which allows you to proceed to the next level. While it may sound simple, you will have to contend with a wide variety of traps special tiles which complicate matters as you progress as well as expanding landscapes which become larger and more complicated over time. Over all, PD is simple and to the point, yet somehow, strangely addicting.
The game throws a variety of tiles in your path which limit what you can, or can’t, do in the various stages. It won’t be as simple as rolling from point A to point B. While standard tiles will allow you to pass over them as many times as you need, others will break after your first pass. Other tricky tiles include ice tiles which do not allow you to stop on them, fire grates which ignite upon touch, launch pads, and many, many more. Each move that you make needs to be calculated and scouted prior to your movement, because one wrong move can completely eliminate your chances of completing a stage.
PD encourages you to manipulate the camera in a variety of ways, giving you complete freedom to view the game world from any and every direction. I have never played a game where manipulating the camera was as important as it is here. Thankfully, doing so is a breeze thanks to simple and effective controls. The camera controls are mapped to both the right analog stick as well as short cuts to helpful angles on both triggers. This is often necessary because the world of PD is three dimensional and you won’t always be dealing with a flat surface; you will be required to roll over to the back of objects and “gracefully fall” to other platforms in order to reach all of the flowers necessary to proceed. As you proceed across the various blocks, you will convert them from their initial, pixelated design to a smoother, higher definition look. Doing this increases your score and ultimately a multiplayer which will help you increase it. Ultimately, in order to reach the highest score, you will want to touch the surface of every inch of a given puzzle before you proceed to the goal, although that isn’t always possible.
This is where the strategy portion of the game really kicks into gear. You have to find the best path possible for your ball in order to both collect the required flowers and maximize your scoring potential in order to master the game. It may sound easy but it didn’t take long before the game had be dropping the controller in frustration. Some of these puzzles can, and will, absolutely drive you mad. They all seem so simple, yet one small misstep can ruin everything.
As you collect flowers through the various stages, you will unlock both more stages and even different graphical themes which can be applied to the game. While the visuals aren’t extremely varied, it is nice to have the option of changing the background every once in a while to keep things from becoming truly monotonous. This also gives you something to work for and a motivation to keep going, at least those of us who have an addiction to collecting things.
There are a ton of levels to experience. The game consists of 10 different “clusters”, each of which have 10 individual stages which means a total of 100 levels to enjoy. While you can work your way through these in a couple of hours, fans such as myself will be going back to previous levels again and again in order to improve your score and earn the highest possible rating on each level. This is the sort of game that begs you to come back again and again, and I keep doing so. It has become the ultimate “I have 10 minutes, what should I play?” game in my household. That is perhaps the most redeeming quality about the game to me, the fact that you can play it in both short and long spurts and still walk away satisfied. There isn’t a lot to “get” in terms of how things works, but the game will test your ability to breakdown the various components of each stage and figure out exactly what you need to do to succeed.
If there is any fault to be found with PD it is with the monotony that evolved from the reuse of similar visuals and the repetitive soundtrack. The visual style is really nice, especially with the focus on converting the pixelated textures into smooth, shiny visuals. The problems is that after a little while, every stage begins to look the same for the most part. Sure, there are the different themes that can be unlocked and applied, but the worlds don’t really seem to vary “that” much. The same problem is noticeable with the game’s soundtrack. I love the music featured in the game, which is a blend of chip-tunes and modern sounds, but it all sounds the same after a while. My senses would have appreciated a little more variation in both the audio and visual areas considering how much time I ended up spending with the game.
I am really on the fence with Puzzle Dimension. On one hand, the game is pretty straight forward and really doesn’t do anything that makes it a standout title in the puzzle genre. On the other hand, “something” keeps drawing me back to the game again and again and again. Every time that I think that I am done, frustrated, and played my last round, I go back to it later in the day for just one more crack at either improving my score or seeking one more trophy in the game. The game has a strange hold on me that just won’t let me go. I don’t know if it is the addicting gameplay or the soothing, chiptune inspired soundtrack (although it does get annoying after extended periods of play). When you look at the game’s individual pieces, you won’t found any one thing that is particularly spectacular; but looking at everything as a whole reveals an incredibly solid and polished game that has provided me with hours upon hours of fun on the PSN.