Tuesday, December 31, 2013

The 10 Best Puzzle Apps of 2013

It's finally time for the big list of the best puzzle games of 2013.

I don't update this blog daily, so I "only" reviewed about 60 games this year. Among them, I tried to pick just ten which I enjoyed playing the most. I had to leave some out; that's the nature of these things.

This is a very subjective list, so your mileage will vary. Let's get started.

Monday, December 30, 2013

The Hardest Puzzle Apps of 2013

Nowadays, everyone is dumbing down their games to make them accessible to the largest number of people. However, during the past year, I still occasionally found some game which struck me as particularly hard.

I have compiled a short list of the games I consider most significant in that respect. If you are looking for a challenge, I guarantee that you will find something to sink your teeth into.

Sunday, December 29, 2013

The Best Missed Opportunities of 2013

Well, 2013 is coming to an end so it's time to put together the customary end of year lists. But before reaching the usual "best of" list, I thought it would be interesting to look at things from a different perspective.

Today I'm focusing on ideas. This is a list of games which are based on very good ideas, but didn't turn out to be excellent games. They left a sour taste in my mouth because the potential is there, and with some more they could improve significantly.

Let me be clear: I'm not putting together this list to belittle these games; on the contrary, I'm doing it because I think they are worthy, and I hope that their developers will put some extra effort into them.

So let's begin.

Thursday, December 26, 2013

Review: Sifar for iPhone and iPad

Sifar by Takahiro Sakuda is a game in the tradition of Japanese logic puzzles.
Interestingly, it would have worked as a pen and paper puzzle, and the rules are simple enough that I wondered if it had been published before, but couldn't find any prior art.

Thursday, December 19, 2013

On the uniqueness of solutions

An exchange of comments in the Willa's Walk review prompted me to talk more in depth about solution uniqueness in logic puzzles, and its possible use as a shortcut while solving the puzzles.

First of all, one question which I'm often asked is: why should logic puzzles have a unique solution?

The easy answer is: why not? When you solve a crosswords puzzle, you take it for granted that there is only one valid solution. So why should logic puzzles be any different?

The more articulated answer is: because logic puzzles are puzzles that should be solvable by logic, and logic alone; no guessing should be necessary.
Solving a logic puzzle should consist of a series of logic deductions which allow you to exclude possibilities, until you are left with only one option. If the puzzle didn't have a unique solution, you would inevitably get to a point where you have two equally valid options, and you cannot choose between them, because they both lead to a different solution.

Once it is determined that a puzzle has a single solution, a question comes to mind: can one use this knowledge to make deductions and find the solution more easily?

Monday, December 16, 2013

Review: MindTilt for iPhone and iPad

MindTilt by MadRuse Games is a 3D puzzle game that I really wanted to like. I came back to it several times with the best intentions, but eventually I gave up.
MindTilt is a tilt maze, by which I mean that everything which isn't nailed down moves in the same direction until it hits a wall or something else. I've played a few others in the past (the best is probably still Blockhouse), but this is the first time I see one in full 3D.

Friday, December 13, 2013

Games accessibility

I just noticed a post on the blog of the Voxel Agents, authors of the excellent Puzzle Retreat, talking about what they did in the game interface to ensure that the game was playable by the largest possible audience. This earned them the GDAA's Accessibility Award.

Incidentally, I totally love how the GDAA press release that talks about the importance of accessibility is written in black over a very dark grey background, making it almost unreadable even for a normal-sighted person.

Anyway, I found interesting that many of the things mentioned in the post also apply to Zen Garden Puzzle. The lack of timers and penalties is the most obvious one, of course.

Thursday, December 12, 2013

Monday, December 9, 2013

Review: Atoms Puzzle for iPhone and iPad

It took me a while to fully grasp the rules of Atoms Puzzle by Wharf Games.
It's not that they are difficult, but to play knowledgeably it's essential to have an exact understanding of the value of each piece on the board. The game however avoids showing clear numbers, relying only on the size of the pieces.

Saturday, December 7, 2013

Review: Tricky Circles for iPhone and iPad

In a normal day, there can easily be a hundred new apps released in the Puzzles category. It's impossible to even check the description of them all, but I try to be as thorough as possible because often the best games come out of nowhere.

Tricky Circles by Dmitry Chalovskiy is one of such games.
After seeing the icon, I feared that it was just another clone of the boring Dots, but thankfully it's something completely different.

Friday, December 6, 2013

Strategy Guide: Cross Blocks

In my review of Cross Blocks I said that to find the solution to the puzzles "some amount of trial and error is probably needed". I have to take that back somewhat, because after finding the right strategy I've become quite good at solving the puzzles on the first attempt.

This is a really good logic puzzle, so I'd like to share my findings.
SPOILER ALERT: don't read past this line if you want to find the strategies yourself.

Thursday, December 5, 2013

Zen Garden Puzzle: First gameplay video!

Zen Garden Puzzle has been approved by Apple and will be available on the App Store from December 12th!
To whet your appetite, I have prepared a first video to show the game mechanics and interface.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Review: Cross Blocks for iPhone and iPad

Cross Blocks is such a brilliant logic puzzle that I wondered if it had been copied from somewhere else. The developer, Adrenaline Punch Games, had only released word/trivia games before, so a pure logic puzzle like this one is a major shift in focus.
Probably some inspiration for the user interface came from SEQ, but that's all. The mechanics are radically different, and appear to be completely original.

Sunday, December 1, 2013

Review: Move: A Brain Shifting Game for iPhone and iPad

I had high hopes in Move: A Brain Shifting Game by the Israelian Nitako.
Initially, the game seemed very fun and addictive. I played through the first 40 puzzles without even realising it. As I moved through the puzzles, however, I felt something was wrong.

Thursday, November 28, 2013

Zen Garden Puzzle: Evolution of graphics design

My new game, Zen Garden Puzzle, is finally ready and is waiting for review from Apple. If nothing goes wrong, it should be on sale a couple of weeks from now, just in time for Christmas.

I had talked about this game almost exactly 6 months ago. My original intention was to write regular updates and release the game in September, but development was harder than expected and it absorbed me completely. I'll try to make up now for the lack of updates.

When I review games, I try to see past the presentation and judge the core mechanics, but it's undeniable that a good looking game is more enjoyable than a bad looking one.

I wanted this game to look good, but I do all the graphics myself and as an artist I'm not half as good as as a programmer. To overcome my limits, my initial plan was to make a minimalistic game, with very simple abstract graphics. Initial prototypes looked like this.

Saturday, November 23, 2013

Indie puzzle games and the charts

In my review of Strata I mentioned how the game was strangely listed in the TouchArcade weekly list of new releases, even if it had been released a few weeks before.

This was a wonderful occasion to check how much media coverage influences the downloads of indie puzzle games, so I've been keeping an eye on how it was doing in the charts.

The results speak for themselves. Here is a graph taken from App Annie (click to enlarge):

Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: Strand for iPhone and iPad

I was surprised to see Strand mentioned in yesterday's "What's out today" article on TouchArcade, for a couple fo reasons. First, because it is not the kind of game you often see covered by TouchArcade. Second, because it was actually released three weeks ago, and I had it in my list of games to review since then.
In a market flooded by clones of Flow (something that I will have to talk about sooner or later), Strand is a refreshingly new take on the "connect the dots" genre.

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Update: Circles 1.1

Apologies for the infrequent updates of the past few weeks. I'm at the end of the final push to put out my new game on the App Store. More news soon.

A couple of weeks ago I reviewed Circles, a game which seemed promising but turned out to be only a different presentation for a common puzzle.

I'm happy to say that the author quickly addressed the shortcomings, and added new configurations which are quite original and challenging, and require some serious thinking to be solved.
I've updated the review with all the details of the new puzzles, so give it a second look.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and nontrivialgames.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content. 

Thursday, November 7, 2013

Review: The Mansion: A Puzzle of Rooms for iPhone and iPad

In 2006, a group of students of the Sungkyunkwan University, lead by Kim Jonghwa, developed an original game called Rooms. It can be played online on JayIsGames.
Later it became Rooms: The Main Building and was ported to several systems, but the iOS version is no longer available.
A sequel has now been released, called The Mansion: A Puzzle of Rooms, sharing the game mechanics, but with a completely different setting.

Sunday, November 3, 2013

Review: Circles: Rotate the Rings, Slide the Sectors, Combine the Colors for iPhone and iPad

The first release of Circles was quite boring. From the screenshots it seemed something different, but in reality it was just another impersonation of the ubiquitous toroidal sliding block puzzle. The only difference was that instead of the usual square grid, in this game the tiles are warped to form a circle.
Luckily, version 1.1 fixed this by adding several new configurations that are guaranteed to make even experts of sliding block puzzles scratch their head.

Thursday, October 24, 2013

Review: Temple Trap for iPhone and iPad

Temple Trap (also free) by SmartGames is a port of the physical puzzle by the same name.
I have already talked about the inventor of this puzzle, the Belgian Raf Peeters, in my review of Roadblock.
It is a sliding tile puzzle, with the additional twist that the tiles also form a maze, that your character needs to navigate through. If it were just that, it wouldn't be very interesting, but there's a lot more.

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Review: Disctrail for iPhone and iPad

Disctrail by the Swedish Knappra AB is an interactive version of a lesser-known traditional Japanese puzzle called Goishi Hiroi or Hiroimono.

Compared to most of the puzzle games available on the App Store, Goishi Hiroi is fiercely unintuitive, and it had me stumped initially. It took a lot of practice to make it finally click and be able to solve the puzzle without feeling I was moving at random.
The basic rule of the puzzle is: find a continuous path that connects all the discs. At every step, you can move to the closest available disc in one of the four main directions, but you can't go back in the direction where you came from.

Wednesday, October 16, 2013

Update: Qvoid 1.7.2

The excellent Qvoid has been recently updated, adding two more free bonus packs, for a total of 40 new puzzles.

I've played some of them and they are very nice: small and challenging, just like I like them.
So if you had to remove the game from your device, this is a good time to reinstall it. And of course, if you missed it entirely, wait no more and grab it right now.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and nontrivialgames.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Review: Shapes: A Colorful Challenge for iPhone and iPad

Shapes: A Colorful Challenge is not based on an original idea, but I like its simple mechanics. It would greatly benefit from better graphics, however.
You start with an image composed of colored areas, some of which contain one or more balloons. When you tap a balloon, it disappears and transfers its color to the area it sits on. If adjacent areas have the same color, they merge. The goal is to end with the whole shape of a single color.

Friday, October 11, 2013

Review: Woven for iPhone and iPad

Woven by Eilean Design was released just a few days after the very similar Strata, but is different enough to deserve its own review.
Interestingly, when Tom Cutrofello reviewed this game on his blog, I commented saying that it is better than Strata because there isn't a mechanical way to solve the puzzles. I couldn't be farther from the truth. More on this later.

Thursday, October 10, 2013

New blog about puzzles

Glenn A. Iba, mathematician and author of the excellent Monorail, recently started writing a blog where he talks about himself and logic puzzle design. If you are curious about the minds that create the games we love, go take a look.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and nontrivialgames.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, October 9, 2013

Review: Willa's Walk for iPhone and iPad

When I reviewed Sherlock by Everett Kaser, I checked the screenshots of his other games for PC and Mac and thought that the most interesting seemed to be Willa's Walk. I was therefore happy to see that it was precisely the next game that was ported to iOS.
My gut feeling was right: as a logic puzzle, Willa's Walk is excellent. As an iPhone app, however, it's horrible, featuring a sluggish and confusing interface.

Thursday, October 3, 2013

Quick Look: Double Dynamo: A Matching & Rhythm Game for iPhone and iPad

Double Dynamo is not a logic puzzle, but the mechanics of this action/memory/rhythm game are nontrivial enough, and tickles the right parts of my brain, so it's worth a mention.

The best way to explain the game is the official trailer:
As you can see, the game boils down to tapping a button when the objects in the boxes match. There are two things that make this tricky:

Wednesday, October 2, 2013

Review: Eight8Tiles for iPhone and iPad

Eight8Tiles is one of those games where half of the puzzle is figuring out the rules.
I therefore cannot say much about it without spoiling the fun of solving it yourself.

Friday, September 27, 2013

Review: Molicula for iPad

Molicula by Eric Wolter is a tiling puzzle that's harder than it looks, but is severely lacking in the user interface.
You have seven pentahexes, and need to tile an irregular hexagon with six of them, leaving one out.

Tuesday, September 24, 2013

Review: Help Me Fly for iPhone and iPad

Help Me Fly by Funtomic is a casual puzzle game whose difficulty level pleasantly surprised me.
The primary goal of the game is to rearrange the position of the red pieces, forming a continuous path from the battery to the plane. The secondary goal is to also connect the path to the stars (the number of stars changes from puzzle to puzzle). When you solve a puzzle, you get a nice animation of the plane flying away in circles.

Sunday, September 15, 2013

Review: Strata for iPhone and iPad

Strata by Graveck is enjoying good success on the App Store, having reached the #1 place in the US and other countries. That's well deserved since it looks and sounds great, and it plays well. But is it a good logic puzzle?
Unfortunately, I'm afraid it's not. There is a completely mechanical way to solve all the puzzles. But let's see the rules first.

Thursday, September 12, 2013

Review: Escapology for iPhone and iPad

Escapology by Hyperbolic Magnetism boasts in its App Store description that it was completed in 3 days. While this is a remarkable achievement, I think that it could have benefited from a bit more time spent in design.
The basic puzzle mechanics aren't new, but the way how they are presented caught my attention.
Think of the play area as a room viewed from above. When you slide your finger across the screen, the floor slides by one step in the same direction. This is made apparent by the checkerboard tile pattern.

Friday, September 6, 2013

Review: FlowDoku for iPhone and iPad

Just when you thought that Sudoku had been beaten to death, here comes FlowDoku by HapaFive Games, which turns the concept on its head to produce an excitingly original new puzzle.
To be clear, the only thing this game shares with Sudoku is the basic premise of placing symbols on a grid so that certain requirements are met on every row, column, and box. That's pretty much the end of similarities.

In Sudoku you have 9 different symbols, which must not be repeated; in FlowDoku, you have a smaller number of symbols, some of which must be repeated a given number of times.

Thursday, August 29, 2013

Update: BlockPath Pro for iPhone and iPad

My main regret in my original review of BlockPath was that it is too expensive to unlock all puzzles, since it requires four separate in-app purchases. This has been addressed today with the release of BlockPath Pro, which costs 99 cents and has all the worlds unlocked.
While I feel a bit cheated since I had already bought 3 worlds in the Free version, the good news is that the puzzles in the Pro version apparently are different, so I didn't buy the same stuff twice. Also, it looks like their size is large from the very beginning. In the Free version, the first few puzzles are played on smaller grids.

The developer is promising new puzzles to be added in September, so this looks like a bargain. Get it.

©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and nontrivialgames.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Review: Spliced Colors for iPhone and iPad

Make no mistake: Spliced Colors by Maria Cristian is not a logic puzzle. It is, instead, a game to exercise your visual-spatial abilities.
The goal is peculiarly odd. You have a set of 12 tiles, and a pattern shown on the right of the screen. You need to pick in order the 5 tiles that reproduce the pattern, but rotated 90 degrees counterclockwise.

Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Review: Reiner Knizia's Kaleidoscope for iPhone and iPad

Reiner Knizia's Kaleidoscope is a nice variation of domino placement puzzles, flawed by a mediocre user interface.
Whether Reiner Knizia was actually involved in the design of these puzzles, or his name is just used for marketing purposes, is unclear to me. The game uses the same double-hexagon domino pieces of Knizia's Ingenious (marketed as Kaleidoskop in some countries), but that's a totally different game.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

Update: Lazors 2.2

An update to the popular Lazors was released a few days ago, featuring 5 new groups of puzzles with cleverly thought themes, for a total of 50 new puzzles.

Numbered features grids shaped like the numbers 1 to 10, and each puzzle even has a matching number of blocks!

Tuesday, August 20, 2013

Review: BlockPath for iPhone and iPad

BlockPath Pro (also free) is a fascinatingly minimalistic path finding puzzle which hooked me from the beginning.
It was created by Tehnio, a Latvian developer, which is an interesting thing in itself since Latvia is one of the smallest countries in Europe, with a population smaller than Houston, Texas.

Sunday, August 11, 2013

Second Look: Fold

My main complaint in the review of Fold was that the puzzles are too easy. +Ricardo Moura, the author of the game, kindly wrote me to point out that if you get a gold medal in all the puzzles of the game, you'll be brought to a "The End" screen which is actually a playable puzzle.
Solving the final puzzle unlocks a bonus world which contains just 5 puzzles, but noticeably harder than the other ones in the game.

Saturday, August 3, 2013

Review: Sky Scramble for iPhone and iPad

Sky Scramble by Roberto Canogar and Alberto Borobia is a puzzle game with a fascinating theme, and original mechanics which perfectly fit the setting.
After I solved the third puzzle and the view zoomed out to reveal the following picture, I couldn't avoid letting out a wow.

Indeed, the Hubble telescope pictures that the game shows as a reward for solving the puzzles are nothing short of stunning.

Thursday, August 1, 2013

Review: RIPPLE: A Game About Chain Reaction for iPhone and iPad

RIPPLE: A Game About Chain Reaction is a short game with a long title. What's there, however, is enjoyable, though not particularly challenging.

The concept is simple. Tap anywhere on the screen to start a ripple. Careful: you need to tap in any empty place of the screen. I hadn't understood that at first, and kept tapping the grey dots, which caused nothing to happen.

Thursday, July 25, 2013

Review: Fold for iPhone and iPad

Fold by Ricardo Moura is a well executed and original puzzle game, with a colorful presentation and smooth animations.
The playing area contains stripes of colored blocks. When you tap the last block of a stripe, the stripe starts shortening until it becomes only one block long.

Saturday, July 20, 2013

Strategy Guide: Stickets

Lately I've been not only playing Stickets a lot, but also thinking about it as an example of a very well designed game.
Just a few days ago, Raf Peeters was kind enough to share with me some insight about how puzzles which are enjoyable in physical form don't necessarily work as well when ported to a touch screen device. For example, a put-together puzzle like Roadblock becomes harder to play on iPhone because rotating the pieces, which is a natural motion when playing the physical version, becomes cumbersome and requires multiple taps.

Stickets doesn't have the above problem, because it was born as a digital game. It avoids the difficulty of rotating the pieces, simply by not allowing to rotate them. Everything becomes more natural that way.

Thursday, July 11, 2013

Review: Bézier for iPhone and iPad

Bézier by Spiderling Studios is a physics puzzle game that looks like a physics textbook.
It was originally only for iPad, but a recent update added iPhone compatibility.
The basic idea isn't new: a ball moves on the screen, following the laws of physics. Without support, the ball would fall through the bottom of the screen, so the player must set up a path which the ball can roll on. The goal is to make the ball touch a few waypoints scattered across the screen.

I had seen similar games where you had to draw the path with your finger; in this case, however, the path is created by adjusting the control points of a Bézier curve, hence the title of the game. The Bézier curve ensures that that the lines are always smoothly curved.
The presentation is very clean and polished; the font and the drawing style look like those you could find in a physics textbook. The buttons have LEDs on their sides as if they were control switches of some laboratory apparatus.
For precise control, you can also zoom in using the pinch gesture.

Wednesday, July 3, 2013

Review: Find the Mafia! for iPhone and iPad

Find the Mafia! by Experiware takes a well known problem in computer science, the maximum clique problem, and straightforwardly turns it into a puzzle game. At the moment it's more like a proof of concept than a proper game, but with some work it might become a lot more interesting.

The basic idea is: you have a group of people arranged in a circle. Some of them know each other, and are connected by a line. You need to find a group of people which all know each other. For whatever reason, the game calls this group the "mafia".

Thursday, June 27, 2013

Review: Light-bot for iPhone and iPad

Light-bot by Danny Yaroslavski is a simple programming puzzle. It has cute graphics and a decent interface (apart from a couple of quirks), but I'm not convinced about the quality of the puzzles.
The underlying idea is not new and has been done several times in the past. You indirectly control a robot, by writing a program composed of basic commands like "walk", "turn right", and so on. The goal is to lit up all the blue tiles by using the "light" command over them.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Review: Stickets for iPhone and iPad

Match 3 puzzle games are a dime a dozen on the App Store. I don't find them particularly interesting, and usually stay well clear of them.
Stickets, however, is pretty darn good. It is highly original, exceptionally polished, and bloody hard.
Stickets is the lastest game released by the Australian developer Wanderlands. One of their earlier creations is the brilliant Impasse, which is currently only available as a Flash game. Sadly, it is so good that it has been unofficially ported multiple times to iPhone, and I even reviewed one of those copycats a few weeks ago, not knowing that it wasn't an original game (don't look for that review now, I've removed it).