Category Archives: The Android’s Thinking Cap (Puzzle)

Waking Mars is On Sale and Worth It

Right now you can get a little game called Waking Mars for $1.99 over at GOG (or $2.00 over at Steam). This is a steal. I’ve talked about this game before and I recommend reading that article for a good overview.

Basically it’s sort of a puzzle game and sort of a platformer and sort of Metroidvania but mostly it’s about exploration and being relaxed.

And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn't great.  (Hint: You can't.)
And look at this friggin artwork and tell me this isn’t great. (Hint: You can’t.)

TLDR: GET IT ON GOG or GET IT ON STEAM or GET IT ON THE ITUNES STORE. Not even kidding you guys: this is a good one.

Waking Mars Is How to Make a Good Casual Game

Recently, a game called Waking Mars went on Steam sale for a steal (and it still is on sale, by the way!) Because it had “Mars” in the title, I decided to snap it up. This, my friends, was a very wise decision. This game is more than worth the $2.50 I forked over for it. Basically, this is how you make a casual game.

It’s sort of a platformer, except you have a jetpack. And it’s sort of puzzle game, but none of the “puzzles” ever leave you frustrated. Basically the game is about exploring underground Martian caves, learning about (and growing and breeding) bizarre alien species, talking to your AI bro, and in general being comfy. Yes, this is a comfy game.

We are gonna get comfy.
We are gonna get comfy.

This isn’t a triple-A title by any means and the game is easy to pick up and learn but this by no means makes it shallow. You actually have an neat little story going on that keeps you interested throughout, and between this and the research you can do on various lifeforms (and the subsequent notes you can read), the game has a surprising amount of depth for what it is. Humor is here too, thanks to your AI companion, and so is a certain amount of thoughtfulness thanks to the main character. Speaking of the main character, he’s Chinese, and the only other human character in the game is a black woman. This isn’t made a big deal, it just… is, like any other normal thing, and I like how it’s done like that. It reminds me of Star Trek and it’s nice to see some variety in games.

Overall this is a fun and extremely relaxing romp through a mysterious and alien world and I really cannot stress how much of a steal the current sale price is. The game is also available for Mac, Linux, iPhone/iPad, Android, and probably an old toaster too, so you really don’t have an excuse not to snag this game. I mean, really, look at this and tell me this doesn’t make you want to explore strange new worlds, seek out new life and new civilizations, and boldly go where no one has gone before:


Yeah, I thought so.

Buy it on Steam or at the website!

Dark Souls is a Puzzle Game, or Why I Can’t Get Into It

Hey everyone, Pike here!  Yes, yes, I know.  I’m scared too. Anyways, let’s get down to business, shall we? By which I mean VIDEO GAMES! Always video games.

I’ve played quite a few games over the past couple of months and at the moment I’m trying to get into Dark Souls. Trying, but I don’t know if I’ll succeed. See, I’ve put a few hours into it and after spending the bulk of those hours trying to figure out the controls (which seem rather unintuitive to me), I have come to the conclusion that this is, in fact, not an action game. Rather, it is a puzzle game that happens to be dressed as an action game. It’s a puzzle game that requires an intense amount of trial and error and repetition to learn patterns and muscle memory and that sort of thing.

It’s a neat idea and I wholeheartedly support anyone who’s into it! But I’m not sure if I am. There’s only so much trial and error that I can take before I get bored. This is the reason why I’ve yet to beat some really neat (and mostly indie, oddly enough) games like Super Meat Boy and Braid which I think are brilliant but which bore me when I get stuck at a certain level. I can only do repetition in small doses.

Average day in Dark Souls right when you think you've got a section figured out
Average day in Dark Souls right when you think you’ve got a section figured out

Does this make me a “casual” or too willing to give up? Maybe. That’s cool, though. My backlog is getting bigger by the day so rather than banging my head against a game that I can’t get into, I think it’s better to move along. I might continue to pick at it every now and again and see what happens.

Still, I can see the appeal if you really like testing yourself like that, so if it sounds like your sort of game and you like dying, then go check it out. Mister Adequate has a lovely and optimistic post about it so go check that out too!

Orcs Must Die! 2

I’n honestly not sure whether having that “2” after the “!” is sending my sperging into overdrive or is tickling my fancy, but there you have it. Good game though.

Well that was a short review.

Okay okay seriously though! I picked up the original OMD! in the Steam Sale recently and it was something I really fell in love with very rapidly. It’s not a complex game in principle; in fact the title pretty much sums it up. It’s a quasi tower-defense game, setting up traps and guardians like archers to prevent Orcs and their assorted allies from reaching the ‘Rift’. The twist is that you aren’t a detached overseer, you’re a character down in the trenches and you can run around fighting the Orcs yourself as well as having all the traps doing their thing.

It is, in short, the bastard love-child of Kagero: Deception II and Tower Defense. It’s from a small studio, and in a couple of ways this shows in the sequel, but overall they have made some very solid improvements to the game. There is an array of new traps and tools to use, the new Sorceress character has a rather different playstyle from the War Mage due to her charm ability, and there are of course new traps and levels. Perhaps my biggest negative mark against this game is the small number of the latter, but it is redeemed somewhat by both the Endless and Classic modes, the former containing some levels that aren’t in the story and the latter being levels from the first game that can be played now with all your new toys (though only if you own the first one).

It’s a tr… oh you know where this is going, finish the line yourself!

It certainly doesn’t revolutionize the series, but it is a very solid sequel that I’ve already played even more than the original. Endless mode is especially compelling, and the new mix of traps, environmental hazards, and enemies means that although the game isn’t really difficult most of the time, getting 5-skull ratings on some levels requires some calculation and thinking on your part. Another change is that doing levels again nets you more skulls, so you’re not limited like you were in the first game, but it will still take some time to get everything up to where you want it, upgrades wise! (And the upgrades are far more involved this time around, replacing the Weavers entirely). A worthy sequel to a great game? That’s really all we can ask for!

Buy Orcs Must Die! 2 if you enjoy quick, fun blasts of cartoonish violence and one of the better protagonists of the medium in the form of the War Mage.

Oh and there’s co-op too if you’re one of those freakishly disposed people who has friends.

Trials and Tribulations

Yesterday I realized it had been released and so purchased Trials Evolution for the 360. I’d played Trials HD at my friend’s house a bit, and had enjoyed it thoroughly but never got around to actually picking it up for myself. With the sequel freshly out of the gate I decided to get on board right away, and it has so far proven to be a wise and judicious purchase.

This video is both very loud and very sweary, and it encapsulates the Trials Evolution experience perfectly:

In Trials, your task is, well, time trials. You’re riding a bike and you’ve got to get to the finish line as quickly as possible. Sounds easy enough right? And at first it is. But Trials is an incredibly cunning game that soon ramps up the difficulty to an absolutely insane degree; later tracks are some of the most sadistic things you will ever experience in videogaming. Let me elaborate.

The B button puts you back at the last checkpoint to try again. For a fair portion of the game you’ll only be using this occasionally, the first time through a track to learn it before you go for a decent time. By the end of the game you will be pressing that button several dozens, or hundreds, of times, in order to get through the excruciatingly difficult levels.

This is what this game does to people.

Because of one immensely insidious feature. The game unsurprisingly has global leaderboards, all well and good, but it provides ghosts of your XBL friends and their best times on any given level. And you have absolutely no freaking IDEA how much this impels you to play again, to try that level once more, to get the hang of that jump, because that bastard Barry Manilow has a better time than you and THIS WILL NOT STAND. So you play. And you play again. And again. And again. And again. Until you beat the fucker and you make sure he knows his place. You have never felt so much envious hatred for your friends when they are doing nothing at all and aren’t even around at the time.

It’s brilliant.

SteamQuest 1: And Yet It Moves

SteamQuest is a series based around Pike’s quest to play all the games she has on Steam. Which is a lot. Her definition of “play”, here, is at least one hour for smaller games and at least three hours for more substantial ones. Feel free to follow along!

And Yet It Moves
Developer: Broken Rules
Genres: Indie, Platformer, Puzzle
Website: – and the Steam Link
Time Spent by Pike: 63 minutes – unfinished

And Yet It Moves is a puzzle-platformer that revolves around the gimmick of rotating the screen around in order to get your character from place to place. This gimmick is not a new one and has appeared in more than one Newgrounds flash game, and if you’ve played said flash games before, the first couple of levels of this one will sort of leave you with a “Huh… that’s it?” taste in your mouth.

That’s why you need to give yourself at least twenty minutes to get to The Good Stuff.

The Good Stuff, here, are puzzles that show up in the later levels and are challenging without being frustrating. These puzzles also take full advantage of the screen-tilting mechanic and you’ll find yourself, for example, herding bats around (bats will only fly to the top of the screen) in order to chase monsters away and whatnot. It sounds weird, but it works really well, and I found myself frequently very pleasantly surprised with how these puzzles turned out.

The game also has a much lauded unique paper-cutout-collage artstyle but to be honest the game could use any style and it would still be just as interesting because of the puzzles.

Did somepony say paper cutouts?

Probably my biggest gripe with the game is one that may or may not simply be a byproduct of my own, well, derpiness, and that is that I can never remember which arrow key tilts the screen which way and then I end up killing myself as I frantically try to rotate the screen in the right direction. This killed me more times than I care to remember. This is really the type of game that would work better with some sort of tilt mechanism or something. Or maybe I am just that much of a klutz.

Regardless, you will leave the game with a sense of vertigo that has you subconsciously wanting to tilt webpages or other computer programs long after you’ve quit the game. This is really a fun, compact little game once you get past the tutorial levels and I can definitely see myself returning to it in the near future and trying to complete it. I do think the $10 is a bit steep if you’re not really into this sort of thing, but it shows up in Indie Bundles every now and again and when it does it’s worth snagging if you can.

Little Big Adventure

It may surprise those of us with… stereotypical views of the place, but the French have made some really amazing videogames. In the 90s they were at their peak; Delphine and Adeline were putting out such leading lights as Flashback, Another World, Moto Racer, and the subject of this blog post, the LBA series. (Incidentally Adeline ended up becoming No Cliché, which made one of the most overlooked games of the Dreamcast, Toy Commander. But that’s another story!)

You should listen to this while you read the post.

Only two games were made, a third has been rumored on and off over the years but nothing has ever come of it. Still, these two games are true gems; they are beautiful, whimsical adventures that truly revel in taking the player into them. The first one is isometric whilst the second introduces 3D sections, and they blend puzzle, exploration, and action very handily. But the solid gameplay is only the base on which the real thing is built, and that thing is just the beauty of all the locales, the places you visit, the characters, all these sorts of things. When you went somewhere remote, you felt isolated. Somewhere oppressive, you felt oppressed. Somewhere safe, you felt welcomed – if on edge due to the omnipresence of Dr. Funfrock, in the first game, or the Empire in the second.

I’m failing you as your blogger here, because I’m really having trouble pinning down exactly what it is that makes these games work so well. I would have to say it’s the general aesthetic that is built from design, graphics, soundtrack, and the myriad characters you will meet. It is a world that feels genuinely solid and whole (I overuse the term “solid” and for that I apologize), and it is at heart an absolutely joyous adventure that really goes to what adventures should be about, which is exploring worlds that are sometimes surreal, sometimes a little intimidating, and where the love that went into crafting them shines through every pixel.

LBA 1 and 2 are available on for a few bucks apiece and I heartily recommend taking a look if you’ve got a free weekend at some point!

The second one also has one of my favorite endgame credit sequences ever, which is a small thing to get excited about but given how readily we skip those, finding one worth watching is rare!

Foldit and Why This is Really Nothing New

This has been making the rounds recently so I imagine a lot of you have already seen this, but if not, have a neat little news tidbit that one of our most ardent commenters, Bamos, reminded me of:

Basically, a bunch of researchers created a puzzle game, called Foldit, which is designed to simulate actual protein folding. The idea was that human players could come up with more interesting solutions to real life problems than the AI could.

This was recently proven true when scientists decided to put a particularly tricky puzzle in the game– a puzzle with an answer that had been evading researches for a decade. Ten days later, it was solved. The article itself explains it best, so let me quote a bit of it:

In the past year and a half, users of the program had demonstrated their potential to solve real protein-folding problems, Baker said, so when Jaskolski came to him with this enigmatic viral protease, they decided to put the gamers to the test. Baker posed the problem to the Foldit players, and watched the responses flood in.

About 600 players from 41 teams submitted more than 1.25 million solutions. Narrowing those down to 5,000, Jaskolski and colleagues subjected them to a computational technique called molecular replacement (MR), which tests the models against X-ray crystallography data. For MR to work, the proposed structure has to be very close to accurate, in which case the MR calculations can help perfect the details. But previous attempts at MR for this protein had failed because the protein models were too far off the mark.

But The Contender’s proposed protein structure was a winner. “When we took [their] model, it was a beautiful fit to the X-ray data so we knew [they] had solved it,” Baker said. “We were just totally blown away. This is the first time that a long-standing scientific problem has been solved by Foldit players, or to my knowledge, any scientific gaming participants.”

The final breakthrough came from Foldit user mimi, a member of The Contenders and a science technician at a high school near Manchester, UK, who has been playing Foldit for about 3 years. She “tucked in a flap” of the protein that was sticking out, she explains, to make the protein more “globular.” But she emphasizes that “the achievement was very much a group effort,” noting that it wasn’t possible for her to tuck in the flap until others in the group had made their key adjustments to the protein’s structure.

“It’s kind of an unprecedented case of using computing non-specialists to solve a longstanding scientific problem,” said Alexander Wlodawer, chief of the Macromolecular Crystallography Laboratory at the National Cancer Institute.

Scootaloo's face upon making the breakthrough

What I like here is that this isn’t just “gamers vs. scientists” or “real people vs. computer programs” or anything. It’s a lot of people (and AI) working in tandem to figure this stuff out. And this time, a game happened to be at the center of it.

The fact that gamers played an integral role here shouldn’t come as much of a shock to anyone who has spent a lot of time around Elitist Jerks, CivFanatics or SimCity Devotion. Heck, remember Magnasanti, brought to us by the guy who “beat” SimCity? Even little kids memorize hundreds of Pokemon and all the moves and combat details inherent to gameplay. Humans hate math and theories in school, but they sure do love it when they can apply it to a game. Perhaps because there’s a tangible feeling of mastery, or perhaps because it’s a competition. Maybe it’s just because it’s fun. Who knows? The point is that it works.

And so finally we have the news pointing out to the public what all of us who have grown up knee-deep in video game subcultures have known for a long time: that we’re all a bunch of anal-retentive nerds, and that this isn’t necessarily a bad trait.

Bring it on, science!

Trine and The Humble Frozenbyte Bundle

The other day I was alerted to this deal, which allows you to pay as little (or as much) as you want for a pack of games in a donation that is split between the developers, the Electronic Frontier Foundation, and Child’s Play Charity. No catch, as far as I can tell: all the games are DRM-free, can be installed as many times as you want (including via Steam, if that’s your thing), and are workable on all platforms– yes, including my beloved Linux.

Now I’m not gonna deny that I’d never heard of any of the games before, but really, I’m not gonna pass up nearly-free video games, and I always have a soft spot for developers that are willing to make Linux versions of games, so I coughed up a few coins and downloaded the bundle.

So far, I’ve only played Trine:

A 3-D side-scrolling game which is delightfully pretty, easy to learn, and far more addictive than one might expect.

Don’t get me wrong: it’s nothing too complex. It’s a puzzle game that ultimately could probably be emulated fairly well in Flash. The main difference between this and your average Flash game is that it’s heavily physics-based and, oh, did I mention it’s pretty? It’s pretty, and the music is relaxing.

The premise of the game is simple: You switch between three different characters to solve puzzles and work your way through obstacles in various rooms. Your three characters are a warrior, who cuts things up with his sword, a thief, who can shoot things with an arrow and use a grappling hook, and my favorite character… the wizard. See, the wizard is probably the most clever aspect of the game, because he doesn’t fling fireballs around as one might suspect. No, his powers are levitating objects, and making MORE objects– specifically, boxes which he can use to stand on or stack on top of other things.

Anyways, you’re armed with these three characters to dispose of undead and solve puzzles. The whole game was actually sort of giving me Portal vibes, not really in the nature of the puzzles so much as the way the puzzles are arranged room by room and the whole way in which the game starts you out slowly and easily and then ramps you up in difficulty level.

But yes!

I haven’t tried out the Shadowgrounds game that comes in the pack yet, but Trine alone was worth the download. It had me hooked for a good couple of hours yesterday and I can see it having me hooked for a while to come yet.

Anyways! Do go over and take a look at The Humble Frozenbyte Bundle if you haven’t already and have a few pennies to spare. It’s to prove a good point— namely that consumers are willing to pay for what they want to support– and even if you’re not really into that, it’s games for a cent, right?