Puzzle Dimension Review
Second on my platter (perhaps even tureen?) of puzzle games to review this week is Puzzle Dimension, the debut game from Swedish team Doctor Entertainment.
The object of the game is simple. Scattered around each level are a number of sunflowers. You roll an ornate orb over any flat surface to reach these flowers, and once collecting them all make your way through the exit portal. It sounds simple, but the reality is far different. There are a host of different obstacles the game will place in front of you, and gravity is multi-directional. This means that is just a few movements you can find yourself rolling underneath the surface of any puzzle, much like the old figure eight optical illusion … or David Bowie in Labyrinth.
In fact maybe the Labyrinth analogy is more apt, considering you treat each level like it’s own maze. Each level requires a great deal of forward planning, logic and experimentation to complete. Some levels have multiple ways in which to complete them, some levels have a very specific path you’ll have to discover for yourself. The difficulty ranges from the easy to the fiendish, and could easily inspire the occasional rage-quit.
This is the real challenge of Puzzle Dimension. Flat layout obstacles only take certain amount of logic to work around, but when you put the whole thing into a multi-dimensional plane it can become a whole new problem. You’ll have to make good use of the game’s camera controls to understand where you are and where you’re going, otherwise a restart is usually only one wrong move away. This is what will both test your skill and your patience as a player. There are plenty of times where the game asks you to roll your orb over curved ledges (sometimes invisible ones, no less) and you’ll basically be rolling out into the unknown. Similarly, the game relies on a series of blind ledge drops to invert the surface of many levels, which means solving many puzzles can require 50/50 guess runs just to discover which way you should be dropping.
The game does display the entirety of a puzzle three dimensionally before the level begins, and you are given the option to unhinge the camera from the orb and return to this view at any time (something which you’ll find yourself doing almost constantly). But as the levels become more and more complex you’ll have absolutely no chance of memorising all the information you’ll need before you start, because quite often there will only be one correct route through a given level (with the use of one-step bricks or directional jumps). This means sometime you’ll end up stranded half-way through a particularly long level because you accidentally destroyed the wrong brick in the first minute of play. Quite often I’d sit staring at a motionless screen, planning my moves out in my head before daring to touch another tile.
You’ll forgive the creators, however, because you can tell a lot of time and care has gone into the construction of the puzzles themselves. The game consistently introduces new elements over the course of your playthrough, and then begins to mix and match them with existing obstacles already in play. One-step bricks like cracks or heat-grills start out quite easy to plan around, but once you throw in one directional ice surfaces, toggled spikes, assisted leaps, invisible blocks and teleporters things gets mind-bendingly complex. All together there are a hundred levels to complete, so it’s almost assured you’ll be getting a decent amount of play for your dollar too.
So this is a puzzle game for those of you who love a challenge. The game steadily unlocks more and more puzzles ahead of your progress, but it is possible to reach a point where you have to complete a specific puzzle to move on. This won’t be your cup of tea if you like to sit down and knock out a complete puzzle game in one sitting.
Visually the game is quite … interesting. Every block in the level begins pixellated and snaps into high-definition the moment you roll close by to it. It’s an odd choice in regards to art direction, because the high-def visuals look fantastic while the pixel blocks are really quite dull. I found myself wondering why the team had bothered. Players do receive bonus points if they can depixellate the entire level (kind of like a 100% completion bonus) but apart from that it seemed to me like it was just a “because we can” decision.
At least they decided to create a similar mix for the music, so the mechanic doesn’t seem completely out of place. As you depixellate each level, the background music cleverly transitions from 8-bit chip tunes to a synth orchestral score. The music track itself isn’t anything that memorable, but it’s good to see that some thought went into the process.
There are four different themes to unlock as your flower tally goes up, each with their own unique background and puzzle tileset. Initially you’ll begin with just one theme, but newly unlocked themes can be applied to any puzzle in the game, so once you’ve unlocked them all you can use them on any level. The starter theme is probably the easiest for identifying the variety of different blocks, so I tended to use it the most during my playthrough. The later themes are certainly more ornate, and it was when I tried these out that I started wanting a completely depixellated version.
Pros: Puzzle Dimension presents a great variety with it’s challenges, and certainly has more than enough on offer to keep you playing for a decent amount of time. Depixellated graphics are impressive.
Cons: Even with detached camera control, many levels can leave you completely disorientated at times. I found the use of invisible blocks quite complex during some levels too, as if you didn’t notice their faint glow you’d be left thinking a certain route that you had to take was impossible.
Overall: In the end this is a game for the thinkers in the audience, so if you prefer to leap before you look then this game won’t appeal. It requires patience, concentration and sometimes even a little luck to crack. If you love a good straight-up (and down and side-to-side) puzzle game, however, then it’s definitely worth your time and money. 4 out of 5.
Puzzle Dimension is currently available via Steam
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