I love me a good puzzle game, and always make a point of searching out those indie games that are puzzle-centric on the show floor at PAX East and conventions like it. For the same reason the Party and Co-op game works so well in this environment, I often feel that puzzle games suffer: It’s hard to focus on solving a puzzle when 80,000 people are walking within 2 inches of you, or screaming at the fact that some minor celebrity just won a game of Fortnite.
So, here are four solid puzzle games that really captured my attention at this year’s PAX East; be it for their style, mechanics of aesthetic, they all have something to offer someone looking for a good mind-scratcher!
Taking place on a beautifully designed world, Roterra invites players to guide charming characters around obstacles by rotating and sliding cubes – and even flipping the world on its head from time to time!
Roterra was on show at the Indie minibooth, and intiitally grabbed my attention with its visuals. The main mechanic of Roterra involves turning different cubes that make up the level/world you’re journeying through. Some cubes, simply rotate one side, which others flip entirely, allowing you to build a path for the deposed Queen Angleica to follow on her travels to take back he crown.
The animations are beautiful, changing the landscape as they turn, and the entire aesthetic of the game reminds me a bit of paper craft. The puzzles were challenging, and there was a great sense of reward when you could walk a full path to your destination.
I also loved the fact that the entire game is loosely inspired by a 16th-century epic poem “Orlando Furioso” by Lodovico Ariosto: “The constantly shifting physical world of Roterra reflects the many conflicting points-of-view in the poem”. That’s not the kind of source of inspiration you see every day in the indie game scene!
Title: REZ PLZ
Developer: Long Neck Games
Release Date: Q3 2019
REZ PLZ is a pixel art puzzle-platformer where 1 or 2 players control two wizard brothers who possess the power of resurrection. The game features traditional platforming elements, dangerous enemies and puzzle elements that require the player to KILL one of the wizard brothers to advance. In REZ PLZ, death is just part of the adventure.
RezPlz could have very easily been part of our “4 Fantastic Co-op Games From PAX East 2019” article, and perhaps should have been included on that list, but there’s a focus on macabre, moment to moment puzzle solving that I think warrants it’s place here.
In the game, you (or you and a friend) control two brothers who are…less than good wizards. I don’t mean evil, though there’s certainly some moral questions to be considered about their actions, but rather they aren’t particularly skilled, only knowing a simple resurrection spell at the game’s beginning.
To that end, every obstacle is a puzzle where a dead body is a solution, and with the ability to resurrect each other time and time again, you can die your way to solving your way through a magical labyrinth over and over and over again. I’m sure thee won’t be any long lasting impacts on their relationship as brothers…
SiNKR 2 is a minimalist puzzle game evolved from the award winning SiNKR. There is just you, hooks, pucks, and various contraptions you need to finish each level. Sink all the pucks to advance.
SiNKR 2 was shown to me by developer Robert Wahler, and is unabashed in the fact that it is a puzzle game. There’s no plot, no setting, just clever mechanics, a fantastic aesthetic and some suprisingly calming music to help you keep your cool when frustrated!
The game is a sequel to SiNKR, and builds on the basic mechanics of that game: you control a series of hooks, and your goal is to drag a series of pucks to a hole. Get all the pucks in the right hole, and you beat the level. Of course, this sounds easier than it actually is: there’s a variety of pucks, tiles that do specific actions that might help or hinder you and even in the short demo I played my brain was starting to ache ever so slightly.
SiNKR 2 is obviously incredibly well designed: it just reeks that the developer has thought all this through, and I cannot wait to save it for a day when I really feel like my brain needs some exercise.
The Rabbit and The Owl is a cooperative puzzle-platformer where you (or you and a friend) journey through a fractured yet beautiful and painterly negative space landscape. The titular characters are confined to the realms of light and dark and are only able to progress through constant cooperation.
Like RezPlz, The Rabbit & The Owl could have very easily been included in our list of great co-op games from PAX East. It also invloves two different characters working together to solve puzzles. However, where RezPlz relishes in the dark humor of killing yourself over and over again, The Rabbit & The Owl is a more calming and artistic experience.
The basic mechanic of the game is that the Rabbit character can only climb on white space and the Owl character can only climb on black space. This means that each level is in fact two different platforming paths: one for Rabbit and one for Owl. Each section also have various levers and buttons that effect the entirety of the level, which in turn effects the platforms available to each character. Owl and Rabbit can also create a single block (a.k.a. step-stool) for the other character, but only in a certain range, and only if they stay still and concentrate.
All this is done in a stunning black & white aesthetic, evoking ideas of balance and contrast. While didn’t get into the games narrative themes and stories much while playing the demo, I definitely get the sense that this aesthetic was chosen purposefully.