Ah well, you knew it had to happen eventually. After managing to escape for two months, Andrew Collier has now been forced to write about a bunch of puzzle games!
I'm sorry, I'm going to have to admit it: I actually like puzzle games! But at least I know that a lot of people don't, so first I'm going to concentrate on the sort of puzzle game which tries to pass itself off as something else more exciting... join me with pinch of salt in hand through this month's volley of Sam releases!
Another arcade conversion! My my, Domark did do us a favour. This is one of those games which is much easier to play than to explain. You sit at one end of a conveyor belt, and tiles of various colours are sent spinning towards you. You have a paddle with which you must collect the tiles, and place them in the buckets at the bottom of the screen. If you get three or more of the same colour in a straight line, this is "a klax"; the tiles disappear and you score lots of points. On each of 100 levels you have a quote to meet, such as 5 horizontal Klaxes or 25000 points.
There are a lot of other features such as secret warps to higher levels, and huge bonus scores for setting up chain reactions. Finding all of these can be tremendous fun, but also very frustrating when the conveyor belt seems to send tiles of every colour but the one you need... The background graphics are very good, but the shading on some of the tiles is a bit dodgy. Unfortunately, the music and sound effects are poor - worse still the program still appears to be rather bugged and occasionally crashes as the action heats up. Nevertheless this is a playable addition to anybody's software collection.
Overall: 8/10 Less puzzle, more Tetris
A pack of two original games by ESI, which therefore are superbly presented and have brilliant music. But what are the games? Snakemania sees you controlling a snake (natch) eating as many dots as you can through a Pac-man style maze. However, you must be careful not to box yourself in, as you grow two units for every three dots you eat. The game plays smoothly, quickly and is very playable. Unfortunately, completing a screen is often a matter of good luck as much as good judgement so it can't really be called very addictive. 7/10.
Craft was demoed on the last issue of SamCo's Newsdisk, and is much more of a pure puzzle game than the other arcade-style offering. This sees you rotating and shifting jigsaw pieces to connect the two ends of a solid white line. The major problem is that the pieces are rectangular, and must change shape as you rotate them through ninety degrees. This makes it extremely difficult to judge where the lines will end up. Also on some levels, you can come up with a perfectly good arrangement of the pieces which joins up all the lines, but since it is not the one which the programmers had anticipated, it is not accepted. This makes the game a really annoying trial-and-error effort, which should simply not have been necessary. Worse still, every single level in the entire game looks exactly the same so although there are passwords available for every tenth level, you really won't be bothered to get more than two of them. 4/10
Overall: 6/10 Snakemania is only just worth your money
Colin MacDonald calls this an "arcade strategy" game - well that's good enough for me. You control a helicopter and a submarine (one at a time though) through 24 levels, some of which are split over several screens. There are pools of water in various places, but with the right combination of bits of tubing, pumps, switches and nozzles you can move it around wherecer you like. Be careful not to flood the rooms though (unless you mean to) since the helicopter will explode if you submerge it, wheras the submarine cannot stand being out of the water. If you want to swap control between the two, you need to find a spot with just enough water for both to survive.
Once you've matered the art of shifting the liquid around, you can use it to activate switches, open doors and, this is the best bit, drown aliens. For the first dozen or so levels, it's pretty clear exactly what you have to do, but later on it gets very much harder and more abstract. Switches may operate taps several screens away, and you might never be sure which one until it is probably too late! With time and effort it is possible to progress through the game, though one or two features could have you stumped for months!
The graphics are nothing special, but at least do thir job and are very clearly colour-coded, so you can immediately see what goes where. The music isn't bad (some of Andy Monk's first E-Tracker tunes) but the effects are somewhat sparce. This is one game you'll keep coming back to over and over again, just to prove you can beat this level when you're really trying! Although not as speedy or as smooth as might have been hoped, this is a refreshingly novel and challenging game.
Overall: 8/10 Puzzle game of the month!
This sequal is pretty much a continuation of the first game, rearranged and given a shiny new coat of paint. Now you're also provided with, in addition to your helicopter and submarine, a jeep which can only move horizontally, though lifts are among the various other new features. If you thought the first game was tough (and most people did) then you'll be absolutely knocked out by the puzzles in this game, it's that hard.
Music is provided this time by Craig Turberfield, and graphics by Neil Holmes are happily much improved over the original (after a somewhat shaky start; the loading screen is a horrid garish mess!) The main problem is that the game is too hard, even with experience of the puzzles in the first game. I don't know anybody who can complete level three (solutions are always welcome in Zodiac!) although by hacking out the password I'm now stuck on level eight. Buy the first game, and if that was too easy then by all means buy this one too. But if like everybody else you found Waterworks 1 difficult, for the sake of your sanity give this one a miss.
Overall: 6/10 Frustratingly, maddeningly, disappointingly hard
Legend of Eschan
This one poses as a graphical strategic adventure game. It runs along the lines of the two old speccy games "Lord of Midnight" and "Doomdark's Revenge". Set in Avinell - a land populated by Warlords, Orcs, Giants, Dwarves and Elvis amongst many other races - we see that Barquin the Witchking (you already know he's a baddie!) has captured Avorell the Noble, leader of the massed armies of the south. You, as Eschan and Barton, must rescue Avorell, defeat Barquin, and generally save the day.
You can approach any of the other characters you may happen to meet, they will either join your force or possibly might attack you (generally you are best attempting to recruit people of the character's own status, these nobles can be very political) You see the action from the eyes of any character you've recruited, as a pretty 3D scene in any of the eight compass directions. Once you have built up your armies then you can start attacking the legions of Barquin. There are also haunted ruins, forest spirits, informative henges and a variety of objects to find which may be useful in battle or persuasion.
Graphics and sound are not especially noteworthy, but the gameplay is so absorbing that you hardly notice. The maps are huge, and there is so much going on all the time that it can be very difficult at times to keep track. As your armies get larger, and Barquin is mobilising his forces, it is easy to lose yourself in the gigantic map - although you are given descriptions of your location, not all the landmarks are named on the map provided. Nevertheless, if you have a lot of time on your hands and you think you can cope, then this is a worthy purchase.
Overall: 7/10 Complex action for wargame fans