The Swapper

Developer: Facepalm Games | Released: 2013 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

I played a couple of hours of this platform puzzle game with very little jumping. It was focusing on the story and the interconnecting puzzles, sometimes with more than one puzzle chamber available at a time. The goal was usually to obtain a few orbs from these puzzles to turn on something and proceed.

It had incredibly convincing graphics. Together with the overuse of blurry, out of focus surroundings and the strong echo/reverb on the sound effects, it made for a very dark and creepy atmosphere indeed. There were no monsters, but those from Aliens would have felt right at home here. No doubt about that.

Handcrafted art assets and clay was used to create the game levels.

Screenshot

I could clone up to four versions of myself that moved like I did, and I could swap my point of control with the other mouse button. Pads had to be stood on, crates pushed, red lighting prevented swapping, cyan lighting prevented cloning, and magenta lighting prevented both. Sometimes there were also air shafts. These rules created puzzle chambers that were sometimes quite challenging. It was also not uncommon that I had to clone and swap in a timely manner, usually while the clone was in midair.

There was a light story where I sometimes briefly spotted another astronaut that said a thing or two, I could pass by strange stones that “thought” a few lines of text to me, and apparently it all took place onboard an enormous spaceship. However, I didn’t play much more than 1½ hours until I abandoned it. Somehow the game made me feel uneasy, like I couldn’t relax and have a good time when I played it.

Also, that spinning anti-gravity room reminded me way too much of my nightly dizziness attacks.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
The Swapper
2013 Facepalm Games

5h

2

2019-04-09
2019-04-11
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Parallax

Developer: Toasty Games | Released: 2015 | Genre: FPS, Puzzle

Played about 30-40 minutes of this one, enough to complete up to and including chapter B-4.

The game was actually well made and with a an interesting puzzle mechanic. Although in the vein of first person puzzle games like Portal, there was no gun. Only running, clicking buttons and jumping. Interactive buttons could flip round portal mirrors (of which only one side could enter the negative realm) or bridges. In chapter B, speed boost pads were introduced. No doubt other cute gimmicks were awaiting in the later chapters, but after B-4, I decided to abandon the game.

As mentioned, it wasn’t the game – it was me.

The game was monochrome (black on white or vice versa depending on the realm) and had absolutely no story whatsoever. This was just level after level of short puzzle areas with hovering walkways. It made it feel a lot like a “VR training” feature in an extra menu option of a much larger game, and I’m usually yearning for more than that in the games I play. A story, an atmosphere – some kind of an experience.

Screenshot

I also had trouble creating a “mental image” of how a chain of flipped portal mirrors would open the way to the goal. I was afraid this might mean a lot of tedious trial and error awaiting in the later chapters.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Parallax
2015 Toasty Games

5h

1

2019-04-02
2019-04-02
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

MIND: Path to Thalamus

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Developer: Carlos Coronado | Released: 2014 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

This was a first person adventure game with more or less surrealistic vistas, and puzzles typically involving moving and dropping “nerve clusters” that looked a little like tumbleweeds. How to use these balls is actually a spoiler, so as always I will discuss the details of this in the spoiler section below.

It took me about 4½ hours to get through it and I liked a lot about it. Especially the way it looked. Just like Deadfall Adventures, the level environments and the graphics were definitely the high note of this game. A few levels were even so pretty it made me forget myself for a minute or two upon arrival. Puzzles were for the most part okay, but sometimes involved some traipsing – and there was no sprint button. It also had a smell like being a borderline mod for an FPS. It had a very basic title screen and there were glitches.

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But even so, I still had a good time completing it. The idea of using the balls was cute and made for relaxed puzzles, apart from a few overdone exceptions that I will mention in the spoilers. If I went back in time knowing what I know now, I would definitely play it again.

Deadfall Adventures

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Developer: The Farm 51 | Released: 2013 | Genre: FPS, Adventure

This was an FPS from 2013 with puzzles to be solved by an ancestor of Alan Quatermain. It took place in 1938 in Egypt, Arctic and Mayan ruins, and usually together with Jennifer, a female partner. It was all very Indiana Jones. Together with waves of Nazis, it made it feel like Wolfenstein meets Tomb Raider.

It was also an unremarkable game in many ways, with a B-movie plot featuring cliché-riddled dialog and stereotypical characters. The fights were simple and predictable, but luckily also not quite as common as I expected. There were a lot of calm moments solving puzzles or finding treasures. The latter could upgrade my health, marksmanship or my flashlight, but it honestly didn’t feel like it mattered much.

Screenshot

At the bottom line there were a lot of flaccid elements of this game to give it an equally mediocre score, but at least the level design was almost worth the price of admission. It wasn’t phenomenal – get up close and some circles were octagons – but from a distance, the environments actually looked quite nice.

But the game design wasn’t always solid. There were a lot of cutscenes without interaction for many levels, then about halfway through I suddenly had to hit keys and mouse buttons in what the game considered a typical QTE. That was late for this change of heart. Most puzzles were easy and took only seconds to solve through, but there were confusing exceptions where the solution was pretty obscure.

Same thing about finding the treasures for upgrading my abilities.

Forward to the Sky

Developer: Animu Game | Released: 2015 | Genre: 3PS, Adventure

Another really short game. This one took me about 1½ hour.

It was a third person jumping game with a little bit of sword fighting and puzzle themes. The anime look, with the princess protagonist and her silly bows, gave a few Final Fantasy vibes too. But this was a simple game with just six short levels, of which the sixth one was a boss fight in an arena. The fighting itself was incredibly basic. I could mash a button or click another to back off. That’s it.

Every level was a hotchpotch of blocks and stairs with puzzles mostly based on buttons and levers. The princess arrives on a balloon and leaves on one as she finds it, usually at the top. Enemies drop coins and I could get a lot more by smashing secret statues. If I dropped off somewhere, she whistled for the balloon to come grab and drop her off at the latest checkpoint. So far, so good.

What was not so awesome was what happened if the enemies got rid of my health bar. Level restart.

I bought this game expecting it to be a walk in the park. And for the most part it was. The smaller enemies were pushovers, but sometimes a skirmish included a few of their bigger brothers that required many hits to die, and they could get lucky and eat more than half my health bar. After the first three levels I decided not to let myself be frustrated by this and installed a trainer.

Screenshot

Infinite health. No regrets. And peace at mind to concentrate on the puzzles.

Each level had its own gimmick. The first had spears and pushable crates, and the second had blades and spinners. Both took place in daylight. The third level went into nighttime and had windy loops and annoying draft paths that could push me off the edge. In the fourth level, pillars had to be spun around to send dots into crystals that regenerated solid matter to walk on. In the fifth, I could walk on big boulders.

As mentioned before, the sixth level was a boss fight in an arena. I can’t say how difficult it really was as I was still blessed with trainer ignorance, but it felt difficult. The fight had several phases and the princess antagonist shot all kinds of magic fires, crystals and beams, and some of it even seemed to be downright impossible to avoid getting hit by. I sure hope that fight had its own set of checkpoints.

There were a few other things from the basket of pain as well. The protagonist and antagonist had this thing about talking to each other all the time, and just as in games such as e.g. Bastion, I was far too busy with fights and puzzles to pay attention to any of it. The voice of the princess hero was also squeaky and made it painfully obvious that this really was a game for kids.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Forward to the Sky
2015 Animu Games1h 43m 1
2019-02-22
2019-02-22
7

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Closure

Developer: Eyebrow Interactive | Released: 2012 | Genre: Platform, Puzzle

Played a few hours of this one.

It’s a colorless puzzle platform where only stuff being lit has substance. Darkness means falling and dying. The goal is simple – reach a door somewhere else, and sometimes bring a key to unlock it too. To help me out with lighting I can bring light orbs, place them in pedestals that sometimes move the orb somewhere else, turn hinged spotlights to shine elsewhere, and more. No enemies to dodge.

And sometimes I had to swim through water, but no oxygen was required.

After a brief tutorial with a four-legged creature, I came to sort of a hub with a choice between 3 x 24 doors with levels. Some static, some bigger and thus scrolling when needed. For each hub, the creature turns into someone else. One looks like a miner, one a woman, and one a small girl that even starts out in her room in a house. Music was much better than I expected – no chiptune stuff here.

Screenshot

I had trouble running it in 3840×2160. It showed a quarter of the screen with menu controls out of reach and I had to edit a configuration file to fix it. I then settled with a resolution of 2560×1440.

Most of the levels were reasonably easy and could be completed in a minute while some had me stumped for a few minutes. The game had a creepy atmosphere and I was constantly afraid of exploring with a light orb and suddenly falling. Hitting a lower level never meant death (no matter how far down) but falling into the black abyss meant retrying. It was also possible to lose a key or a barrel, forcing me to restart.

One thing I thought was very cute – definitely the charming gimmick about the game – was the way I could walk or stand on wall structures that were only partly lit. Because the continuation of the wall piece was in darkness, it didn’t exist and I could pass through. It took some getting used to, especially when having to follow an orb transitioning to somewhere else.

I never found out what the clock I sometimes found meant.

TitleLengthDatesDiff / ChtSaveScore
Closure
2012 Eyebrow Interactive

8h

2

2018-12-05
2018-12-06
8

To see a page with all the PC games I have played – along with an explanation of the abbreviations – click here.

Anomaly 1729

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Developer: Anvil Drop | Released: 2015 | Genre: 3PS, Puzzle

This was a third person puzzle game with inspiration from games such as Portal and Fez. At times it also felt like a distant sibling to Tron 2.0. I controlled a robot finding my way through chambers of blocks. A hub area filled with blocks led to secluded chambers where I had to puzzle my way to an exit door.

There were three major areas in the game, each concentrated around a hub. The first was dominantly blue with square or rectangular blocks. The second was more cyan with pentagon blocks. And finally the third was blood red, surrounding a big structure with ability-draining fields that had to be turned off.

Screenshot

The robot could shoot orange or blue energy from each hand (mouse buttons) and jump on the blocks. Red jump pads boosted me away or blue gravity wells sucked me in, and their type could be switched with a shot. Later, blocks and platforms also floated on beams. Platforms of this kind had a certain pattern they went through, while the blocks could be started and stopped with a shot. Smoldering platforms were also used although thankfully sparingly, as they disappeared in seconds and always made me frantic.

Papo & Yo

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Developer: Minority | Released: 2013 | Genre: Adventure, 3D

This third person adventure game was completed in less than four hours, but somehow it felt a little longer than that. It was for the most part easy but also charming, and with many original puzzle ideas. The closest thing I can find to compare it with is the American McGee’s Alice series, only without the combat. It had the same level of surrealism and also felt like it could maybe sort of fit into that universe somehow.

The game touches upon a light story of the small kid Quico and his alcoholic father in a few brief cutscenes, but by far most of the game is spent solving puzzles in arena after arena with metaphorical substitutes. In the beginning there’s another kid that teases you, and it doesn’t take long before you get the small robot Lula on your back as a jet to make double jumps possible. Lula can also be asked to fly over and activate a circle by clicking the right mouse button.

Screenshot

A general style of puzzle design is that white chalk lines means interactive stuff. Animated cogwheels drawn on walls can be clicked to make a building walk to a different place so you can jump across roofs. Handles can be pushed or pulled to tip over a stack of buildings into a “snake” you can run across. Keys can be turned to open up a passage, typically by walls and buildings being lifted away.

Completed: The Witness

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

I finally managed to complete The Witness after six sessions. The last save game said I solved 359 puzzles, and according to Steam it took me 26 hours. It has a tendency to exaggerate, but somewhere in the early twenties is probably right. Only 7 out of 11 lasers needed to be switched on in order to enter the mountain and I decided to settle with that. I never had any intentions to be a completionist about this game.

Another good reason for not wanting to solve everything in this game is that I actually didn’t like many of the later puzzles. I never cheated or read any hints and I can honestly say I figured it all out on my own, but some of the puzzles were too difficult for me to find them fun. I really had to be on the nails of my toes with some of these. Especially inside the mountain the puzzles got really vicious, mixing existing rules with damaged or combined panels. Some where inventive, some very difficult to observe at all, and many were combined across smaller and bigger puzzles.

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Without spoiling too much, I almost thought I found my final nemesis puzzle in the bottom of a big shaft inside the mountain. It was another one of those where several smaller puzzles were combined with a big one to make everything come together. I had such a hard time with that one that I actually had to draw the board and pieces on paper, cut them out, and spend hours puzzling them together at my dinner table. I imagine many other players would have given up here and found the solution on the internet, but I was very stubborn. I got this far and I wanted to complete the game without cheating. Eventually I did succeed in finding the correct combination of pieces, flipped the answer, and the door went up.

The Witness: First Impressions

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Developer: Thekla | Released: 2016 | Genre: Adventure, First Person

After completing Pneuma, one of my friends gifted me this game on Steam – removing it from my wish list. He spoke of his endeavors in this game and it got me enticed. I installed and started it almost immediately and played it for more than 5 hours yesterday. Enough to dish out my first impressions about it.

I completed Jonathan Blow’s puzzle platformer Braid back in 2012 and have had an eye on his next game ever since. It seemed like quite a quantum leap from Braid – from a 2D platformer to a completely open world puzzle game in a pretty 3D engine. I didn’t care much for the pretentious story and ditto quotes in Braid, but the gameplay was truly awesome. It had so many time manipulating ideas that really surprised me by how ingenious they were. And just as I thought I had seen it all, Jonathan Blow managed to conjure up yet another fresh approach.

Suffice to say, I was very curious about The Witness.

Of course The Witness just had to be one of those modern games that starts immediately without a title screen, just like e.g. Limbo. You could say that as long as the spot is as secluded and safe as it is, but I don’t know. I’m probably old fashioned, but I actually like a title screen up front as the first thing.

Then again, ten years ago I didn’t care much for digital games and stubbornly wanted a disc in a box, and look at me now. Why waste shelf space on a box when you can have it on Steam?

So maybe in a few years, title screens will be the annoying thing.

The game started with very small baby steps indeed. Almost all puzzles seemed to be based on using the mouse to draw a line through a maze on a panel, and it started with the basic straight line, then an angled line, and so forth. Soon mazes appeared with dead ends, and the starter area made it clear how the panels turned on more panels through wires now lit up, meandering through the grass and over walls. So, lots of following wires and finding new panels with puzzles to solve.