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Friday, July 1, 2011

Review: Astroslugs (iPad)

Astroslugs is one of those really irritating games that you’ll keep playing, even as you want to throw your iPad against a wall. Developers, Bit Baron, have managed to tap into that obsessive compulsive desire to complete every puzzle the game can throw at you, while at the same time providing a stiff challenge that requires some very creative thinking.

At its most basic level, this game is about joining dots. They look like giant space rocks, but they’re dots. In each level, you’re given a number of shapes to create using those dots, with the key challenge being each of those dots can only be used once.

The puzzles start easily enough...


So naturally real estate is at a premium and at times the levels make you feel like you need to squash squares into circular holes to make all the shapes fit. There’s no time pressure, you can take your steps back without penalty, and there’s no pressure to go after high scores, so this can be quite a relaxing game to play. But at the same time, it’s genuinely challenging – even the early levels.

Or possibly I just suck at this kind of puzzle.




Thankfully there’s a hints system in place if the game starts to get too difficult, and there’s no penalty for taking advantage of it, again reinforcing that this is a game to be enjoyed, not stressed over.

On the iPad, the aesthetics are clean and bright, though the game lacks flash. The hand-drawn loading screens are actually a highlight (never thought I would say that), but in-game, you won’t struggle to see icons (they’re nice and big), and the interface is clean and straightforward; you’ll never find yourself accidentally doing something you didn’t mean to.

Later puzzles become quite complex


The music fits the theme, but it’s hardly memorable. It doesn’t matter though, since the game seems purpose built for downtime between meetings, sitting on a train, or during TV ads. It’s just not engaging in the same intense way that games need to be for the soundtrack to be memorable.

Perhaps most importantly, this game has a lot of puzzles to play through, and it’s non linear in approach – depending on the difficulty of a puzzle, you’re rewarded with points. Those points unlock additional puzzles, so if you find one particular solution impossible, your progress is not halted. It’s a user-friendly approach to puzzle game design that a lot of indie developers forget about.

For such a simple puzzle idea, Astroslugs does a good job of giving you plenty of content and a pleasant presentation. You can find these kinds of puzzles in $2 puzzle books, but while this game doesn’t break any boundaries, it does move into “recommended” territory by working really well and being easily accessible. Every iPad needs at least one or two of these games for those five minute down times – might as well make it this one.



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Review: Astroslugs (iPad)
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