Puzziball Review—Puzzlin’ in a Slide Zone
Puzzle games existed long before video games did, and one of the more common types was the sliding puzzle, where several picture tiles were arranged in a frame and scrambled, with the idea being that you had to unscramble the tiles to restore the picture. I never much liked them, but they seemed to be quite popular, so much so that they have been reproduced as video games.
While Puzziball is not a sliding tile game, in many ways it is similar to them. The goal is to move a ball from one part of the screen to the other by manipulating a limited amount of sliders. These sliders move either left and right or up and down, and have one or more holes where the ball can reside. So what you do is line the holes up by moving the sliders, then tap the screen to move the ball from one slider to the other, hopefully eventually getting the ball over to the exit.
It sounds pretty easy, but it’s complicated by some sliders not being able to slide very far—part of them can go off screen, but not the hole where the ball fits. So, typically you need to slowly work the ball across the screen in a convoluted manner. It counts the number of moves you make, so you can retry a level to attempt to beat your score. This isn’t too hard, since usually you will play around a while before figuring out how to do it, but you are also fighting the controls a bit. Sometimes when sliders cross each other, you end up moving the wrong one, or sometimes you don’t move the slider far enough and have to move it again, costing you an extra move.
Puzziball has something of a strange pricing structure. Originally, the first 3 sets of levels were free, with more to buy (another six sets for $0.99/£0.79), but now it costs $0.99/£0.79 to get the initial 3 sets, with the extras still requiring a further purchase. You also get two more modes when you purchase the extra levels (and each set of levels has different graphics). So really, just buying the “base” game isn’t that great a deal, since you are basically getting about 25% of the content of the whole game for 50% of the price.
How you progress from level to level is a pretty big deal in puzzle games, since you can frequently get stuck or frustrated on a level, and if a game has a linear progression, it just means you are stuck being frustrated. Heavy Spectrum did a good job of making progression nonlinear in their first game, Bullion Blitz, but not so much in this game. You have to go through each level one at a time. That’s more than a little annoying. But if you buy the extra levels, you now have two additional sets that are unlocked, so you can play those if stuck on the first.
As mentioned, you also get two more modes with the extra purchase, though they aren’t as deep as the main mode. The first one, Stars Mode, reinforces Puzziball’s sliding tile nature; here the goal is not to reach one given point (the exit), but several, marked by stars. The catch here is that these stars vanish after so many moves. There is also Speed Challenge, where instead of moves, you are rated by how quickly you solve a puzzle. These modes only have a limited number of levels compared to the main mode.
Puzziball is generally a well done game and a novel twist on a classic game, but it really depends on how much you like sliding puzzles. I’m one of those that strongly dislikes them, and Puzziball did nothing to change my mind. It also suffers from its new monetization scheme, where the initial purchase is little more than a demo. While the overall package is reasonably priced for what you get, those that only make the initial purchase don’t really get enough bang for their buck.