A couple more recent puzzle games

Tuesday, November 29, 2022

Tagged: reviews, the entropy centre, the case of the golden idol

We're coming up on IGF judging season. Okay, actually we're a week into IGF judging season. I haven't jumped in yet due to various other tasks that piled up my Thanksgiving holiday. (You might have seen yesterday's post.)

Anyway, this means I'll be accumulating a lot of game review posts which I'll drop in a batch in a couple of months. But before I start that, let's clear out the ones I've already written!

  • The Entropy Centre
  • The Case of the Golden Idol

The Entropy Centre

A Portal-like that wears its influences on its sleeve.

Jumping in, you may feel like the only narrative decision in any puzzle game is "What personality should the AI voice have this time?" This is unfair, though. Entropy Centre's story is of 2022, not 2007. The world is on fire and nobody is doing anything about it. That's got kick. And Astra the AI isn't just a GlaDOS riff; she's worth a few smiles.

The puzzles are solid, anyhow. Gimmick: your magic gun rewinds time. Generally that means moving a crate back 30 seconds on its timeline. Other puzzle elements are very familiar (jump plates, laser cubes, light-bridges) but getting them to freeze or move backwards is a whole new take.

Wisely, the "30 seconds" are counted SuperHot-style. Time only advances for a crate when it's moving. So you can stop and think as long as you like. And you will! I'd say the puzzles aren't quite as hard, focused, or mind-bending as in Portal. It's mostly a matter of "plan each crate's path, plan your path, then execute." But the combinations are tricky and almost every puzzle has a new idea in it.

The crate puzzles are broken up by environmental puzzles (rewinding collapsing catwalks or falling elevators) and a few action scenes involving angry droids. The action scenes are a bit annoying. They're the only part of the game with actual time pressure, and I died a few times too many, too repetitively. If the droids had used non-fatal stunners I think it would have worked just as well.

(Another tiny tweak that would have improved the game immensely: a touch of cheat-gravity so that you don't miss the jump plate. Portal did quite a bit of that.)

Fun, good story idea, recommended.

The Case of the Golden Idol

I guess Obra-Dinn-like is now a category! I snuck Strange Horticulture in there, but Golden Idol is more of a direct match to Obra Dinn:

  • You are inspecting a scene for physical evidence;
  • The scene is frozen in time -- no NPC interaction;
  • You're filling in answers to "what happened to who and how";
  • Wild guessing won't help, but if you're close, you can home in on the truth by informed guessing. But you feel bad about it. But you do it anyway.

You're investigating a linked series of events in the 1700s involving a rich family, a secret society, murder and scheming and politics, and a golden idol. The idol comes from Lemuria and is reputed to have occult powers. The powers become evident pretty quickly. You'll see.

My usual line is that I suck at detective games but do well at Obra-Dinners -- I'm good at inspecting physical evidence, whereas people are difficult and confusing. That holds up in Golden Idol. Take notes; you'll do fine. The logic-puzzle aspect is also strong -- the "everyone has a first name and a last name and a profession" sort of puzzle. You won't need a full-on grid, but you'll do a lot of matching up and eliminating possibilities to see what's left.

In fact the later chapters do work their way up to detective mode. At one point the "physical evidence" is a constable's notebook, and then you're scrutinizing testimonies for contradictions just like any gumshoe plod. I made it through, though. Either I'm getting better or the game has a scrupulous sense of how to lay out clues. I say the latter.

The story is kind of clunky. I felt like the golden idol itself was a let-down. Figuring out its powers is supposed to be a key puzzle, but it doesn't get used as much as you might expect. When it does -- well, the game necessarily drags it down to the level of mundane physicality. Because it has to leave physical evidence, right? The idol plays into some nice (and justified) surprises at the end, but overall the plot comes off as a series of squalid squabbles rather than a story per se.

Nonetheless, a bunch of solid puzzles along the way.