Thursday, January 17, 2008


I have figured it out. I'm not actually playing Linux games at all. Instead, I'm stuck in some horrible brain training nightmare. That's the only possible explanation; over the course of the past week, I've identified patterns, attempted to out-think algorithms, developed strategies and tactics, attempted to predict future behaviors, been forced to think fast - one at a time. I'm used to having to do all those things at once, in a real game. But this week has been a collection of mini-games which each attempt to make me do one thing really well. That's what Brain Age is, right?

I present my final argument: thanks to Klotski, I now have a vague idea of who Cao Cao was, and how he was fundamental to the development of China during the Three Kingdoms period. I know I should already know this, but I've never played Dynasty Warriors.

Allow me to explain: Klotski is a logic-puzzle that kind of reminds me of those "arrange these blocks" IQ tests I learned about in Psych 101, or alternately, those little cheap plastic toys that have a scrambled up picture divided into tiles, with one free space, so you have to slide them all around to unscramble the picture. The point is to move a marked object from one place to another, in an extremely limited space, by moving other objects to create a path for it.

And it's the kind of thing I absolutely hate. But after spending forever trying to beat the first puzzle, entitled "Only Eighteen Steps" in only 18 steps (I gave up when I beat it with 19; I think I just accidentally took two drags to get the piece out), and then spending forever and a day (literally) going through the next three puzzles, I was ready to dropkick my computer, boot back into XP, and blissfully lose myself in what Rock, Paper, Shotgun says is a flawed but amazing FPS-experience.

But I was curious as to why the first collection of puzzles was entitled "HuaRong Trail", which lead to Google, which in turn led to this Wikipedia article. This totally changed the game for me. I double-majored in English and History; my History major was made almost entirely Southeast Asian history courses, and my favorite of those were the ones on China. But I never took any courses covering the time before the Qing dynasty, because I'd already filled my prerequisites and it was time to graduate.

This silly reference made the game interesting to me again, so I slogged on through it some more, wasting another forever on a few more levels, before getting horribly frustrated again, and taking a break to write this review.

Aesthetically, the game's fine. It's also challenging, and the "score" feature (the number of moves it takes to finish a puzzle) adds replayability. It's a frickin' logic puzzle, so it's not very fun for me but if you're the kinda cat that's all over rubik's cubes and sudoku puzzles (god, I'm dreading that one) it's right up your alley.

Mechanics-wise, more genius from the Keep It Simple, Stupid school of design - drag n' drop is the name of the game. Or rather, the control mechanism of the game, but you get what I'm saying. That's all there is to it. Drag pieces around.

Perhaps because I hate this type of game, but perhaps because doing something that's challenging is innately rewarding, it was really, really pleasurable to win. I had a euphoric buzz that lasted until I started the next level and hit another brick-wall to think through. Generally something like 20 seconds to two minutes. It did feel really good whenever I finished a level, though.

I will probably keep at this every day for a little while each day until I beat all of the first "mission-pack", at least. I have to save Cao Cao from Guan Yu, after all. Yes, I am that desperate for a game with story-line at this point. And I can't help but think that I'm creating new neural-networks and strengthening existing pathways in my mind, the more I struggle with and visualize these damn shapes shifting around.

Worthy of mention is the fact that of the Linux games I've played so far, this one up-scales the best. Maximized, everything is still clearly defined and there's no decrease in performance.

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