Games of 2013: The Swapper

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2013 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I have been doing in recent history, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting about one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2013 posts.

Typically, when I do one of these posts, I include an image, something representative of the memories I have of the game.

The Swapper deserves a trailer because the screenshots were what stood between me and a purchase initially. There’s something just a little off about the screenshots, probably because the models and the world were apparently built out of clay. Some games just look better in motion, and this is one of them.

I don’t want to give too much away about The Swapper because it was such a surprise delight, but let’s just say it ticks all my boxes for a puzzle platformer: atmosphere, sound design, plot, difficulty, controls. Strongly recommended for those looking for something to puzzle over.

The Swapper is available for PC.

Games of 2012: Triple Town

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

Triple Town

I generally try to avoid hyperbole, but not tonight: Triple Town is one of the best puzzle games I’ve ever played. I’m putting it on the level of Tetris or Bejeweled or Picross.

One sign of a great puzzle game is being able to explain it simply. I can reduce Triple Town down to three points:

  • You’re given a tile, and you place it on the 6×6 play field.
  • If three tiles of the same type are touching each other, they combine onto the last placed tile and upgrade to the next type.
  • Repeat until the play field is full, at which point the game ends.

Simple and unique. It was so unique, it was effectively stolen from the developers by a trusted partner and cloned, which forced Spry Fox to file a lawsuit.

The path of the tiles follows the natural construction of a town. Grass turns into bushes, bushes into trees, trees into small houses, and then larger and larger houses into castles. The game’s internal geometry clicks quickly, as you’ll quickly devise ways to block off areas to farm lower tier tiles into higher ones.

If that was all there is, Triple Town would be fairly mundane and straightforward. But then come those damned Giant Bears (or as they’re referred to around my house, “Chocobears”) and Ninja Bears. Occasionally appearing in your tile pile, they will get in the way of your attempts to put tiles down. Giant Bears will keep shuffling around until they have no path to follow – at which point they turn into a tombstone. Ninja Bears have to be killed off with a robot.

Like Tetris and Bejeweled, Triple Town balances on the fine line between executing your plan and dealing with curveballs. I have lost track of the number of times I’ve gotten into a flow of my build before an inconvenient tile pops up, forcing me to re-plan. The play field is relatively small, keeping you from having too much breathing room. For a puzzle game with no timer, it can get frustratingly stressful.

It’s been fun to watch Triple Town keep evolving on its own since its launch. When I first played the game, there was just a single map generator, but later updates introduced variations on the theme, like Peaceful Valleys (no bears, but lakes permanently block off some tiles). The recent Mac/PC release added a meta-town; successful upgrades in your meta-town yields items for use in regular towns, and vice versa.

If you’ve ever found yourself deeply addicted to a puzzle game, stay far away from Triple Town. It is crack for puzzle enthusiasts.

Triple Town is available on iOS, Android, Facebook, and Mac/Windows. My experiences were largely with the iOS version, but if you have a choice, get the Mac/Windows one, as it is the “ultimate hardcore version”.

Games of 2012: Girls Like Robots

I’ve spent a lot of time in 2012 playing games, but not a lot of time writing about them. As I did last year, I’d like to tell some stories or share some thoughts about the ones that meant the most to me this year. I’ll be posting one a day until Christmas. See all Games of 2012 posts.

It is a strange thing when my favorite television “network” has become one of my favorite game publishers as well. Adult Swim, home of staples like [The Eric Andre Show](http://theericandreshow.tv/) and [Check It Out!](http://video.adultswim.com/check-it-out-with-dr-steve-brule/), has been steadily releasing Flash and mobile games for the last few years. Unsurprisingly, most of these games are pretty twisted – but not the subject of today’s post, Popcannibal’s Girls Like Robots.

GLR is a charming little block puzzler, with a nice drawn art style that sort of reminds me of Double Fine’s Stacking – perhaps because the animation style is similar. Most levels give you a grid, a number of tiles to place, and asks you to organize them to achieve a certain score.

There are rules to those tiles, naturally, and they are gradually rolled out over the length of the game as the story unfolds. As the title says, girls like robots – but girls don’t like nerds. Nerds do like girls, but they don’t like other nerds. Robots like girls (but don’t like being surrounded by them) and are indifferent to nerds. Everyone likes pie, except for robots. One particular girl doesn’t like robots but does like bugs. Fish and robots are mortal enemies. Space seals make…actually, let’s not talk about the space seals.

The rules of placing tiles is often variable too – sometimes you can pick the order, sometimes it’s pre-determined. Most levels are asking you to maximize happiness, but some want you to make everyone miserable, and others demand a balance of emotions. Some levels feel like Tetris, others involve physics.

Putting this all in text may sound overwhelming, but the thing I’ve really dug about GLR is that it keeps slowly changing as you play it. Add a tile type, take away some tiles, change the rules…it’s a gradual build and it works really well. There’s a little storyline with some cinematics (which you can skip, but it’s worth watching for the little jokes), and most new gameplay elements are introduced with enough tutorials to get the point across.

GLR also manages to balance the difficulty well – the best solutions are typically non-obvious, but I’ve never felt stuck on a puzzle (and there is a Skip button in the menu).

This trailer probably explains the gameplay and style a lot better than my text did:

I enjoy a good high-stress, twitchy game as much as the next guy – but sometimes a relaxed puzzle like Girls Like Robots just hits the spot.

Girls Like Robots is available as [a universal iOS app](https://itunes.apple.com/us/app/girls-like-robots/id533815482?mt=8) for $3. It’s also on Steam Greenlight.