Tag Archives: Puzzle Games

Reposted Review: Warlords


(Originally posted on the now defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

Though from yesteryear WARLORDS is still valid today

PROS: Frantic, and fun. There’s even some meta in there.

CONS: Dated graphics. Short play sessions except for the devoted.

WTF?: Why does a 30-year-old game have better box art than most new releases? I mean seriously, look at how awesome it is. I mean REALLY LOOK. Now go look at the MW3 cover. COME ON!

I remember as a child, visiting my grandparents, stumbling upon old relics. Old keepsakes, conversation pieces, knickknacks, or even photographs. I would ask them about what these items were, what they did, what purpose they served. A lot of times this resulted in a boring story. But other instances they ended up telling interesting, captivating stories. Chapters of history that would never be found in school books. Sometimes I feel like the shoe is on the other foot these days when I’m at work, or at a hangout, or even spending a night at a bar with friends. Often times the subject of video games will come up, and someone I have a decade or more on won’t catch my withered cranky reference. This resulting in a strange history lesson that both intrigues the curious modern gamer, and bores the crap out of the guy trying to watch Sportscenter.

But before every one of you leave this blog to go tweet, or off to the malt shoppe, or whatever it is you whippersnappers do, here’s an old timer’s flashback.

Back in 1980, when I was about to turn four, there was an arcade game called Warlords. Around a year later it hit the Atari 2600, and it is here I first experienced it.  Warlords is hard to define. It has the puzzle game element of Breakout or (For those born into the world far later than the seventies) Arkanoid. Paddles are involved, bouncing boulders into walls are involved. It also has the frantic action of a hockey game, as combatants try to defend their fortified castles from becoming rubble, and ash.

The ultimate goal of this game is essentially to be the last man (Or in this case, castle) standing.  Four players each have their own defense shield/catapult that can move ninety degrees around their fortress wall. The game can be played with four people in a free for all, or fewer players with computer AI opponents in a free for all. This is noteworthy as the 2600 (Or the Video Computer System as it was known at the time) was one of the first, and only consoles to offer four player multiplayer. There are variations on gameplay but they all boil down to the same goal. The game uses a special paddle controller. Instead of a digital 8 direction joystick, Warlords has an analog paddle which is essentially a dial. Turning it moves your catapult back, and forth while pressing the button catches the boulder, releasing the button launches it.

While those of you who have never ventured outside the world of current generation consoles may scoff at the simplicity of bouncing a pixel about the screen, those who let their guard down, and try it will be surprised. Warlords is hypercompetitive. Warlords is cutthroat. Warlords doesn’t play around.  When four really skilled players get involved the game becomes really challenging, frantic, and entertaining. It’s exhilarating when after a five-minute ping ponging barrage, you finally destroy someone’s castle. On the flip side it can be absolutely soul crushing to be on the receiving end of such a devastating blow. Most rounds are truly nail-biting sessions when they get down to the wire.

The next time somebody tries to tell you that there weren’t any frantic games requiring copious amounts of muscle memory, and dexterity before the advent of the PS3 take them to a flea market. Pick up a 2600, some paddles, and a copy of Warlords. After a couple of hours of wall smashing terror you’ll be kindly telling them to get the hell off of your lawn.

Final Score: 9 out of 10 (Raid your elder’s cellar!)

Reposted Review: VVVVVV


(Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog.)

Strangely titled, and awesome: VVVVVV

One of the quirkiest, independently made games in recent years, VVVVVV is a love letter to NES, and C-64 gaming. Why should you experience this dedication to the 8-bit era? Read on.

PROS:  Challenging puzzle/platform/adventure gameplay. Awesome soundtrack. Bonus content.

CONS: Some of the endgame stages may prove too difficult for a few players.

WTF?: There’s a giant psychedelic elephant that makes you cry. Really.

Originally part of Indie Humble Bundle #3 Terry Cavanagh’s VVVVVV was met with critical acclaim.

It’s well deserved. VVVVVV offers an awful lot of features, and options for a low price point. There are full priced packaged titles that give less entertainment than this title. The fact the requirements for the Windows, and Macintosh versions are fairly low also widens the number of people who can run it. VVVVVV tells the story of a crew of palette swapped beings who find themselves marooned after a mysterious explosion causes their ship to crash. When it does, Captain Viridian finds himself on a quest to find his missing compatriots, and then escape the strange dimension they’ve been stranded in.

VVVVVV’s campaign makes very good use of it’s gameplay mechanics. The game is built around a gravitational “flip” idea. Instead of jumping over enemies, and environmental hazards like spike pits, instead Captain Viridian flips upside down, and is pulled toward the ceiling. Other times you’ll need to do the opposite. As you get farther into the game, you’ll be introduced to new tweaks on the idea which in turn lead to some really crafty puzzles. The idea has been done before. Capcom experimented with this way, way back in Mega Man 5. One of that game’s Robot Masters was Gravity Man whose entire stage was built on this flip gravity mechanic.

Where as that game only had one stage in which this was successfully tried, VVVVVV takes the ball, and completely runs with it. Not only are there a greater variety of puzzle like traps to solve, but all of these rooms tie together creating a world similar to the way the original Metroid  did but with the sensibilities of Pitfall II: Lost Caverns. Everything ties together nicely. There is plenty of reference humor buried within it’s walls as well. From the visual style which is a clear reference to the Commodore 64′s 16 color graphics, to the music which hints at both the C-64′s SID sound chipset, as well as the memory of NES New Wave styled chiptunes.

Speaking of chiptunes among other things, VVVVVV features 20 gold records hidden throughout the game. If you find them all, you can unlock the songs to be played back on your ship through terminals.

Terminals can also be found throughout the game. Some of them advance the plot with dialogue. Others offer more reference gags (SYNTAX ERROR). As you rescue your friends they will help you out in various areas. Some will give you hints as to where the next crew member is. There are also some capsules in each puzzle room to spawn you to if you die. On the topic of deaths in this game, there are no permanent deaths. (At least until you unlock the no death mode which forces you to beat the entire game on one life)

This really works in the game’s favor as it makes it more accessible for novices who can keep retrying at their leisure. However the game also tracks the number of times you die, as well as the length of time you’ve spent trying to win. This gives the die-hard crowd something to shoot for, giving speed runners something they can sink their teeth into. If a really deep campaign isn’t enough to sate you, VVVVVV also gives players a full-fledged level editor. You’ll have access to all of the tiles, objects, and enemies from the main game to make for your own stages. You can also share them with other players who can import them, and play them.

If there are any gripes about this game they are few. Sometimes controls get a little touchy, leading to unintentionally sliding off of a ledge onto spikes or not registering a flip on time. Faster computer systems will actually speed up the game a bit too, making some of the game’s puzzles more difficult to complete. But after some time playing you’ll grow used to it. The level editor doesn’t have much of a tutorial either, so prepare to be shooting in the dark at first.

Outside of those nitpicks there really isn’t much to whine over.

In short, you need to buy VVVVVV. There are so many good things here it would be a misfire on one’s part to skip it. Plus with the low asking price of $4.99 (Win/Mac) one could buy it by skipping a couple of sodas. Portable gamers may wish to spend a little more on the Nintendo 3DS version which allows you to see the map on the lower screen.

Final Score: 9.5 out of 10 BUY IT NOW!

Reposted Review: Donkey Kong ’94


 (Originally posted on the defunct Blistered Thumbs community blog in 2012.)

1994 saw the release of the last classic Donkey Kong. On the Gameboy, it was also one of the earliest cartridges designed with the Super Gameboy peripheral in mind. It is easily one of the best in this puzzle/platformer hybrid.


PROS: Tons of levels. Gameplay additions improve a classic formula. Humor.

 CONS: High difficulty on some puzzles.

 WTF?: How the hell do Donkey Kong, AND Pauline fit through those tiny lock doors?

Long before he moved to the Mushroom Kingdom to slay Bowser, and have Toad tell him the Princess was in another castle, Mario worked construction. He also worked in a cement factory. Some have called it a pie factory. He also dated a woman named Pauline.

Before Super Mario Bros. Became a cultural phenomenon Mario was the protagonist of Donkey Kong.

Donkey Kong of course, was a puzzle meets platform game. Where players tried to get from the bottom of the screen to the top armed with only a jump button, and ladders. If you made it to the top of the screen you saved Pauline, and moved onto the next level.

Around five mainline Mario games or so later, Donkey Kong had become a star in his own platforming games. And while few would argue that these Country titles were indeed good games, many old timers including Cranky Kong became wistful for the classic gameplay DK starred in during  the golden age of arcades.

Donkey Kong 94 answered their prayers. Not only does the game bring back the original stages from the arcade, but it then kicks into an entirely new set of stages

Like the earliest Mario games, DK94 is set up into sub-levels. For instance, what one might call stage 1 is actually several levels. Stage 1-1, 1-2, 1-3, and so on. Around halfway through each set of sub-levels is a mini boss stage. Every final sub-level is a boss stage. These stages are the sorts of things you would see in a typical Super Mario Bros., game which makes the fact you play as Mario work in the game’s favor.


In addition to mixing up the game with bosses, and mini bosses DK94 adds a few surprises in it’s regular gameplay. Mario no longer simply jumps, and climbs ladders. Now dashing back while running, and pressing jump will make him back flip. Some stages have tight ropes Mario can swing on.

There are bounce pads. There are even ladders, and girders you have to strategically place in order for Mario to solve puzzles, and move onto further stages. There are also a lot of new stage hazards, and new enemy types. Some monsters crawl along any adjacent surface, others require timing to barely make a risky jump over to progress through a stage.

And there are a LOT of stages. 101 to be specific. This game simply gives you a lot of value for the price of admission. Suffice it to say, you will be busy for some time. The original cartridge release had a battery save for this specific reason. Picking up the game pak now means there may be a chance the battery inside is dead so like many of these you may wish to have someone who knows what they’re doing open the cartridge, and replace it. Barring that, the game is available on Nintendo’s e-shop for the 3DS. Donkey Kong 94, was also one of the earliest Super Gameboy compatible games. As such, there are proper colors associated with every sprite, and playing on an SNES also puts a border around the screen with artwork reminiscent of the original arcade machine cabinet art.

As much as I tout this game’s many strengths, there are a few minor nitpicks.  Some of the later stages really kick into overdrive, meaning people who play almost entirely puzzle games, and rarely touch platformers may be turned off by the difficulty. The game does fortunately hand out a lot of 1-UPs to compensate for this but for some it may grate. The other main gripe, and admittedly is mainly wishful thinking on my part is that there was no official Super NES cartridge made for it. Playing on the Super Gameboy adapter is indeed a lot of fun, but one can’t help but think what might have been.

Finally, as those in 1994 can attest, DK94 has confusing box art. Anyone who wasn’t reading EGM, Gamepro, Nintendo Power or other popular game magazines back then would have thought they were getting a really late port of the NES port of the arcade game.

Though years later Mario Vs. Donkey Kong would prove there is still a market for DK as a puzzle game, it still doesn’t have quite the same charm of classic Donkey Kong.

For those who missed it in the mid 90′s or younger folks wanting another classic under their belt, this version of Donkey Kong is easily one of the best.

Final Score: 9 out of 10 (Buy it now!)