Monday, March 17, 2008

What Linus Bruckman Sees When His Eyes Are Closed

I still don’t know what this title won the AGS Best Innovation Award for: the very addictive gameplay, or the very unique name. In order to save space and my index fingers, I’ll use a shorter name for the game in this review, and call it simply Linus and focus on the gameplay instead. Hopefully I’ll be forgiven…

The game itself is very reminiscent of Rubik’s Clock, where you have two puzzle planes, which you need to set to certain values, but where an action in one plane affects the action in the other puzzle. Vince Twelve, the designer of this game, came with a great way to solve the problem of a steep learning curve. Instead of having the gamers plunge into the whole puzzle and force them to figure everything out, the author first enabled only one side of the puzzle.

In this game, you start out as playing an alien servicing a fast food restaurant. The orders got mixed up, and you’ll need to assign them to the right customers. There are two basic challenges you’ll be facing. First, you’ll need to use the menu to translate the orders into basic food ingredients and find the proper containers with their right combination. Then, you’ll have to distribute the meals onto predefined positions. Here, moving one container also moves up to three others, and thus shifting them to their proper places requires the greatest deal of thinking.

The puzzle is not as dry as it may sound, though, as the author spiced it out with lots of humor. Your in-game father is a moron who makes Homer Simpson look smart, and your customers range from fellow aliens through known characters like Chewbacca and the Borg, to Charlton Heston. (By the way, did you know that MS Word recognizes the word “Chewbacca” as valid and grammatically correct, but doesn’t recognize “Heston”?) The customers feature very appropriate and highly amusing dialogs, such as HAL 3000 who replies to your request to repeat his order with “I’m afraid I can’t do that, Dave.”

All through the game, you’ll see a different action taking place on the upper portion of the screen. There, someone who looks like a Japanese samurai mimics your actions from the bottom of the screen, but unless you can learn and understand Japanese, you won’t know what’s going on. You’ll learn soon enough, though. When you successfully complete the initial puzzle, the upper part will be unlocked by switching to English. You’ll learn that you’ll have to re-sort some items on the top, too, to release your goddess from her prison. Unlike the bottom game, the top part does not feature any humor; instead, it is very serene. You’ll have to figure out the chronological progression of an ancient legend, and find out which spot you’ll need to place each item at. Just like with the bottom part, you’ll switch multiple items at the same time, but using a slightly different method than that on the bottom. Why? Because at the same time you’ll be solving the bottom part again, and as both characters are mimicking each other’s moves having different item movements allowed the cruel designer to mix up the items in different ways.

It may take several attempts to solve the game, but given how addictive the gameplay is, it won’t be a burden for most players. Given the game mechanics, however, I can’t really describe Linus as an adventure game. Even though the author incorporated two stories, in the end these stories are of very little consequence, and the game is pure puzzle. That doesn’t detract from its value, though, and one can just stand in awe, realizing how much has Twelve accomplished with AGS, a game creation studio designed for adventure games.

Production-wise, the author did also a great job. In line with the subject matter of the two puzzles, he created a cartoonish and artistic part of the game. The bottom, cartoonish part, is very colorful and quite loosely drawn. The customers who appear in TV monitors are very eclectic, yet fitting for the theme. The top part is very appropriate for the sober topic matter: all colors are dulled, brownish, the graphics are very precise, and the animations are as innovative as the puzzle and game title. The movement animations of the samurai are enough to warrant replaying the game if you already tried it, and a download if you didn’t.

Overall, Linus is deservedly the most innovative AGS game of last year. The basic mechanics of the puzzle may be well known, but the author managed to dress it up in two very engaging stories, and structure the game in a way that would allow relative newcomers to puzzle games to easily learn the concept and thus have a much better chance to finish the game without getting frustrated. I’ve had a lot of fun with this title, and I hope you will, too.


Anonymous Vince Twelve said...

Welcome back!!! Thanks for the great review!

4:08 AM  
Blogger Jozef said...

No, thank you for the game; it's been a blast!

9:05 PM  

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