Solve It if you can

Review of Solve It – Pack 1 on XBLIG: Try
The concept behind this logic puzzler is fun, but it may not be accessible to most casual gamers.

As a programmer, I loved the concept behind Solve It. Each of the game’s 30 levels presents Dennis (a rabbit-like creature) with a 3D structure which he must traverse to reach a star goal. To achieve this, he needs a series of up to 12 commands (turn, jump, or move forward) to tell him where to move. After the first few levels, two four-command “macros” can be defined that can be used as a single command in the series.

The challenge is not only finding a valid path around the level, but finding the most efficient path. With the macros, that’s not always the path with the fewest number of commands—sometimes a longer path “compresses” more efficiently than a shorter one.

The trick is that the moves can only be written in Design Mode, and no changes can be made once Dennis begins executing the moves in Test Mode. When something goes wrong, there’s no way to step through the list of moves to “debug” it. Some players may find this limiting, but I enjoyed it, at least initially. It makes the game feel like a disciplined primer on computer programming—something like a fancier, if more restrictive, version of LOGO. The strict separation between Design and Test Mode wore on me in later levels, which become incredibly complex.

Complexity is the game’s one limiting factor.  Early levels are fairly simple, and I could solve them in my head with concentration.  Later levels introduce even more complicated features, such as gooey blocks that must be avoided, rotating blocks that automatically turn Dennis, and conveyor belts which move Dennis automatically.  New features are introduced gradually (the game’s level select screen shows which levels introduce new features), but the difficulty of the levels increases significantly independent of these new features.

Given the steep increase in complexity, I would have liked to have seen more “introductory” levels.  Granted, I spent several hours on the 27 levels I actually managed to solve, so there’s plenty of content already, and all of the levels are unlocked and selectable immediately. At the same time, I suspect it could have broadened the game’s appeal to more casual gamers.

In later levels, writing down possible paths helped to clarify my options and “encode” them efficiently into macros. The “encoding” part may be the trickiest part, since there are so many possible options. In fact, I solved 2 or 3 levels by writing a Python script that would figure out how to break down a list of potential paths into macros. (Incidentally, this illustrated that levels often have a huge number of possible solutions.) Gamers who aren’t willing to put down the controller and get out a pad and pen will quickly tire of the game.

I give Solve It – Pack 1 a Try. Serious puzzle fans will love the challenge. Casual gamers may enjoy the gameplay, but will probably find the early levels available in the trial sufficient.

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