Puzzle games are a great fit for mobile devices. The levels tend to be nice and short, and touch screen controls can easily keep up with the demands of the genre.
One of the more clever non-physics puzzle games I’ve played is Puzzle Retreat from the Voxel Agents. Last week, the Android version of the game received a new batch of levels before the iOS or Windows Phone versions. The new “Promenade” levels aren’t free, but the game itself is. And if you like a mental challenge, you’ll definitely want to try this one out.
Get away from the grind
The basic goal in Puzzle Retreat is to fill every empty space on the board by sliding blocks into it. A block can only be moved once, and only in the cardinal directions. Once all the empty spots are filled and the blocks have all been used, you win the level.
Before long, a variety of special blocks and tiles make their way into the puzzles:
- Blocks with dice patterns on them will split up into 2-5 separate blocks when moved, filling multiple spaces.
- Ice blocks can water Bonsai saplings or be melted by fire blocks.
- Fire blocks melt ice blocks and turn into an impassable block when they burn out.
- Bonsai saplings grow into impassable trees when ice blocks touch them.
- Arrow tiles cause whatever blocks pass over them to move in a different direction.
- And more!
Since blocks can only be moved once and puzzles get increasingly complex, it’s possible to make a mistake that prevents you from finishing the level. If that happens, players can undo any move they’ve made so far by pressing the undo button on the previous move. Or start from scratch by tapping the reset button at the top of the screen.
If you really struggle with a puzzle, help is only a button press away. Press the Help button at the top of the screen to visit a Facebook page dedicated to that specific puzzle. There players can ask questions and offer advice. It’s definitely an innovative use of Facebook.
Graphics and sound
Besides mind-bending gameplay, Puzzle Retreat also benefits from an intuitive UI. On the level select screen, you get a preview of the level’s appearance and indicators for whether that level is unplayed, in progress, or completed. During gameplay, all the functions you’d need are just a single button tap away.
Backgrounds look like they’re made of wood, as do most of the blocks. Slide a block into the spaces and they make a satisfying “thunk” sound. The only disappointing aspect of the sound for me is the complete lack of music. I always prefer at least the option of an in-game soundtrack.
One pack at a time
Puzzle Retreat includes two free level packs: “Welcome” and “Morning.” Welcome starts out easy enough, but the challenge ramps up around the 15th level or so out of 24. Morning is even more deviously difficult from the get-go. It will take careful thought and practice to clear its 36 levels.
Gamers who want more block-sliding puzzles can buy additional level packs for 99 cents each, or three packs for $1.99. Every pack offers 36 levels, including the just-released “Promenade Pack.”
These new level sets feature unique backgrounds, advanced block varieties, and new completion animations and sounds. I grabbed the “Piano” pack and was not disappointed to hear a piano fanfare when I beat a level.
Puzzle games don’t tend to push our device’s hardware to their limits. But games like Puzzle Retreat can certainly push the player’s mental resources to the max. These puzzles require ample planning and/or experimentation in order to succeed. Some puzzles might be too hard for certain players, but at least you can always move on to a different puzzle or use the Facebook help feature if you’re stuck.