If the puzzling Plotting had you ripping your hair out, Puzznic will make you go bald! It's another trip into the nightmare world of puzzle games and this time you work your way through eight levels of mind mangling puzzles, played against the clock.
As in Plotting the idea is to clear a screen of patterned tiles. Tiles are made to vanish by knocking identical tiles together. The staus panel shows how many of each type of tile there are to be destroyed. It's OK if there are an even number of tiles, but when you have an odd number to eliminate it gets tricky because you have to bring three together at once (dodgy because you can only move one tile at a time).
You can start on the first, second or third level. Each level has several sub-levels: level two has two sub-levels, level three has three, and so on up to level eight with eight sub-levels! Though played against the clock, the programmers have been generous with the amount of time for each level. Most screens can be easily completed without running out of time. Strangely enough, the higher the level the more time you have - but the puzzles do get increasingly difficult.
The puzzle you must solve is contained within a walled area. In earlier levels the shape of this container is simple so you can get tiles easily from A to B. But, as the game progresses, a lot of thought has to go into moving the tiles around the confined and often tortuous spaces to solve the puzzle correctly.
Puzznic struck me as being very easy to begin with, but after a couple of levels it gets hellish! A great game that will no doubt keep me playing into the wee hours in my little padded cell for quite a while yet.
MARK ... 88%
'Puzznic is much better than Plotting. I could never understand what you had to do with your blocks in that! Things here are made so simple you can't go wrong (well almost), you just bring the blocks of the same type together to clear each stage. You need brains to play it - it's a real teaser and with its simplistic look, infuriating puzzles and tricky screen layouts, you're guaranteed to be coming back for another go!'
NICK ... 72%
Puzznic is a puzzle game. In fact, its just about puzzle-gamey as they come. Basically, your job is to make like-coloured blocks disappear by getting them to touch each other, so, yes, if that sounds to you exactly like Plotting then you'd be right. True, its not quite as pretty to look at (smaller blocks and not as much colour) but I reckon there might just be a more involving game lurking in here somewhere. Let's take a look, shall we?
But first, a little aside of my own. Don't you think it's weird how Ocean should suddenly release a couple of very similar puzzlers after years of having bags of success with action-type games and totally ignoring anything the slightest bit cerebral? Both Puzznic and Plotting are Taito arcade conversions, which maybe gives them a bit more appeal (puzzle games are well known for getting loads of accolades in the magazines and then selling about three and a half copies), but it'll still be interesting to see if the Ocean marketing machine can make much of them. (It deserves to, because, as we've come to expect, they're both rather good.)
But onto the matter in hand, Puzznic - what is it, and how does it work? Well, take a look at the screenshots (always a good place to start, I feel). As you can see, each level is a sort of single-screen-shape thing, filled with little blocks of various designs. You control a cursor which you use to lock onto any brick you choose and then shove it to the left or the right. That's it though - you can't do anything else - so if your block falls off a ledge and down some hole (there's gravity operating on these screens, see) you can't do anything to get it back. (Well, not without manouvring it onto one of the occasional lift things that appear in later levels anyway.)
Oops! I've not said what it is you've got to try and do yet, have I? Well, as is so often the case with these games, the plan is to clear the screen by getting the like things together so that they cancel each other out and disappear. Each screen has a time limit, and each game a number of retry options (so if you've managed to cock things up so badly there's no possible way block A can be made to touch another block A you can just abandon the screen and try again). Cleverly, any time you pick options (like switching from little icons designating the blocks to a numerical system), or pause the game for any reason, it sticks a massive sign over the play area, so you can't work out how to complete the screen while the clock's not running.
Right from the start this game oozes a certain sort of elegance. You can tell it's one of those really-well-thought-out little Japanese numbers - the learning curve is exactly right, giving you easy screens to start with and gently introducing you to new elements of the game, letting the really tricky stuff sneak up on you almost unawares. Complications like using the moving platforms (so you can sometimes get a brick to travel upscreen after all), having to complete two different but unconnected areas on the same screen, and - the real killer - having an odd number of the same design blocks to get rid of (meaning you've got to get at least three to touch at exactly the same time!) are all introduced neatly into the gameplay. This is a class act all right.
Faults? Well, the small monochrome blocks (apparently they tried colour in an early version but there was loads of clash when they fell) and the lack of any endearing character to give you an immediate handle on things mean it's more abstract and less instantly-appealing than, say, Plotting. Working your way through all the early screens to get to the one that's stumped you can be a bit of a bore too.
That said though, it's a very clever and addictive little game, worked out perfectly, programmed well, and, for what it is, damn near perfect. We may have given inferior puzzle games higher marks than this before (perhaps because we hadn't seen so many similar ones at the time) but if you liked Klax (which I don't think was as good as this) or Pipe Mania (about same standard) then you'll certainly go a bundle on Puzznic. If you didn't, you probably won't. And I can't say it clearer than that.
After Tetris made it big a couple of years back, the arcades were briefly over-run by abstract puzzle games attempting to capitalise on its success. Although many of them were simply slight rewrites of Tetris, there was the occasional gem to be found too, and Puzznic was one of those. The idea's a simple enough one - you're presented with a screen containing a number of blocks with various symbols on them. If, by moving the blocks around (in accordance with the laws of gravity), you can bring two (or more) blocks of the same pattern together, they disappear. If you can completely clear a screen of blocks, you move onto the next screen. And that's it. The only thing approaching a complicated rule is that sometimes a screen will have an odd number of one (or more) type of block, meaning that you have to make three blocks touch simultaneously if you're not to be left with a 'widow' which will make the screen impossible to complete.
Of course, the fact that the rules aren't complicated doesn't mean that some of the screens aren't. In fact, some of the later levels in Puzznic will tax your powers of perception and planning more than just about anything else you've ever seen on a Speccy. The only thing that taxes your lateral thinking capabilities anything like as much as this, in fact, is probably Lemmings.
Puzznic is quite slow-moving stuff but the time limit, and the fact that a single mistake can be enough to make many of the levels completely unfinishable, lends it a sense of urgency and addictiveness that you might not expect from it. While it misses the bright primary colours of the arcade (or other computer) versions, the graphics are still clear enough for you to see what's going on, and even if you can't (like if you've got some ultra-black shades on or something), you can switch the display at any time so that the different kinds of blocks are represented by numbers instead of geometric shapes. The whole thing is very user-friendly, but if you fancy yourself as a bit of a puzzle-game champ, this could just be the thing to take you down a peg or two.
Do you ever feel that some of the best games that you can remember were more frustrating than being a one-armed man hanging from a cliff with an itchy bottom? No, well you obviously must take your genital cleanliness very seriously. And so you should 'cos cleanliness is next to godliness, eh kids?
So whilst we're all taking good, clean, fun, let me introduce you to Puzznic, the very latest game to push past the big, corporate doors at Ocean. It's purely a puzzle game, whereby you must move squares around within a shape and by making blocks with identical symbols on them touch, make them curiously vanish. So where's the big frustration then, you may ask? Where's the itchy bottom and cliff-hanging analogy going to fit in? Well, it's like this. Puzznic is progressive. Very progressive. It's so progressive that it makes cross cultural marriage and positive discrimination seem dull be comparison.
Each successive level contains more puzzles and harder ones too by jingo! And the real thinking part comes in when you have large odd numbers of each type of block. Sometimes you will have to just sit and stare at a screen before you come up with a strategy and a lot of them involve manipulating blocks onto moving platforms and dropping them and then quickly moving another block before it hits the ground.
Sounds complicated? it's not, it's just good, clean, honest to goodness annoying - but what a sense of achievement when you finish a level.
Reviewer: Garth Sumpter
My mum always said that everyone should have at least three square meals a day. This used to confuse me a lot 'cos brussels sprouts, potatoes and a lump of sirloin never looked very square to me. Ever since then though I've had a passion for squares, large or small and PUzznic looks set to provide me with more than I ever imagined.
Puzznic is a pure puzzle game which first cam out at a time when Ocean, already famous for their arcade hits, decided to give arcade puzzles and non-shoot 'em ups a chance. It involves moving squares around within a predetermined on screen shape and aligning ones with identical symbols to make them disappear, giving you some yummy score points.
Each successive level has more difficult puzzles to solve with different shapes and odd numbers of individual symbols to deal with. Until you get used to it this can become very frustrating as you wrack your brains trying to find a way to match them all up, but the end feeling, once you've actually completed a few levels, is most triumphant!
The graphics are clear and colourful, and it's easy, most of the time at least, to distinguish the symbols on individual squares. There's not much sound to speak of but the overall feel of the game is just as a puzzle game should be... beautiful but brain busting.
Label: Hit Squad
Price: £3.99 Tape
Reviewer: Steve Keen
ALAN: I'm not a fan of the puzzle genre of computer games but I must admit Puzznic does tax the old grey matter somewhat. I never spend very long with a game I genuinely don't like but this one kept me occupied or hours on end.
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