Revolutionary: Cogs Impressions

By John Walker on April 14th, 2009 at 10:59 pm.

No, it's okay, it's not by Cryo, come back!

If you look at a British £2 coin, you’ll notice there’s a motif in the design of one of the circles that shows a series of interlocking cogs. When the coin was originally launched, the Royal Mint declared that these cogs represented “the evolution of technology from the Iron Age to the internet”. Another thing you’ll notice if you look carefully is there are nineteen cogs, an odd number, all interlaced, thus any attempt to use this mechanism would lead to its snapping and spraying bits of cog everywhere. (Unless it were on a Möbius strip, supernerds.) This is the sort of thing you’ll become expert on after playing a Cogs for a while.

I’m torn over this. Lazy 8 Studios have created a beautifully presented and extremely smart puzzle game. But no matter how you approach it, it’s still a sliding tile game. And if twenty five years spent playing adventure games has taught me anything, it’s to run screaming from the room with my arms above my head whenever I see a sliding tile puzzle. But you know what? Cogs just might be the cure to this ailment – each of its fifty puzzles contains more smart ideas than the entirety of any stupid game that might throw in sliding tile nonsense to fill time. This might be what sliding tile puzzles should have been for. Look, it’s important that you realise my being supportive of this game despite its core concept is about the highest compliment I could possibly pay. It’s like a Scottish nationalist waving the St George’s Cross out his window.

The tiles in question are covered either in cogs or pipes, which must be slid around to create pathways of motion. Either you’ll be directing steam/fuel/air through the pipes to fill a balloon or power a rocket, or you’ll be arranging cogs in order to create a mechanism that turns a crank, powers some wheels, or even rings some bells in the correct order to play a specific tune. The further you progress, the more complex this becomes, with cogs of various heights, pipes on two or three levels, and most best of all, multiple surfaces to the puzzle.

The latter group are where Cogs is at its most effective and rewarding. Sometimes it means the puzzle is double-sided, meaning you need to arrange tiles so their fronts and backs match up on either side, and sometimes it means there’s multiple surfaces on a cube, or even more complex shape. My absolute favourite level was Rocketship, where six sides had to be linked to one another, feeding rocket fuel from one source to six separate engines, as well as passing the feed onto the next face of the puzzle, and without leaving any leaks.

Each puzzle has multiple targets for completion time and number of moves. While you don’t need to ace these, you’ll have to receive at least a few rewarded stars to unlock further levels. However, even if you mostly get two or one stars, you’ll still gather enough to have the next few puzzles open. The three star time limits are extraordinarily tough, and in many cases require prior knowledge of how to solve the puzzle. If there’s one frustration, it’s the feeling that you’re not really being given enough time to experiment, let alone pause to think about how you might solve a puzzle. There’s too much fussing and clocks ticking and alarms going off, and when you’ve got two tiles the wrong way around, it’s very hard to keep a cool head and sort it out. This becomes more of a problem once you’re halfway through the game, and things start getting extremely tough. Trying to juggle a puzzle on two faces, where each move undoes the last, and fathoming multiple heights of pieces at the same time, what you really want is a relaxing environment to casually solve the challenge, rather than feeling like you’ve got a frightening gym teacher running toward you blowing a whistle.

Once a puzzle is solved in Inventor Mode, it becomes available in Challenge Mode, where as you might expect there are extreme time limits or move limits applied to puzzles. It’s in the latter that I find Cogs most fun. The puzzles are rearranged so they can be completed in a maximum of ten moves, and your challenge is to figure out which ten. There’s no time limit, and it’s a much more sedate challenge. (And an easier one, in fairness.)

The presentation is absolutely lovely. Moments after it was released on Steam today, World of Goo’s Kyle Gabler emailed me to point out how beautiful the menu system is. He’s therefore a giant geek, but he’s not wrong. Everything clicks and clunks with gorgeously animated mechanisms, from the opening menus to the in-game timers. Restarting a puzzle has the counters wind back, while smaller menus rotate and flip around. Changing screen is always pleasurable, and it’s not often you find yourself thinking that about anything. Three dimensional puzzles are elegantly presented, the right mouse button letting you drag to rotate the object on the screen swiftly and accurately – things feel weighty and tangible. The sound is equally impressive (albeit agitating), and the whirring mechanics and metallic clunks are very satisfying to hear. A smart puzzle game like this doesn’t need such a level of detail to work, but it’s a real pleasure when so much effort has been put in.

It’s £6.99 on Steam (€8.99, $9.99), and if you can put aside any lifelong prejudices you might have against sliding tiles, it’s a pleasingly tough, cerebral puzzle game that’s gorgeously designed. I think it may get too difficult a bit too quickly – I found myself giving up on a few later puzzles simply because I couldn’t find the energy to think about either side of a tile at the same time. But that’s because I’m grotesquely lazy, and anyway, it meant I could go have some fun with Challenge Mode. At such a sensible price, I’d say it’s well worth giving a go. With puzzle games it’s worth finding out if it’s your sort of thing first, and there’s a demo to get a feel for it via Steam too.

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27 Comments »

  1. Serondal says:

    sliding puzzle NOOOO!!! -runs away-

  2. TheLordHimself says:

    Looks good, I would probably get it had my steam account not been hijacked >8@.

  3. Paul says:

    Bought this having seen some videos last week. It’s very good, very tough and very pretty. Well worth the low price.

  4. Valentin Galea says:

    Sliding puzzles are a man’s man puzzles!

  5. Serondal says:

    I’d lose my mind if my steam account got hijacked O.o Did Valve not do anything to help you?

    I have a fear of sliding puzzles that goes all the way back to childhood when they had them for reals for car traveling ect. I spent like 5 hours trying to figure one out and I have never been able to wrap my head around what it is you gotta do to move the tiles where you want them to make a picture. If one of these pops up in a game I’m playing I instantly explode the CD in my wife’s face and curse at her for not telling me not to buy the game cause we can’t afford it like she normally does O.o

  6. LewieP says:

    It looks wonderful, but what amazes me about this game is how functional the graphics are. Everything is what it looks like, and behaves how you expect. Stuff just looks like what it is, and that’s more than enough.

    The actual input is incredibly simple, most of the gameplay is actually happening in your head, not on the screen. The difficulty builds at a very natural pace.

    It is as simple as it is complicated, and it makes you feel intelligent and stupid at the same time. Love it to bits.

    I’ve nearly got through all the puzzles in the normal mode, and a few of the time challenges too.

  7. LewieP says:

    Also -
    This is the perfect type of game to be using the recently launch DLC capabilities of Steam. I’d love to see what other puzzles he could come up with.

  8. Steve says:

    Regarding that ‘cogs on two pound coin’ bit, here we go: http://www.flickr.com/photos/escaped_monkey/3093421437/

    Enjoooyyyyy.

  9. MD says:

    Thanks for that Steve, I had been wondering what Walker meant as I hadn’t realised the cogs were all joined up in a circle.

  10. Jon says:

    Wow. I too am normally scared off by sliding block problems but this is fun. Actual fun. Just did the simulchime puzzle which was beautiful even though I had the chimes out of time for a couple of tries and the ballon puzzle, where it floats away at the end? Wonderful.

  11. Jon says:

    Between my previous post and now I went and bought the game.

  12. Vinraith says:

    It appears to lack any kind of wide-screen support, which is off putting for a game from 2009.

  13. John Walker says:

    Vinraith – I strongly suggest running it in a 1280 window. Since the puzzles are designed to fit in a square screen, it makes more sense to run it in a window, and enjoy all the accompanying freedom this provides.

  14. Stupoider says:

    I just tried the demo on Steam. Terrific game, but I don’t think I’m up to buying anything atm due to my recent purchase of Zeno Clash. :<

  15. ReturnToNull says:

    I want it, I want it bad. Now if only I had money that wasn’t tied up in getting me food. :(

  16. Jad says:

    I’m not sure if I can allow myself to get this. I mean, with my recent purchases of Defense Grid, And Yet It Moves, Braid, and Peggle, and my continued playing of World of Goo, my gaming time has become dangerously full of quirky puzzle-y nonviolent-ish games.

    Whatever happened to the hardcore gamer who loved to shoot people in the face with a shotgun, or smash in heads with a mace? Quick, someone give me a manly man’s game! Something with tits and blood and growly voiceovers!

    Anyway, Cogs does look neat. Downloading demo now…

  17. Catastrophe says:

    “Quick, someone give me a manly man’s game! Something with tits and blood and growly voiceovers!”

    So you want a game based on a womans period? Sick sick man!

  18. pepper says:

    Sounds like fun, ive been working on my rubiks cube solving skills, so i think this is pretty similar. since the cube is a 3d sliding puzzle.

  19. Ian says:

    I’ll try and remember (but won’t) to try the demo because it looks interesting. But still…. sliding puzzle…

  20. Colthor says:

    @Serondal:
    “I spent like 5 hours trying to figure one out and I have never been able to wrap my head around what it is you gotta do to move the tiles where you want them to make a picture.”

    You carefully prise the squares out with a screwdriver, and then re-assemble them in the correct positions. Much like solving a Rubik’s Cube.

    So the important question: Does the game support this option?

  21. Owen says:

    Ooh how very Crystal Maze. It just needs Richard O’brien playing a harmonica in the background.

  22. Markoff Chaney says:

    @ Serondal & Colthor
    I second the removal of tiles to make them submit to your will methodology. I used that trick a time or two on some of the more obstinate sliders I tried before I threw the last one away in disgust as a waste of time (like other puzzles I still love aren’t right?).

    I’m an absolute sucker for my puzzles and games, but I so abhor sliding puzzles as to not even want to try a demo of this one. I love the step functionality of slide puzzles, but dislike the “oh crap, I needed that one on the other end of the square, so now I have to make 150 more steps just to move this one square” part. If this were like a cog version of Crazy Machines I’d probably get into it much more.

    Well, the demo IS free, so the price is right. I reckon I’ll give her a whirl this evening and maybe it can overcome my objections with its refined gameplay?

  23. Pani says:

    Probably too late now, and/or I’ve missed it already, but there’s a trailer for it here if anyone is still interested.

  24. LionsPhil says:

    “…Kyle Gabler emailed me to point out how beautiful the menu system is…everything clicks and clunks with gorgeously animated mechanisms…”

    That was one of the weirder little nice touches in Dungeon Siege. I particularly like that it could strike sparks off of the stones at either end of each slat making up the menu if they rolled out at just the right speed to knock eachother. Yes, this was procedural and mildly random. Yes, I spent time playing with the game’s menu.

  25. Arlendor says:

    Personally I hate sliding puzzles, but it’s not really fair to call this a ‘sliding puzzle’ game. It’s a wonderfully creative game, and if anything feels more like a ‘mechanical aptitude’ game than anything else. It’s polished, it’s pretty, and most importantly, it’s fun.

    Sliding tiles around to make a picture is one thing, but using them to divert steam, ring bells, power machines? Brilliant. A great title with plenty of content, and well worth the ten bucks.

  26. dingo says:

    Damnit I knew before the demo already that I would probably spend the money…
    Stop shilling those gems RPS!
    Actually don’t!
    Deserves every penny (or EURO cent)! :)