By John Walker on July 6th, 2009 at 1:30 pm.
Chains is a remarkably good puzzle game that’s recently appeared on Steam. By linking together the titular chains of coloured bubbles you make strings of them disappear. At first glance this appears to be somewhere between a match-3 and those frustrating Same Game games where you have to clear the screen by removing groups of the same coloured blocks. However, while you could argue that description quite a distance, Chains has a hundred times more imagination than that suggests. It really is quite splendid.
Were it to play out in a standard grid on the screen, you’d have something playable and dispensable. But instead each of the twenty levels from Ivan and Philip Traykov is a remarkably well thought out unique idea. There’s the obvious “clear 300 bubbles” challenges, but perhaps they’re landing on a circling three-pronged rotor, forcing you to think about the order in which you’re removing them. It could be a scale, each bubble given a weight value, asking you to remove enough such that the scale is level, while more pour in from above. A level titled Artillery fires the bubbles back and forth across the room, losing some down the middle. Exact Change makes it about maths, trying to find chains that add up numbered balls to a specific target. The Perfectionist reinvents it as a clear-the-screen puzzle game, but with an inventive twist of assigning coloured bubbles as you play. Flippers has rotating dials that sweep excess bubbles from below on two sides. And by far my favourite, The Plant requires you to manage a constantly increasing confusion of bubbles in at least two locations, juggling between them to keep up with the torrent.
This is all made even more interesting by the smart application of physics. The bubbles (really squishy balls, by their behaviour) gently bounce on each other, and roll to fill gaps. You can even game some levels by wedging moving parts in place with balls, the game reasonably following its own rules and not cheating the physics to its advantage.
The music is just stunning, slightly sinister post-rock tracks by Silence, from the album L’Autre Endroit. This appears to be legitimately downloadable from here. It has a distinctly Explosions In The Sky vibe to it, which would be my chosen musical accompaniment to almost any puzzle gaming. A fantastic choice.
Perhaps the most important aspect of it is how long it takes to even hint at unfairness. I’d say I didn’t once think a failure was anything but my fault until seventeen levels in, and even then I figured I just needed to work harder. There’s a five level demo you can get from the game’s site here, or from Gamer’s Hell here.
If you do decide to buy it, and having thoroughly enjoyed playing it for an evening I’d strongly suggest you do, then you can get the game by paying $10 directly to 2D Engine, or right now you can pick it up on Steam for the completely ludicrous price of £1.74. That’s currently at a half-off deal, which means even when the promotion’s over it’s only £3.49 – an absolutely spot-on price for the couple of hours of levels inside.