A Link Worth Following: Chains

By John Walker on July 6th, 2009 at 1:30 pm.

Oddly the prettiness isn't captured in screenshots.

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.

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45 Comments »

  1. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    This game plays wonderfully with a tablet.

  2. MrBejeebus says:

    Just bought it, this better be good Mr Walker!

  3. Ecko says:

    Woot! I love that Silence album. Stop! always creeps me out.

    Also, Chains looks so pretty.

  4. ArtyArt says:

    Ah yes, that 17th level is quite infuriating indeed.
    But anyway, all you people of the internets, go buy that game!

  5. Inanimotion says:

    Purchased!
    A review that good for only $2.50?
    Why the hell not.

    Opinions in a few…

  6. bansama says:

    Purchased this the day it came out. It’s absolutely the best cheap puzzler on Steam right now. Some people do complain that level 4 is near impossible (perhaps due to their systems or sommat) but I’ve found that level not only easy but fun. Some of the later levels though, well, you may actually have to keep resetting until you’re actually able to complete them.

    It’s also worth noting that the game defaults to medium difficultly but you can change that in your profile if you’re finding it too easy/hard.

    And if you like the music, you can even get that off Jamendo for free. It’s most of the tracks from L’autre endroit by Silence.

  7. Heliocentric says:

    Played demo, felt very clever, and very smooth physics on an old rig. And a cat’s paw of change over £1. Why not, the demo didn’t totally hook me but i could see potential.

  8. jon_hill987 says:

    @bansama: I’m one of those who can’t do level 4. It runs perfectly smoothly on an AMD X2 5600+ and a Nvidia 7600GT (not my main system, but that is what I was playing it on) so I don’t think that is the problem. I’m just too slow to do it…

  9. bansama says:

    @jon_hill987, yeah I thought the system thing was a strange excuse too, but that’s what people on the Steam forums are blaming it on. Anyway, if you really can’t get past that one, you can unlock the next level thus:

    Go to Steam/steamapps/common/Chains/Save and open up slot1.lua with notepad. Change “levels[5].locked = true” to “levels[5].locked = false”

  10. Heliocentric says:

    4? That the flow one? A fair bit of luck involved in that one for me. Just pop big balls at all costs.

  11. Anton says:

    I am glad I bought it, now you recommend it, only need to find time to actually start it and try it :)

  12. John Walker says:

    I’ve done level 4 twice, and both times had nary an issue. I think the trick is to not be rubbish at it.

  13. Cooper says:

    When I first saw this, I was about to go all AIMan – I’ve always hated the ‘but it’s as basic as a flash game’ complaint about World of Goo and PvZ (as they are both actually graphically too complex for flash) but that was my initial reaction to this game. I was all about to rage on at the cheek for asking us to pay for a game that somewhere like Kongregate could hot for free.

    Then I saw the price tag. I can happily deal with a couple of quid for a few good puzzle hours. In fat, I’d like to see more of this. There are quite a few games out there which I think are overpriced, could just be free browser games, but would pay a couple of quid to mess about with.

  14. AndrewC says:

    I want to buy this because the top picture looks like breasts.

  15. St4ud3 says:

    Just played the demo and 1,99€ seems to be a really good price :]

  16. invisiblejesus says:

    Just downloaded it and gave it a try. It’s much more challenging than I expected. I like.

  17. marvelza says:

    AndrewC: if the top pic looks like breasts what does the middle pic look like? o.0

  18. Jayteh says:

    Demo lvl 4 got me, no sale!

  19. jon_hill987 says:

    @John Walker: Yeah I figured it was me being particularly slow. I just don’t see why you should need to think so damn fast in a puzzle game. The puzzle is easy, chain the big ones letting the little ones go, but the speed you have to do it makes Tetris seem like a supertanker turning round.

  20. AndrewC says:

    @marvelza: must buy! If this was Keiron i’d believe it was deliberate.

  21. airtekh says:

    Bargain.

    I think what makes it work is that you have different tasks to do; it’s not just a case of simply clearing the level.

  22. DSX says:

    I’ll pass on the game, but big thanks for the music link – it’s superb!

  23. RC-1290'Dreadnought' says:

    In the end, all that matters is that its good entertainment for €1,99, so its a must buy.

  24. Lars BR says:

    GODDAMN I HATE LEVEL 20. I’ve managed 7 secs left on the clock, 5 secs left twice, and 0 secs left! ZERO SECS!

    Grrr.

    Well worth the asking price though ;)

  25. Brulleks says:

    @Jayteh – yup, that’s exactly where my tolerance level got a kicking as well.

  26. ZephyrSB says:

    Yes! Colourblind mode! A puzzler I can actually play without having to guess between that damn shade of green and yellow EVERYONE loves to use in puzzle games. That alone is worth more than £2 to me.

    Re: level 4 – I wonder if the issue some people have is with misunderstanding use of ‘flow’ in this context. As long as the flow IN can be maintained, you’re fine – don’t stress over letting them flow out, just keep matching anything you can.

  27. Vinraith says:

    Bought it at the inanely cheap Steam price ($2.50 here in the US) solely on the strength of your recommendation. Ordinarily this is where I’d make threats about getting my money’s worth, but at that price what the hell does it matter?

  28. Lugribossk says:

    So it’s flow IN and not OUT, that only makes the difference between finishing that level in one go and buying it, versus giving up on it and coming here to gripe.

  29. Toby says:

    I second that its very lovely with a tablet, its got a much more tactile feel to it that way.

  30. Jordan says:

    +1 sale

    Looked interesting, but with the RPS recommendation, couldn’t pass it up. Especially for $2.50.

  31. Heliocentric says:

    Now i know why 4 was hard, it asks you to keep it flowing, i read this as letting balls clear to the bottom. What the objective should have said was, kill all balls.

  32. Morph says:

    Level 17… grrrrr!!!

    That’s all I can say right now.

  33. Morph says:

    It took a whole episode of Eastenders, but level 17 is conquered. Hooray!

  34. Brulleks says:

    @ZephyrSB Re: level 4

    Nah, I got that. I just hate having to do anything against the ‘clock’ – especially in a game were the general ambience is more conducive of laid back play.

  35. Matzerath says:

    Weird — of the myriad online deals on offer this weekend, this is the only game I bought. I’m quite happy about it, and even happier about all that I fought the urge to purchase. In your face, Fallout 3!

  36. Adam says:

    Rendered utterly unplayable for me as I’m colour blind… With the game’s colour blind mode switched off I can’t distinguish between the yellow and green blobs, and with it switch on I can’t tell the cyan blobs apart from the lilac (?) blobs. Is it really this difficult to provide contrasting colours?

    Can’t find an email address on their web site to tell them about it either. :-(

  37. Cedge says:

    Saw it in the new releases section on Steam, wasn’t terribly impressed by the trailer, and then decided to try the demo.

    Very, very pleasantly surprised. Happily paid the $2.50. Good value for the ridiculously low price, and each level continues to impress me with the clever ways that it manages to twist the “match-3-or-more” formula, just as much as the last. Every level feels fresh, despite the basic concept being the same.

    Love it. The somberness of the music is somewhat strange to me, though. Looks like I could easily replace the music (it’s plain OGG format) if I wanted to.

    Great game, and highly reccomended.

  38. jon_hill987 says:

    @ZephyrSB: Dammit why didn’t they say it was the flow in you had to keep up. That completely changes the puzzle. I was trying to match only big ones (which are obviously a priority still) so that I had enough small ones to fall through. I’ll have to have another go no I know this.

  39. MindFukr69 says:

    Steam, Europe, WTF?! etc.

    Is/was the half-off deal only available in US and UK? Only price I’m seeing on Steam is 3.99 EUR, which seems like a rip-off after reading about $2.5…

  40. Cedge says:

    @MindFukr69:
    You missed the sale. The 50% discount was available for nearly a full week, so it wasn’t even a terribly limited-time offer.

    For what it’s worth, sales like these are the reason that I at least glance at the Steam storefront daily.

  41. dingo says:

    I did miss the sale since initially I thought the game will be crap. However the endorsement by my trusted RPS people did make me take the plunge for 3.99 EUR without trying the demo.

    3:30 hours later (way past bed time last night) and in lvl 13

    All I can say: Thank you for the recommendation! The game kicks ass and takes names! :)

    Tired at work currently but happy thinking I can continue that game later today! :)

  42. dingo says:

    jon_hill987:

    Haha I made the same mistake.
    Once you understand the goal: Keeping the tube free so shit can flow down the level becomes cake. :p

  43. Lanster27 says:

    The first picture looks very much like a bra.

  44. RandomMandom says:

    As soon as I played the level to clear, rather than let balls fall through, I got it on my first try. :)

    Now the coat-hanger, that’s going to be tricky, heh. But in a much fairer fashion. It’s on sale on impulse for $2 and change if anyone missed the steam sale and still is interersted.

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