I might start a service where I go door to door to puzzle game developers and just calmly reassure them they don’t need an excuse. “It’s fine. No one’s judging you for making a puzzle game! We love them. You don’t need to hide it. You don’t need to disguise it. You don’t need a story.” My gentle, mellifluous tone will steady their nerves, help them relax into their chosen genre, and everyone will benefit. Imprint-X [official site] is a novel little puzzle game from the creators of 2015’s Rymd Resa put beneath some absolute drivel of a story, and after hours of playing I haven’t managed to identify any coherent connection between the two.
I can describe the puzzles at least: Floating space station-like structures are equipped with giant push buttons. You have to figure out the correct order to push those buttons, discerned by either experiment of visual clues, with more points rewarded depending on how few clicks and how little time it takes. I’ve never played a game like that before. (Although the Amiga Constant guarantees someone will wearily sigh and say, “Cuh, you clearly never played the North Korean only Amiga A500+ game 푸시 버튼 우승 새끼 고양이.”) It has lots of issues, but as a core concept it’s novel and often fun to click through.
Quite what it has to do with a purple-haired lady wearing VR goggles while monitoring sleeping individuals wearing wired up colanders on their heads I have yet to fathom. Why the astonishingly long and terrible opening sequences were felt even vaguely necessary I cannot put together. Actually, I just now looked at the Steam store page and it says,
“A robotic virus is raging! Nano Bots called Wardens are enslaving people! You are one of the hacker clones, saving intellects by hacking into infected brains and defeating the mysterious Wardens; figuring out their correct button sequences.
There are 100 Wardens for you to defeat, containing a mixture of timing, memory and pattern recognition button-based puzzles.”
Suurrre. If you say so.
Ok, I shouldn’t let the game’s silly distraction become the review’s silly distraction more than it already has. But puzzle devs, come on, have some confidence! You don’t need to pretend it’s for a reason – solving puzzles is reason enough.
Each set of puzzles (about 100 of them divided into the heads of six of these intellects, it seems) requires that you quickly latch on to what they want from you, then execute this as efficiently as possible. This starts off very simply, with just clicking buttons to cause the structures to extend new arms, new buttons. Then you’ll be asked to figure out the correct order, do some pattern recognition, perhaps use some careful timing. It’s not enormously taxing, although by about halfway through it starts demanding you remember eight part sequences across two planes shown in under three seconds, and that’s a bit more than my insta-memory is willing to contain. It becomes about scribbling notes at that point (1,3,4,2,7,8,5,6!), which I’m not convinced is great puzzle design. A lot of these are fun, methodical processes, and while it’s not a groundbreaking new puzzle system that will change the way we see the genre, it’s gentle entertainment.
Each run of these puzzles ends in some absolutely atrocious challenges that are entirely timing based, but not perhaps the timing you might agree with. You have to click as boxes pass through frames, often rapidly, sometimes with the frames moving in opposite directions, perhaps both charging around the three sides of a triangle, or two interlocking spiral patterns. It’s just, I’m not convinced it’s being accurate about recognising the timing of clicks, primarily because the slight screen shake on a “wrong” click seems to occur while the box is in the frame. You end up having to adjust for this, micro-seconds later than you’d think correct, to get through. I’m pretty sure this is easily fixed by widening the window for acceptable clicks, but until it is it’s a pain.
And, well, there’s not a lot more to it than that. You can go back to replay levels to improve your score on them (you’re essentially marked out of 4), or indeed just keep replaying the same one to increase the XP it appears to be handing out, letting you level up by gaining an increased number of hearts, for which I only realised any purpose after I was done with the game: they let you click on bonus buttons bottom left of the screen, but they themselves are unexplained in their use. The game’s decision to be completely wordless (right down to annoying control options with only symbols – could all games please stop doing this now?) means so much is ambiguous where it could be clear, for seemingly no gain.
The result is something that’s… average. Average, the most boring of the conclusions to reach, to write about, to read about. So sorry about that. But as you’ll know, not the most boring to play – it just means it’s fine, it passes the time, it could be a lot better with a clearer interface, the removal of its gibberish plot, and much fairer windows for the timing challenges, but none of that would raise it much past “above average”. It’s just an average idea, done reasonably well. And sometimes that’s enough.
Imprint-X is out today for Windows, Mac and Linux via Steam, for an as-yet undisclosed sum.