After nearly twenty years in this job, it still doesn't get any less exciting to find a lovely new game. Linelight [official site] from My Dog Zorro is one such thing, a clean, beautifully presented puzzle game. Here's wot I think:
This is a puzzle game that's truly 2D, bordering on 1D (as Pip mentioned in her earlier post, it's a more accessible realisation of Line Wobbler) - you play as a small white line, moving about on lined pathways, arranged something like a simplified circuit board. The challenge is to move your white line around to reach yellow glowing diamonds, and exit the screen to the next section. And doing that becomes gently more tricky the farther you progress.
This is a mix of fairly traditional puzzling ideas, passing through switches to open and close gates, slide paths in and out, or dodge obstructions. This has all been done before, but usually with a character running down a path, rather than this more minimalist approach, but rarely has it been done better. And I mean that. Linelight is bursting with design smarts, introducing new concepts on the fly by action rather than tutorial, never needing to overtly explain any of its conceits but rather having you understand them through experience.
Other lines soon appear on the pathways, and you can bet your bum they're dangerous. Or you can bump into one to find out, and quickly restart that area. (There's no penalty, no star rating, no judgement. The whole game is geared toward providing a relaxing-while-taxing experience, gentle music accompanying calming plippy pingy sound effects.) Some move of their own volition, later in the second 'world' of what I think is five or six (I've not finished it yet, it's a big game) there are lines that only move when you move, although not necessarily at the same pace.
There are moments of pure pleasure to be had, like when you realise the line you're avoiding in one section is to become your necessary companion in the next, the two of you working together to get through paths and gates, their triggering moving sections to align for you, you for them, until your paths cross once more and you attempt to scarper. These puzzles are the finest moments, but the rest are still very lovely. There has been much I've breezed through, feeling like a cleverclogs in the process, and others where I've been pleasingly confounded, completely unsure how I could possibly negotiate the challenge, then discovering it with all the accompanying highs the best of the puzzle games offer.
This is all presented just so splendidly, purple, blue, green backgrounds gently drifting, lights and shapes bobbing about, while the lines themselves glow to stand out. Levels draw themselves in as you approach them, each connected to the last such that you could backtrack were you to feel the need (perhaps you missed an optional yellow diamond and regretted your folly), building up into elaborate networks for each of the worlds. It creates a lovely atmosphere, ideal for exploring its gentle challenges.
It's best played with the gamepad - for once because it's the ideal fit for the nature of the game. The analogue stick is a much more rewarding way to move your line around the paths than the keyboard, and mouse controls would have been a terrible idea. Still, it'd be nice if the mouse worked for the menus, which currently it does not. Which makes it a great game for sitting back comfortably in your chair and easing into it, feet up, musing on how to pass this latest predicament. This isn't going to entertain the brainboxes who demand Stephen's Sausage Witness before they'll get out of their four-dimensional beds, but for a chilled puzzling time, they don't get much better than this. It's really splendid.
Linelight is out now for Windows and Mac via Steam for £6.30/$9/€9