Presumably after spotting my request for suggestions of games to be played over a puky little shoulder, former Crytek UK developer Ben Parbury (Gridlock Interactive) got in touch to tell me about his first independent project, Polyology. A puzzle game that takes a handful of Sokoban and mixes it with a dash of Nikoli-style symbol matching.
The result is a smart little puzzle game that lets you choose to play either experimentally, or with head-scratching aforethought. Each level has blocks with numbers in, which need to be pushed around to match up with their compatriots in order to disappear. So a block with a 2 in it needs to be moved alongside another 2. A block with a 4 needs to be pushed next to three other 4s. And so on. The complications arise with the shapes of the levels, and the challenge to complete them in a certain number of moves.
Things get more complicated as you progress, with blocks that switch places with you when you move them, blocks that slowly fade away, and the like. But the core here, as with many other block-pushing challenges, is figuring out how a puzzle can possibly solved in as few moves as is suggested.
Which raises an interesting issue in such games for me. When that number of moves is, say, five, and the puzzle looks like it should take ten, that's fantastic stuff. It means I can stretch my brain until it figures out the trick, the technique I've not yet thought of. But when the puzzle suggests a number like twelve moves, and the grid is unwieldy with options, I find it instantly off-putting. It's overwhelming, and feels like guesswork is going to be necessary as I can't imagine twelve moves ahead in my head. Polyology certainly has more of the former than the latter, but when the latter pops up, it's really hard to care about getting that goal number.
Fading blocks actually offer the most intriguing and fresh approach to the Sokoban genre - here once you've lined up, say, three 3s, they get a little timer before they'll disappear, and before they do they can "infect" any other 3 on the grid with completion too. ie. a fading 3 can clear up any other 3s without having to group them together. This opens up some really intriguing possibilities for puzzles, and I suspect should probably have been the core concept of the game. It's certainly something that could be picked up and run with for a whole other game.
The presentation isn't particularly fantastic, but clean and uncluttered. Your pushing character is a one-eyed blob invested with no particular character or care, which is a shame. And picking levels involves laboriously moving the blob around the screen (dodging levels you don't want to restart), rather than just clicking on them from a menu, which is a pain in the bum. (And it's perhaps a little troubling that on some levels I've been informed that I've found better solutions than the developer!)