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Ticket To Earth tricked me into enjoying a puzzle game

Plagued by puzzles

Every now and then, I get tricked into playing a puzzle game. It might be a Sudoku disguised as a seventeenth century duelling sim or, as with Slayaway Camp, a hot new VHS slasher flick sim that is actually a sliding block puzzler. A strong theme can override my fear of being puzzled to death.

Ticket To Earth [official site] is an isometric tactical combat game with a neat comic book aesthetic and a decent cyberpunky plot. It's been keeping me company on my tablet during an internet-free house move, and I'm delighted to find that it's also on Steam. But I'm slightly horrified to realise that, unwittingly, I've been playing a bloody puzzle game, haven't I?

Alec has already described the basics, having wisely picked Ticket To Earth out in an Unknown Pleasures column when it first came to Steam. The second episode (of a planned four, all included in the initial price) is out now and I'm looking forward to trying it, having just finished the first

It's a match-3 game from a new perspective, ditching the side-on grids and columns of shape and colour, and instead laying symbols across small isometric battlegrounds. Whichever character you're controlling on any given mission starts at one point of the map and can move along paths of the same symbol, trying to take the longest route possible to charge weapons and abilities. It's simple to learn, though does become more complex as skills dependent on specific symbols are introduced.

What I now realise is that the levels are just small enough, and the combination of enemy and player abilities are balanced just so, that there's little room for error. Everything is very tightly designed, so that when a mission has a turn limit I usually find myself finishing right at that limit almost as if each level is a problem with a solution rather than a simulation of robots and people biffing one another.

I'm still looking for the new Puzzle Quest. Ticket To Earth isn't it, but it's as good as any match-3 (or match-3-like) game I've ever played, and that's only partly because it's one of the few that isn't plagued by freemium cool-down timers and a confusion of in-game currencies. It's probably better suited to tablet than desktop, being a compact thing in just about every way, but I'm a fan, even if it is a puzzle game.

Ticket To Earth is £9.34/$12.74/€12.74 on Steam right now.

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