Puzzles find their way into many of the video games we play, from lockpicking mini-games to entire dungeons based upon movement patterns and object shifting. While aspects of the puzzle genre may be common, the games that go all in and dedicate themselves entirely to this brain-teasing test of skill are often under-recognized. Today, we’re taking a look at Tiles and Cublast HD, two recent puzzle games that fit in a genre we like to call Reflex Puzzle, where your brain and your hands have to work fast and together to achieve a goal.
In Tiles, the player is presented with colorful boards that they must clear (ideally as fast as possible) entirely before reaching the last tile. As tiles disappear in your wake, you have to move fast and use your reflexes to get yourself to the end. It’s easy to pick up, but a difficult puzzle game to master.
Tiles is a simple game, but making it more complex else would take away from what makes it so enjoyable. The design is clean and easy to read, which is key for a game of this type. The color palette is minimal but contrasting enough that the eye can’t confuse the tile types, which is essential to the gameplay. Controls are straightforward, with the option to use a keyboard or controller, though one can move significantly faster by pressing keys than shifting the joystick back and forth.
Tiles features a system of color coded tiles that each have a different effect. Some disappear after being touched a certain number of times, others after a certain amount of time has passed, and others fade in and out, creating an effect similar to the classic elevator mechanic in platformers. The game doesn’t have a tutorial or key for what these tiles mean, but levels are short and don’t really punish you for dying, so the player is encouraged to learn their different purposes through trial and error. These special tiles are limited in number, which means Tiles doesn’t give you too many things to remember or keep track of at once. This allows you to better focus on your own movements and clearing the board.
It’s good that the game doesn’t clutter itself with too many systems, because the beauty of Tiles is its ability to create many varied and challenging levels while using all the same simple mechanics. Though Tiles has 90 levels functioning in a similar way (more, if you count those created by the community) they stay unique. Tiles is a modest game; it doesn’t pretend to be more than it is, which is a series of colorful squares that occupy your mind for a minute or so before letting you move on. For those who are invested in speedrunning and high scores Tiles will be appealing, and its replay value may be higher than it was for me. Even then, though, Tiles isn’t a game you’re likely to take much time with, as you’re rushing through levels so fast that they become a blur. The only time you really stop to take things in is when you’re first taking a look at a level to try and figure out the best plan of attack, and even then the stark design and the trancey music keep you in the sense that you’re still moving forward.
Perhaps with new goals or unlockables, the game could beckon its players to return a little more often to its tile puzzles. The music in particular could benefit from the option to earn more tunes as you complete level sets. The one song you hear when you boot up the game is fun at first, and definitely fits the atmosphere, but after a few levels it can get a little repetitive. At the same time, turning off the music makes the game feel unfinished, so it’s difficult to find a balance that keeps the game from feeling repetitive with so few options.
Here is where the level design system shines. The input to create your own levels takes some time, but it’s fun to be able to play them once you’ve put them together. Tiles’ versus mode is probably not the most exciting multiplayer experience ever had, but it’s enjoyable too, and even more so when you and your friends can race on levels you’ve made. Racing your friends to clear the board is well suited to the game’s fast-pace, more so than a co-operative board clearing would be.
Though Tiles might not be the type of game you find yourself going back to frequently, its potential for replay for speed-runners and level creators is well worth the low price. At just $3.99, Tiles is an enjoyable experience to go through at least once, and maybe more if you’re on the hunt to improve your playtime.
Tiles is developed by Romans I XVI Gaming. It is available on Steam for $3.99. For more information, visit the game’s official website.
Cublast HD is brought to us by Thinkfast studio, whose name certainly embodies the spirit of this game. Like Tiles, Cublast HD is a minimalist reflex puzzle, but its design works the brain more than the trigger finger. It draws a lot from the platforming genre, but focuses on puzzle and sidescrolling movement more than anything else.
Cublast HD’s mechanics and goal are simple. You tilt a platform-esque board to roll and jump a ball over obstacles to get to a goal. By successfully completing level sets and collecting “blastpoints”—harder to reach and find targets scattered across the levels—the player can unlock more levels and some color-changing customization. The game keeps time and has a leaderboard system so competitive puzzlers are encouraged to return to levels they’ve already completed to collect all blastpoints and improve their time to climb the ranks.
These blastpoints can be hard to reach and difficult to find, but they’re ultimately one of the most engaging parts of Cublast HD. Sure, you can get to the end of a level, but can you tilt your way through its most dangerous parts to get a few points here and there? That becomes the game’s real challenge and draw. The downside of this is that there is no good way to explore the map, aside from a limited zoom out and a miniature view of the map when scrolling through the level selection screen. Because of this, the game requires you to explore to piece together your own map, which can be difficult due to all of the obstacles in your path. It isn’t always easy to make a plan of attack for these levels, which means you can find yourself stumbling in the dark, or dying just while trying to survey the landscape. While not seeing a full map clearly is a common mechanic, having a sense of your surroundings is a bit more essential in a puzzle game like Cublast.
That said, what you do see in Cublast is well designed. The environment of Cublast HD seems very intentional and well planned, and its clear that time was put into making the game feel as clean as it does. The lines are crisp, and the music and sound effects are minimal to the point that they fade into the background, occasionally resurfacing as pleasant little chimes. This is key for puzzle music; it doesn’t leave you sitting in an awkward silence, but it isn’t intrusive to the point that it distracts you from the game. The game’s sound works together with its gray-dominated, neon-accented palette to create a pared down atmosphere that prioritizes focusing and bending the brain rather than distracting it.
As far as the gameplay is concerned, Cublast HD makes good use of the golden rule of platforming: teach the basics, introduce new concepts, and then create level variation with familiar obstacles. As the cast of blocks expands to include spikes, rotation, buttons, and more, the player must adapt to learn how to work with the effects of the environment to achieve their goal. Cublast HD forgoes a tutorial, inviting the player to experience new tiles for themselves to discover how they must maneuver to reach their goal. The introduction to and variation with these new gameplay elements increases the difficulty of Cublast HD as you progress, and forces you to be more careful with your movements.
Cublast HD’s predecessor, Cublast, was a successful mobile game that relied on tilting the player’s device to shift the board. The sense that this game once lived on handhelds is still present with its HD remodel, but Cublast HD doesn’t struggle with overly complex controls. It’s easy to get around the levels with a keyboard or controller, which is important when a game relies so heavily on your reflexes.
On top of unlockables and a sizeable singleplayer level set, Cublast HD has versus and co-op levels available. Players interested in level design and creation will also appreciate Cublast HD’s option to make your own level or play those designed by others in the community. Given the ability to play with friends and expand upon the game’s original content with player-created levels, Cublast HD boasts a lot for its $9.99 price tag, which is currently reduced to $8.49 during its launch sale. If you’re a fan of minimal design and reflex puzzles, it’s likely to be a good experience and worth the money.
Cublast HD is developed by Thinkfast Studio. It is available on Xbox and Steam for $9.99. For more information, visit the game’s official website. Gamer’s Almanac first played Cublast HD in its Beta, so some of the impressions reflected here are from that version.
Are you a fan of the Reflex Puzzle genre? Let us know your thoughts on Tiles, Cublast HD, and puzzle games by commenting below or contacting us.