Puzzle Dimension

There's something missing from "Puzzle Dimension" and the absence of that mysterious element is all that keeps it from being a perfect puzzle game.

Perhaps, though, it isn't actually any missing gameplay element, but a discrepancy in what I expected from "Puzzle Dimension" and what I got when I started playing. What I expected from the screenshots was a rolling-ball, maze-style game like "Super Monkey Ball."

What I found when I started playing was something far more cerebral.

"Puzzle Dimension" is a beautiful, 3-D puzzle game with platforming elements mixed in. At first glance, gamers might be reminded of aesthetically similar puzzle games such as "Super Monkey Ball." The graphics are bright, beautifully rendered, and gameplay is accompanied by a lighthearted 8-bit style techno soundtrack.

In "Puzzle Dimension," the player controls a gold filigree-covered ball as it rolls around levels that generally look like something M. C. Escher would have painted after popping some Ecstasy and playing "Super Mario Galaxy" for half a day. The paths that make up each map twist about and the ball's gravity generally follows whatever surface it is rolling across -- so what was a wall or ceiling can very easily become the floor.

The maps are composed of individual tiles whose properties only complicate matters. Ice tiles cause the ball to roll out of control, crumbling tiles fall away after being touched, spiked tiles shatter the ball, and launcher tiles fling the ball a good distance. While maps are initially rather simple affairs, they quickly become chaotic nightmares as new types of tiles are introduced and the paths begin to twist in on themselves.

Where "Puzzle Dimension" differs from the likes of "Super Monkey Ball" is that rather than trying to keep control of a swiftly rolling ball as it careens across a level, "Puzzle Dimension's" ball only moves one tile at a time and unless directed it stops immediately on whatever space it is in.

This has two significant impacts upon gameplay.

First, you get the feeling that there really is no reason for the player's avatar to be a golden ball as the thing doesn't really roll about (unless it lands on an ice tile). It moves one space at a time in a slow deliberate manner, and can easily hop over simple obstacles. The ball could have been replaced by a magical rabbit or frog just as easily.

The second way that the ball's movement influences gameplay is that it turns "Puzzle Dimension" into a slow, contemplative puzzle game. It's less like a game of air hockey or foosball and more like a game of chess.

In "Puzzle Dimension," you generally have two goals on each map.

The first goal is to collect all of the 8-bit flowers on that map in order to open the door to exit the map. Generally these flowers a placed in tricky spots, and they require a specific pattern of moves in order to reach them. Some maps allow you to move back to a neutral area of the map, while other, more difficult maps, and require you to discover the path from one flower to the next with no going back. Death in "Puzzle Dimension" occurs when your ball lands on a deadly tile or (more likely) when you fall over the side of the track and fall into the abyss below. This never really bothered me, as on the PS3 version of the game, the load times were fairly short. Completing a map opens up the next one, and by collecting enough flowers you can unlock new map types.

The second goal in "Puzzle Dimension" is there completionists. Each tile on a map starts out grayed out and pixelated. When the ball lands on or right next to a grayed-out tile, it springs into brilliant, beautiful focus. To get a perfect score on map, you need to both collect all of the flowers on the map, but also bring every tile into focus. This can prove a pain in the tuchus as the easiest path to a map's flowers won't necessarily take the ball past every tile on a map. It's not a huge addition, but it gives the maps a nice edge and will keep some players coming back.

"Puzzle Dimension" happens to be the first release by Swedish game studio Doctor Entertainment AB. As their intent was for "Puzzle Dimension" to be their first foray into the gaming industry, its simplicity and small size were intentional. Given the way that it turned out, I can't wait to see what they can produce when they decide to go all in and produce a big title.

"Puzzlement Dimension" has been released on PC, Mac and PS3, and will generally cost you around $9.99. Often when I rate a game worth trying, the things rarely give you the opportunity to try them out for free. Luckily, "Puzzle Dimension" has a Demo available on the PC via Steam, so I recommend you try it out for free.

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Video Games: Puzzle Dimension