If there’s one aspect of the games industry that’s always annoyed me it’s the endless parade of rehashed puzzle games with polished graphics and un-inventive themes being sold on the internet for only £14.97! Usually it’s a company pushing these things out, be they publisher or be they developer, and while they’re always well made, and occasionally a lot of fun, I just wish that these same people were putting their time and creativity into more original games.
But what happens when an indie studio like Lazy 8 Studios decides to show them how it’s done? Time to get started on the second of my Humble Bundle reviews.
Remember those sliding tile puzzles? I’m sure you’ve seen them before, but probably not recently (unless you’ve already played Cogs, in which case I wonder why you’re reading this). Well I hate those things. They’re hard, pointless, and you’ve usually already got the finished picture in a little panel on the right, or a piece of paper, so what’s the point? The whole thing’s a bit too much like jig-saws. However, Lazy 8 Studios somehow managed to make the damn things fun, compelling, satisfying, and rather pretty.
Cogs is an original, though decidedly steam punk take on the sliding tile puzzle. When making the transition into 3D the obvious concept would be to use a 3D model divided up into cubes. Obvious, boring, and ugly. Cogs takes a unique approach: The surfaces upon which your tiles exist are the sides of contraptions like rockets, tricycles, and other steam punk machinations. Your goal in most of these is not to create specific arrangements of tiles, but rather to make the contraption function by linking up the gears and pipes which are attached to the tiles. This makes the game fresh. This adds immense depth, and ensures from the get go that this is not just another rehashed puzzle game.
In the level above, for instance, you have, I think, only one source of gas, and you need to link it to every booster on the bottom of the rocket. Each side of the rocket has only a 2×5 grid for you to manoeuvre your tiles on, and in that space you must not only power that side’s booster, but also pass the gas on to the next side using the t-junction pipe. Don’t worry: this is one of the later levels; the early ones are much, much easier.
I can’t really comment on the learning curve personally – I took to the idea like a squirrel to nuts (…), but elements like pipes, chimes, and cogs of different heights and sizes are introduced gradually so as not to overwhelm the newcomer. I’ve gotten my parents and aunt to try the game out – they all loved it by the way – and while it took them longer to get used to the idea than me, once they got past the first few puzzles, new tiles and ideas didn’t seem to faze them at all.
I feel I should probably explain this second picture also. Here you have to coerce the device into playing a specific tune, which you can preview by clicking the bottom-left button. You do this by aligning gears with different arrangements of notches on them with the bells’ hammers, then switching them in and out to sort out the timings.
It should be emphasised here that puzzle games really aren’t my forte, and yet I really enjoyed the time I’ve spent playing this game. There’s something much more compelling here that other puzzle games should take note of. You’re not just completing puzzles on the same, bland, 2D board over and over for points, you’re making something that does something. There’s no set goal, you need to figure it out for yourself. That’s the magic here.
You’ve probably got the idea by now, so I won’t explain this one. Instead I’ll talk about the graphics. You can judge for yourself, but I think they complement this game well. They aren’t stunning, there’s no real flair in the design or execution, and some of the contraptions could have been more interesting, but the graphics are functional, pretty, and will run on a pretty low-end PC. I certainly can’t fault them, and don’t get me wrong, they may not be thrilling, but they are nice: pipes shine, wood is dull, brass looks polished, and steam looks like steam. One thing I would have liked to have seen are more interesting backdrops, though I think this might have detracted from the game’s aesthetic unless properly executed, and it would certainly have pushed back performance on low-end machines.
As I hinted just now, not all of the contraptions are as interesting as those described above. Many of them are simple shapes with devices planted around them, or even flat panels with items on one or both sides. I really would have liked to have seen more rockets, flying machines, trains and cars. Larger devices would also have been very interesting – perhaps multi-level devices that you can see materializing as you construct them in intricate detail. Hey Lazy 8 – Cogs 2?
Still, this was a very interesting game, and well worthwhile playing. Just to feel that way about a puzzle game is a novel experience, and I highly recommend you pick this up if you have any taste in games – be you casual, hardcore, mainstream or hipster. C’mon, you can pay whatever you like if you go for it within the next couple of days. Don’t miss out.