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A Frelaxtrating Experience

THINKEN! is a very simple game — almost as simple as its game page indicates. It's a sliding block puzzle game, similar to those toys many of us had when we were kids, except, of course, in video game form and with its own special rules.

The basic gameplay is as follows: you have to arrange a set of sliding blocks on a playing board according to the formation shown at the top of the screen. Each block has a set number of times it can be moved, represented by the number of dots on it (ranging from 1 to 4). To complete the level, you're required to use up all of the blocks' moves.
The playing board is small, usually a 3x3 square grid. Occasionally some of the tiles will be omitted to create an additional challenge, like in the puzzle pictured below.




The game's levels are divided into four color-coded sections, each consisting of three levels. The first section features the "classic" type of gameplay: you move one block one square at a time. The other three sections all have their own additional mechanics that dictate how the sliding blocks move. In the second section, every time you move a block it slides as far in that direction as possible — in this case, due to the size of the playing area you could also say that the block simply moves two tiles whenever possible, instead of one. The third section introduces a mechanic where all blocks will move in the same direction as the block you moved. This time the blocks are back to moving one square at a time. The fourth and final section is sort of like the opposite of the third section. Here moving a block will trigger the rest of the blocks to move in the opposite direction. Although it seems like a simple reversal of the mechanics of the third section, the levels here are in general somewhat tougher than the rest of the game, though there's still a decent amount of puzzles that can be solved with ease.

In terms of presentation THINKEN! is as bare-bones as it gets. It's almost completely stripped of any extra elements that aren't absolutely necessary to the gameplay. The background music is also very minimalistic, as is usual in abstract puzzle games. All of this creates a zen-like experience, helping you both relax and concentrate on the puzzle at hand. It does, however, get quite boring by the time you reach the last levels, which should be a good couple of hours into the game. It would certainly be nice to have at least a little more flavor added to each section aside from their assigned colors, i.e. a separate style of visual presentation and background music, and maybe some sort of simple theme like forest, sea, space, etc. That said, there's a variety of congratulatory messages that get displayed on the screen after each puzzle you complete, and they're kind of nice and oddly sweet amidst the game's otherwise plain aesthetics.




There's a reset function which is a bit buggy: it seems to work spontaneously, and often kicks in only after you've pressed the reset key like a dozen times. Another bug happens occasionally after you fail or complete a level — the game takes a while to auto-reset / move on to the next level, though it does so eventually after a few seconds.

But those bugs are just a minor issue. Perhaps my biggest problem with THINKEN! is balance. First of all, instead of gradually increasing, the game's difficulty tends to jump around all over the place, without seemingly following any logic. For example, I could be breezing through the puzzles, then get stuck for like half an hour somewhere in the middle of Level 2, and then finish the rest of Level 2 and the entirety of Level 3 without much problem.

Secondly, the difficulty gap between the puzzles is often massive. Most puzzles are either very easy or very difficult. I quickly got bored of the easy ones, while the difficult ones were sometimes so tough that many of them I only managed to solve through pure guesswork. The result is that completing a lot of these puzzles just didn't feel rewarding, for one reason or another — and that's one of the things you want to avoid the most when designing a puzzle game.

Of course, bugs and balance problems are usually solved through beta-testing, and considering that this game seems like just a small side project for the developer, plus given how little attention it got from the public in the first place, I can easily forgive all those issues. Balance aside, I actually found THINKEN! to be a very decent game. It reminded me of some of the flash puzzle games I used to play a lot as a kid — simple and to the point, but also featuring some interesting gameplay mechanics. Most people will probably look for more in a game than what THINKEN! offers, but for puzzle game enthusiasts I would absolutely recommend checking this game out.

Posts

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Hello TungerManU.
Thanks for your review. I agree with you on the issue of balance. I played recently and I understand what you say. I have to say that it made me want to go back to this project and improve it. Maybe in the future.
I wanted to write a review about this game by myself, but yours perfectly sums up the thoughts that I had myself.
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