Potato Sack #4

Indie games are generally ones done without a large budget. One of the best ways to get around the need for voice acting, powerful graphics engines and more is to develop a puzzle game. Set up a system of rules and then apply them creatively to a span of levels. Several of the games in the Potato Sack package by Steam recently would fall into that particular category, and among them was Cogs by Lazy Eight Studios.

The premise is both interesting and simple - slide around wooden panels (much like those plastic frame-enclosed sliding square games from when I was a kid), but instead of trying to assemble an image, you are connecting parts of a greater whole to make an invention. My wife played something similar on her iPad recently, and her reaction to that game seems similar to my reaction to this one. It's fun to start, and you get a nice sense of accomplishment when your invention is fully assembled and it 'comes to life'. You use gears, pipes and more to line up gas valves, put a clock into motion and play out musical chimes in a specific order.

There is a lot going on at any given time. It's not just enough to figure out how to lay things out, but the need to shuffle the squares means that there's no clear path in place for doing so. It's really very easy earlier on, but the challenges become quite taxing in the later stages and make the game feel like a bit more of a drag. As you complete puzzles, you gain stars. Sort of like Guitar Hero, you unlock later challenges through the accumulation of these stars, so you can theoretically skip some of the puzzles if you are really struggling with them.

Graphics are okay, and the sound effects feel appropriate though the music is pretty underwhelming and there's not a lot of variety to be had either.

With no hint system in place, some of these challenges can get pretty frustrating. Like my wife's iPad game, Cogs was a lot of fun when I started, but the returns diminished for me the further into it I got. At $10, it's not a bad game, but I'd probably give Cogs a 6 or 6.5. It's not bad, but there's better for the price (you could for example, pick up Toki Tori and Rush for that same price).

The other game I want to talk about is called Bit.Trip Beat and it, like cogs, is $10 on Steam normally. I thought the title looked familiar, so I did a quick bit of research and realized I had seen a review for this on the Wii in the past too. I had been playing some of the Steam 'music' games like Audio Surf or 1... 2... 3... and thought I was in for a similar experience with Bit.Trip - but was pleasantly surprised to find that was not the case.

The first impression is an interesting one - I had this full screen game of low resolution, blocky but colorful graphics with a paddle on the left side that immediately called out to classics like Pong. The retro graphic style quickly grew on me though, as did the catch electronic beats. The premise is pretty simple - objects fly at you from the right side of the screen, while you move your paddle up and down on the left hand side to keep the flying pixels from falling off of the screen. Succeed in making contact, and it turns out that precise moment matches a beat in the funky music score. It's all very engaging - my oldest daughter's not much of a gamer, but she loved this one.

As you get further along, the challenge can become a bit overkill - truly frustrating. It doesn't help that sometimes there's just so much going on in the game and with the backgrounds, that your flying pixels can be obscured. It feels a bit cheap when you have a huge string of hits going and a block slides past you because you never saw it on screen due to the background comet hiding it.

Let too many blocks on by, and you wind up in a dull, gray, music-less world that gives you a chance to save yourself. These sections are much easier because you don't have the various distractions - but it's just not as much fun either. You find yourself desperately wanting to get back to the music and color that gives Bit.Trip Beat its life. I'd probably go with 7, maybe 7.5 simply because my daughter enjoyed it so much - at $10 it's not a bad value and was a bit of a surprise for me in fact.

Down below is a video of the early Bit.Trip first level and then also me solving out a couple of the earlier puzzles in Cogs.


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