Twelve Minutes

This is a strange game in that on the one hand it is really rather good, and yet on the other it collapses under the weight of a concept it struggles to deliver. The central premise being a who done it played out in a three room apartment using a Groundhog Day time loop to collect information required to solve the mystery. Thankfully given the narrow scope the game game is mercifully short clocking in between 5 and 10 hours.

Twelve Minutes plays out like an Amiga/16-bit era graphical adventure like those developed by Lucas Arts with you essentially moving a mouse pointer to manipulate items in the environment, your inventory and dialog menu options. Over the course of the titular 12 minutes you need to solve various puzzles by interacting with your environment and talking to other characters to gain information needed to advance the story. Fail and the loop restarts for you to attempt again hopefully using information gathered from the last playthrough to push you forward.

This works up to the point the story naturally concludes. The story centres around a man coming home from work to a surprise meal by his wife who has special news for him. Their meal is interrupted when a copy breaks down the front door and the wife’s past quickly catches up on her. As some point this (minor spoiler incoming) base story arc concludes with a satisfying reason for cops interest in the wife’s past.

This is where the game breaks down by continuing past the point. The constant repetition, the slight obtuseness of the final pieces, and the inexplicably weird left turn the story takes from this point all bring it down. I actually didn’t physically complete the this playthrough after the natural conclusion occurred. A couple of attempts to push the action along and I ended up watching the last 15 minutes of gameplay at the end of a YouTube playthrough. Alas the nature of the gameplay and story means nothing is lost in the experience by taking this approach.

4/5

Lemmings

There are few games that represent the 16-bit era as well as Lemmings. It did make a few ports over to the more popular, older, 8-bit machines, and on to games consoles of the time, but It never really translated well to keyboards, gamepads and joysticks. This is a game built for a mouse at a time when the mouse was new.

At its heart it is a fairly straight forward puzzle game. A number of rodents will appear through an entrance on one side of the screen and you need to guide them to safety through the exit on the other side of the screen. Simple enough. However these are Lemmings and any hazards between entrance and exists won’t be avoided. These critters will happily march to their death.

To avoid this you, the player, have the power to upgrade any Lemming in to a super-Lemming with a special ability. It’s the use of these special abilities that allow you to guide the little fellows away from danger and herd them to the exit. Lemmings are upgraded by selecting the required power from the menu at the bottom of the screen and then clicking on the Lemming needed to perform this task.

Improvements include climbing obsticles, parachuting (with an umbrella), bashing through rocks, digging out the ground and just stopping other Lemmings from going were they are not wanted.

There are around 100 levels in the original game at various difficulty from really easy dig a whole to highly frustrating falling to their death immediately out of the entrance, and everything in between. All levels are really well designed and the puzzles leave the player with that all important ‘one more try’ feeling as you spend most of your time learning from your failures.

As I said in the opening paragraph, this games was made for the mouse. It’s hard to think of another game that really thought about its design language and gameplay loop so well and married perfectly to a new input method. Much like Solitaire being given away by Microsoft with every copy of Windows 95.

5/5

Puzznic

Funny how things go round. Of late I seem to be playing games dear old Dad used to enjoy. Videogaming was never really his thing. Mum was always more happy to get involved and show some interest. So games like Jetpac, Cruising On Broadway, and much later Puzznic, do hold a very special place and fond memories.

This one came about because I upgraded my bedroom micro to a state of the art AGA powered Amiga 1200 (a second hand Commodore model at a time new Escom models were entering the stores). I needed to do something with my previous micro and the A600 had the perfect form factor to sit under the family TV and play the part of a game console much like the Mega Drive’s and SNES’s that were becoming popular at that time.

Alongside Jimmy White’s Whirlwind Snooker, Puzznic proved an instant family hit in this environment where anyone could easily switch it on, insert a disk, and get playing. Puzznic itself is a traditional block style puzzle game made for the arcades by Taito and ported to just about every home micro and console of the time by Ocean. It follows the general style/principle of game like Tetris, Columns, Sokoban, and Plotting.

Your task is simply to match the tiles. Putting two tiles of the same pattern next to each other make them disappear. All you need to do is make all the tiles on the screen disappear. Simple? For the first couple of levels it really is. Move yellow diamond on top of yellow diamond, then red circle next to red circle, and grey cones. And then the game offers up odd numbered tiles and the difficulty quickly ramps up. How do you get three, or more, tiles together when the first two disappear when they touch leaving you with an odd one?

As you get used to odd numbered tiles the game throws moving platforms at you to make it harder to get tiles of the same design in the same neck of the woods. And all of this happens under a minute/minute-half time limit with a claxon sounding and the music increasing it’s beat when you hit the 30 second mark to ramp up the pressure to complete the screen in time.

It’s a perfect puzzle game. Everything is very simple and yet, on higher levels, the obvious solutions may feel just slightly out of reach. And here in lays the games only real problem. It was made for the arcades so there is an coin eating hangover with the two retries and a limited number of continues (where you’d pay more to play on an arcade machine). Run out of continues and it’s back to Level 1 to battle through what you’ve already solved to have another attempt at the next screen that is keeping you awake a nights.

There is no saving your progress or password entry system to jump to your current progress point. You just have to start from the beginning and redo all the old puzzles before you can continue. And the game is a lot like Who Wants To Be A Millionaire, in that you only need to complete 10 levels but after an easy 2-3 level false start the puzzles (questions) suddenly get much harder. I’ve made it as far as Level 6 using a few Continues.

Thankfully the level structure is set up as an expanding pyramid almost to combat this obvious criticism. After Level 1, which is always the same, each level has branching direction for you to take to Level 10. Each time you play you can take a different path and see different puzzle screens. This helps keep the game fresh and adds to the long term replay value. There are about 120 puzzle screens in total between all the branching paths for you to solve.

4/5