Tidalis (recommendation)   Leave a comment

Arcen Games LLC

Update: Now also on Desura for just £5.99. It’s also available other places listed here.

Why you might have missed it: The lack of media attention on the game, the casual appearance of the game might have dissuaded serious puzzle fans, the Metacritic score looks more deceptively mediocre than the actual reviews are.

Why you should give it a look: It’s a seriously challenging game with a lot of craftsmanship, the playful atmosphere can appeal to gamers of all ages, the vast amount of variety in both official game modes and community puzzles allow for puzzles to suit any level of puzzle fan.

Controls: The game makes no serious demand on the player control-wise. Ability to quickly manipulate the mouse and the left mouse button is enough.

Where you can find out more: Here you can find demo and browser-accessed lite versions of the game for free, as well as a trailer and more information on the game.

The Explanation

Back in the middle of 2010, a new casual indie puzzle game hit the Steam store and, on first glance, I wasn’t too interested. It wasn’t that I disliked casual games or puzzle games, but more that I feel a certain saturation point with casual games. Once I acquire so many, I stop acquiring ones that even look tempting, for a while at least.

Looking back on it now, I wonder why it was marketed as a casual game at all. Sure, there are elements of it which appeal to the casual gamer in me, but the game gets very complex and challenging beyond the purview of any typical casual game. Going through the adventure game mode was, for around the first half, very casual. I’d look at the new puzzle presented to me, learn about the new twists and turns to the mechanics this puzzle presents and move on. The difference between it and, say, any PopCap game was that the casual pace didn’t remain until the end of adventure mode. The game gets very difficult and, ultimately, a lot more fun because suddenly this game is doing what casual games don’t: it’s lighting up more parts of my brain than I first expected.

Tidalis's adventure mode

Tidalis's adventure mode tracks all sorts of odd collectables as you traverse its light-hearted plot.

The second reason I present this as recommendation is Arcen Games, the creators, had money troubles a while back and, as one can see from their post, they weren’t asking for charity, they wanted more games sales. I bought Tidalis as I was already a huge fan of their sublime AI War and wanted to show my support. Tidalis hasn’t done as well in sales as some had hoped and it deserves more, really it does. I was utterly shocked at how wrong I had been.

It’s not just that they add a few new mechanics to a fairly traditional model of game, it’s the way these mechanics interact with each other in the countless variations the puzzles bring you in both official and user-made content. The creators of this game state on their website a commitment to substance over form and Tidalis certainly lives up to a commitment to substance. The replay value of this game is immense.

The basic mechanics are quite simple, coloured blocks fall into lines on a grid and you don’t remove blocks by moving them around as one would a game like Puzzle Quest, rather you tap a block which sends a beam of light out in a direction determined by the arrow on the block. Once the beam hits another block of the same colour, it sends another out and so on. Once you have three blocks lit, you have the minimum you need to remove them. Once they vanish, any falling blocks also send out light beams that can create more combinations to help you rack up the points. The only thing you can control beyond the tapping of blocks is the direction of the arrows, which you can use to line up combos and score extra points.

A fiendish Tidalis puzzle

A Tidalis puzzle in action, note that the victory and defeat conditions alter with each game.

The victory conditions, as well as the defeat conditions, of any given level can be immensely varied as well. The game has two larger types of gameplay which break down into countless subtypes: time-limited modes where you need to fulfil objectives against a clock or falling blocks and games where no blocks fall until ones are removed and moves can be planned out. The variety in victory and defeat conditions add a lot to the game, so in one level the game might ask you to make combos of a certain number of chains, avoiding those of a certain depth (you’ll get what I mean by those from the demo) and the next might require the reverse.

There’s a touch of child-like humour to the game that’s quite appealing and reaches out to the more soft-hearted amongst us. It would appeal to younger gamers except that the difficulty of the later game probably limits them to specific game modes. However, it’s not so child-like that adults can’t appreciate the charm put into the music and colourful graphics. There’s also a sense of craftsmanship and refinement to the atmosphere of the game that makes its playfulness seem all the more genuine than the seemingly more calculated cuteness of most PopCap Games.

For £6.99 on Steam and their website and a key that can be used universally on the DRM-free versions on their site or on Steam to access the achievements system, a lite version that can be played in your browser on their website as well as a comprehensive demo, there is simply no reason not to indulge in this great piece of indie puzzle gaming.


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