Puzzle Bots

Small is beautiful.

This is especially true in videogames, where small games carry virtue that larger games don’t. Small games run on just about all hardware, and don’t require the latest overpriced monster videocard with unreliable drivers. Small games can be finished by people who work for a living. Small games have to have fun core mechanics, and thus offer more fun-per-minute. Small games have less filler and busywork. Small games are often less expensive. I got the small game religion a few years ago, and I haven’t looked back.

Today’s entry in the wonderful world of small games is Puzzle Bots, by Nanobots designer Erin Robinson, and published by Wasjet Eye Games. Puzzle Bots is a clever little Saturday-morning cartoon of a game that reenvisions some ideas from Lemmings or, if you want to get all esoteric about it, from Infocom’s text adventure Suspended.

The Puzzle Bots world looks hand-animated; someone happened upon me playing the game during a cut-scene and asked me, quite seriously, “Hey, is this a Simpsons game?” Each level in Puzzle Bots is an environmental puzzle where you must use tiny robots to manipulate the environment to accomplish some task. Each robot can do only one or two specific things. For example, the robot named Hero can pick items up and use them with each other. Ultrabot can only push things, Kelvin can only set things on fire, and so on. Most of the game, therefore, centers around using one robot to transform the environment in such a way that another robot can do something to it.

The levels themselves are tightly designed – during my play-through I never managed to get into an unwinnable state – amusing, and best of all short. I’d estimate that each level took me about 10 to 15 minutes, tops, to finish. You can save at any time.

An aside here: here’s an example of how the iPhone and iPad have transformed how I look at games. When I find that a game makes me explicitly save and load state I’m sort of surprised now. It’s as if I had walked into the dairy section of the supermarket and was confronted by a butter churn and a cow. Puzzle Bots seems to me like the sort of game that would work perfectly on the touch platform; let’s hope that Robinson and the game’s publisher decide they like the idea as much as I do.

The puzzles themselves, for most of the game are appropriate, perhaps erring just a tad on the side of too easy. For most of the game Puzzle Bots manages to convince you that you are very, very clever. Which is sort of the main victory point a puzzle game is trying to assault. There is one puzzle at the very end of the game that was not “hard” per se but was, by my lights, uncommunicated. I solved it through brute force, but missed a set of clues along the way that presumably explained what I was doing. Every other puzzle in the game seemed both environmentally appropriate and correctly gated and, where appropriate, hinted at.

The cut-scenes in the game are written to entertain and, apart from maybe a few moments of trying too hard, mostly succeed. The competent and pleasant voice-over work helps out here quite a bit. No, the game’s plot is not quite Dostoevsky, but it provides motivation while also giving you the occasional smile, if never quite an actually belly laugh.

Puzzle Bots, by Erin Robinson and Wadjet Eye Games, for Microsoft Windows. There is a free demo available for download, or you can buy the game for a paltry $10 American dollars. Through September 6, you can buy the game for just $4.99 by using the discount code “PUZZLEPAX” at checkout. If you play Windows games, you’ve really got no excuse for not trying Puzzle Bots

Disclosure: Wadget Eye Games graciously provided Tea Leaves with a review copy of Puzzle Bots. But, really, had they not done so I’m pretty sure we could have found the $5 somewhere.