After the release of Valve's highly anticipated Portal 2 a few months ago, long time puzzle fans were thrown into a test solving frenzy. Now that the crazy antics of Glados and Co over for the time being, fans of the genre have been left empty, quietly craving something new to fill the void and force them to don their thinking caps once again. Well, console puzzlers can rest easy, because Doctor Entertainment have graced the PlayStation Network with Puzzle Dimension. It might not have sassy robots, but what you do have is one creative and often mind boggling experience.
The basic concept of Puzzle Dimension is simple - navigate a golden metal ball through a number of stages in order to get it to the portal at the end. The stages themselves consist of square tiles that, when coupled together, come to form large, labyrinth styled, three dimensional structures, designed to put your spatial awareness to the limit. Tasks in puzzle games are never as simple as they first appear though, and this little brain teaser is no different. Before you can enter each portal, you must first activate it by collecting a set number of flowers that naturally reside in hard to reach places. Your task is further hampered by various traps that lie on particular tiles, set to derail your progress and force a re-think of your plan of attack. Disintegrating platforms, springs, invisible tiles, ice and deadly fire pits are all but some of the treats you will come across throughout your travels.
On paper it all sounds rather daunting, but it's to developer Doctor Entertainment's credit that that the game's progression feels natural. Difficulty in a puzzle games is always a large factor in their overall success. Make the challenge too easy and players will scoff at the childish distractions, but make it too difficult and be prepared for mass rage quits. It's a fine line, but Puzzle Dimension nails it with a difficulty curve that slowly raises with the succession of each new level cluster. Early stages will be a breeze to get through as you become accustomed to the controls and are introduced to each new game mechanic.
Sink a few hours deeper though, and you will be bombarded with mazes with just one single solution, utilising trap after perilous trap. Springs will shoot you two tiles forward, while grates will transform into deadly pits of fire after landing on them once. When strung together, the focus shifts to traditional trial and error tactics, but it's all kept fresh and intriguing; especially once the game's structures start breaking standard spatial conventions and flip perspectives constantly. The only complaint with all this madness is that the constant perspective swapping can quite often lead you move in the wrong direction as the camera tries to catch up. Stick to minimal movement with the D-pad over the sticks though and accidental deaths will be far less frequent. Ultimately, while there will certainly be times where frustration kicks in, it's never to the point where hair is pulled, and it is always thwarted by the pure unadulterated elation of finally nailing a successful run.
Also helping the learning curve are the options to tackle levels within a cluster in any order you wish, or simply skip anything particularly strenuous. The catch is however, that in order to unlock new clusters, you must reach a specified number of flowers (very reminiscent of Super Mario's stars). This opens up the internal debate as to just which levels you dedicate the time to and which ones you decide to leave behind. Puzzle elitists though will no doubt welcome the whole challenge, as well as the added goals of unlockable visual themes and 100% completion, achieved by running over every single tile in your quest for flowers.
Interesting enough, Puzzle Dimension's rock solid visual styling appear to give a nod of recognition towards a more retro past. Tiles, traps and flowers are all initially modeled in a pixilated fashion, only revealing their more standard, plain nature as you roll over them or come within close proximity. It's a neat design choice that helps differentiate the title amidst a rather crowded downloadable marketplace. It also helps to blend a few of the traps amongst regular tiles, sometimes disguising devious missteps until it's too late.
The soundtrack also harks back to gaming of an older age. Your puzzle solving ways will be met with tracks that pay tribute to the glorious 8-bit era. Catchy beats are mashed with chip tunes to create an overall audio experience that is perfect for a casual game such as Puzzle Dimension. Reminiscing aside though, it's disappointing that there just aren't enough tracks on offer, and while many become white noise as you engross yourself in each puzzle, those who do pay attention will note quite a distinctive, repetitive loop. After you hear the same beat for the umpteenth time, it doesn't take long to go grabbing for the television remote and hitting the volume button.
As a whole though, Puzzle Dimension is a perfect example of 'easy to learn yet strikingly difficult to master' gameplay. You might think you can handle your fair share of puzzles but this PSN games certainly packs a punch. There is an incredible amount of game here, with 100 levels spread over various clusters, coupled with the bonus challenges of hitting every tile in each level and beating new times, rest assured that you will sink many hours of head scratching antics into this bad boy. Sure a level editor or some added bonus would have been welcomed, but it's a small complaint to make when you have such truly creative, well thought out game design.