Prior to 2007, puzzle games were content to deliver nothing but brain teasers, and we gamers were all happy as could be. Then Portal came out and changed everything. Now, if a puzzle game doesn't contain a brilliant script, compelling narrative, and cute characters, it's considered lacking. This is a shame, as the new PSN puzzler, Puzzle Dimension, contains none of these things, yet in its minimalism sticks out as a shining example of a bygone era.
The goal of each of Puzzle Dimension's 100 levels is to guide a ball around a 3D structure collecting a set number of flowers before exiting through a portal. But there's a twist: while your sphere can roll across any surface, gravity reconstitutes itself based on your current position so that any way you fall is "down," even if it was just "up" a moment ago. Keeping your bearings relative to the rest of the terrain is essential to completing each puzzle.
Elsewhere, you must contend with obstacles that include cracked tiles that crumble after being rolled on, ice that propels you forward until you either land on a different surface or fall to your doom, spring boards, sand traps, and invisible tiles, among others.
Levels may look small and innocent, but one wrong move renders the solution impossible. There's a lot of trial and error, but with the exception of invisible tiles it rarely feels unfair, as a skilled planner could theoretically think 16 steps ahead.
Thankfully, the game does its best to make its devious challenges conquerable. Camera placement is intelligent, and the ability to pause and view the map from all angles is a godsend. Movement is based on tiles rather than momentum, so quick reflexes aren't a necessity. Clusters of levels are unlocked at regular intervals, so if you hit a stage that's too difficult you can skip ahead and come back later.
Another neat touch is how each map starts out constructed of blocky pixels, but as you roll across it, all of the neighbouring tiles transform into high-def textures. This not only looks great, but makes it easier to determine where you've been. There's even an optional challenge of removing every pixel in a level.
Additionally, there's a score system, though it's too unclear to be of much use. There's no in-game tutorial to explain it, but a quick Google search revealed this handy manual from the Steam version. Extra points are rewarded for uncovering new tiles with multipliers based on speed, but stages quickly become so taxing that completing them in and of themselves is a nearly insurmountable task.
Puzzle Dimension feels like the old fashioned cousin of Ilomilo, a similarly Swedish spatial puzzler. Its charming retro aesthetic and upbeat chiptune soundtrack give it a nostalgic vibe, while its absence of story and punishing difficulty recall the puzzle games of yesteryear. It's not going to convert non-fans of the genre and its score system is negligible for all but the most die-hard fans, but the actual puzzle design is fiendishly clever, and plentiful to boot.