We take a look at three brand new puzzle games and one arcade-inspired twin stick shooter today – four exciting new indie releases from some of our favorite indie publishers. Here are Active Neurons 3 – Wonders of the World, Dungeons & Bombs, Knight’s Retreat and UltraGoodness 2.
Active Neurons 3 – Wonders of the World
If you’ve been following us for a while, then the Active Neurons games by Nikolai Usachev will sound familiar. We first discovered Active Neurons on the PlayStation Vita, but subsequent releases didn’t make it onto Sony’s handheld because of changes in the engine that was used for the game. Part 3 is still a multi-platform release though, and we tried out the PS4 version.
Despite these changes on a technical level, the gameplay itself – even in its third iteration – is still very similar to how it started in the first game. If you enjoy abstract puzzlers that rely on logic through a diverse set of mechanics, then this is one for you. What starts out as a simple sliding block puzzle gradually branches out as mechanics get added and combined in subsequent series of levels – teleporting yourself, pushing blocks and hitting switches.
The art style certainly doesn’t distract from the puzzles either, with minimalist 2D visuals and little in the way of presentation outside of the levels as well. Thematically there’s a tie to the wonders of the world, but there’s no narrative to speak of – just like there wasn’t in the first two games. Instead, the focus on the puzzles is almost absolute, and if you liked the previous games you’ll enjoy this as well. It doesn’t push the series in a new direction (and it’s the last game in what’s a trilogy), but it’s more of what was a very well designed logic puzzler to begin with.
Dungeons & Bombs
Just like Active Neurons 3, Dungeons & Bombs was ported over to consoles by Sometimes You after an initial release for PCs on Steam. A bit less abstract in nature, this one actually contains a story, even if it’s a thin one featuring a hero and a princess who needs saving. This particular princess also features a beard, so at least that’s a +1 for being original.
The gameplay itself is described as a mix between Sokoban and Bomberman, and while we can definitely see those influences we also thought of another grid-based puzzle game from more recent years: Warlock’s Tower. As with that game, there’s a finite number of increasingly complex levels to solve, and you also get a limited amount of moves to solve each level with.
They weren’t joking about those Bomberman influences though, because your weapon of choice is a seemingly bottomless bag of explosives that you carry around with you. The bomb mechanics work in a similar fashion to the famous franchise in terms of making enemies hit their blast just as they round a corner, but here you actually engage with them through turn-based gameplay, so you can plan your actions and execute your strategies without some of the frantic action that Bomberman brings.
A familiar but fun diversion for fans of grid-based puzzle games like Warlock’s Tower with a bit of Bomberman thrown in to mix things up, this is another budget-priced indie for puzzle fans that features 50 levels.
The last game from QUByte Interactive that I remember testing was the excellent Vasara Collection on the PlayStation Vita, but the publisher also collaborates with other developers in addition to putting out their own titles. Knight’s Retreat was developed by Minimol Games, a small developer whose library of games contains a large number of puzzle titles inspired by the game of chess.
Knight’s Retreat, as you can guess from the title and that intro above, is no exception. It takes the basic movements of chess pieces and applies those mechanics to a series of logic puzzles for you to solve. They’re a bit like the chess riddles you see in some chess games, only the board layout varies greatly and isn’t restricted to the normal 8×8 grid – and can sometimes change mid-level!
Getting a knight from its starting position to a pre-defined finish position is the goal in the game’s 80 levels, but gradually it introduces other pieces and mechanics. It’s also one of Minimol’s most attractive games visually, with a look that reminded me of games like Lonely Mountains: Downhill but with a medieval setting. With no story to speak of, this is another good abstract puzzler, with an especially large appeal to (casual) chess fans.
If you feel like taking a break from all that puzzling, then perhaps UltraGoodness 2 is for you. It was originally developed by Rasul Mono, but was ported to the Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One, and Xbox Series X by the prolific porting specialists at Ratalaika. This one’s a twin stick shooter in the vein of Smash TV and Nex Machina, but produced for a budget/indie audience.
As with the titles that inspired it, UltraGoodness 2 (we weren’t familiar with the first game) is all about quick reactions as waves of enemies come at you and levels need to be cleared. There are power-ups, you have a cat who also acts as a sidekick and there’s even a story – one that casts you as the king trying to keep your kingdom from being swarmed by evil. Yes, it’s not much, but who plays twin stick shooters for the story anyway?
Upgrades can also be applied to your cat buddy, who has weapons of his own and can make all the difference in combat and/or your survival. You also have a fair share of weapons to put to good use, as well as a time manipulation mechanic that is activated by standing still – giving you a change to briefly gather your thoughts and plot your next more or general direction in a level.
UltraGoodness 2 features relatively simple graphics that scream ‘indie’, and its gameplay mechanics are solid. It’s a tad too easy to get all the trophies involved (as per the norm with a Ratalaika game), but go beyond that and you’ll find a challenging campaign here with a nicely balanced difficulty level. It’s a low budget release, so if you enjoy twin stick shooters this could be for you.