Thursday, November 27, 2008

Wooden Path

Wooden Path is a well-crafted version of a puzzle you've likely seen before -- a sliding blocks puzzle. There are a few enhancements to the basic formula, but they don't change the gameplay all that much.

The basic concept of Wooden Path is very simple. You have a set of varyingly-sized rectangular blocks. Some of them are wooden bridges, while others are different-colored stone. You have a limited area (set in a river, in this game) in which to move them, and the object is to slide the blocks around so that the wooden bridges make a continuous path from one bank of the river to the other. If you've ever played Rush Hour, for instance, this will seem pretty familiar. Some of the puzzles can get quite difficult, especially when the space is so limited that your possibilities are very tightly constrained. And, as is the hallmark for puzzles of this type, often you'll do a lot of work just to get one block into the right place, and then when it is, the rest of the puzzle kind of falls together.

There are a few additions that you wouldn't see in a physical puzzle, though. Some levels feature switches; they come in sets of two (or occasionally three) of the same color. To activate the switch, you must connect all of them with stones of the same color, which causes some barriers in the level to disappear. Some levels feature gold stones; connecting all of the gold stones to each other will cause them all to disappear. Finally, there are also teleporters. The teleporters can do interesting things -- for instance, they can change the orientation of a block -- but since they usually connect two otherwise-disconnected areas, most of the time they just serve to increase the effective area available in the puzzle. The gold stones and the switches are kind of neat, but they're also a little bit superfluous -- usually, once you trigger the switch or eliminate the gold stones, you've opened up enough space that the rest of the puzzle is pretty easy, so there's still really only one difficult objective.

The graphics are pretty -- while they're just stones, they're nicely textured and the background is nice. The game wisely eschews insanity-inducing background music in favor of some nice woodland sound effects, so you'll hear pleasant bird chirps and so forth. This adds a nice relaxing feeling to the game. The stones move softly, but audibly, so they have a nice heft. One puzzling interface decision is that the stones don't move as you drag them -- rather, you click and drag a stone, but the stone doesn't move until you actually let go of the mouse button. This is rather counterintuitive; while you get used to it eventually, I don't understand why they can't just move the stones normally.

Anyway, Wooden Path is a pleasing game to play, but it is awfully long -- the game features 22 "beginner's levels", which are, as you might expect, easier, but can still be pretty involved, and then 30 "adventurer's levels", which can often get very lengthy indeed. Probably the game could benefit from cutting a few of the levels so it's not quite so tedious to get them all. Still, Wooden Path is quite enjoyable in small doses. If you try to do 20 levels in one sitting, you'll certainly go mad, but a level here and a level there is the perfect way to do this game.

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