I picked up this DSiWare puzzle game at the low price of 5 dollars. You should know by now that I love puzzle games. In a nutshell, Link 'n' Launch (LnL) is not quite as complex as Zengage, but more complex than Boxlife. It may be harder to gold all the levels in Link 'n' Launch than in Zengage and Base10. Moving pieces isn't as dynamic as Base10, but it's more dynamic than flipping pages in Mighty Flip Champs! And like all of the best DSi Ware puzzle games, it has an incredibly smooth difficulty curve. It's a great game, so let's break it down.
- Deep Reading. LnL features one of my favorite combinations for a video game. It's intuitive, features very few complexities, and it's deep. Solving a puzzle in LnL involves rotating or flipping squares on the touch screen to arrange a pipe path from the fuel to the rocket. There are only 5 types of movable tiles not counting the special fuel tile versions. Unlike the way "deep" is used to describe other genre of games, for puzzle games it refers to how one reads or analyzes a puzzle. Learning to read a puzzle involves learning to see in potential moves or in gameplay functions so that one can see through all the possibilities and wrong moves to visualize a solution several moves ahead. Read more about puzzle game reading here.
- Double Layered Reading. Each puzzle is a closed system where tiles can be rearranged indefinitely. There really isn't a decay element or a fail state. Even if one connects the fuel line to the rocket without using up all the tiles, the process can be stopped before the fail state is activated. To translate some tiles from one space to another with a specific orientation, there are certain algorithmic steps that must be made. Some tiles are much harder to orient than others given certain conditions. For these reasons, when you're stuck on a puzzle in LnL, you can read your attempt to give you significant insight in how to solve the puzzle. The more complex a given puzzle (the more tiles in the system) the more double layered reading can reduce the need to use trial and error to develop a solution. For more on double layered reading read this.
- Elegant Solutions. For each puzzle in LnL the first challenge is simply beating the level by connecting a path from the fuel to the rocket while using all the pipes. When you do, you're awarded a metal based on how efficiently you solved the puzzle. There are gold, silver, and bronze metals, each representing an increasing level of elegance. This design lets players control their own difficulty while offering more than one challenge per level. For more on elegant solutions read here.
- Pacing, Development, and Difficulty Curves. I played LnL mostly on auto pilot. A got stuck on a few levels, but mostly breezed through the game. Just by recognizing solution patterns and keying in on the smooth development of ideas needed to solve each level, I was able to solve most of the puzzles without reading them. At the same time, the smooth difficulty curve across 100 levels helped me do this. Just look at the image above showing the metals I earned for all 100 levels. See how the gold metals steady decline phasing into silvers and gradually into bronze metals?
The next step for me and Link 'n' Launch involves developing mathematical formulas to help me quantify my reading process. That and golding all of the puzzles. It's still a great time to be puzzled.