Friday, June 20, 2014

Review: Titanic for iPhone and iPad

Titanic (also free) is a very original, hardcore logic puzzle game, a kind which nowadays is rarely seen on the App Store.

Originally released in 2012, it recently received a major update, which doubles the number of levels. But not only that: the new levels are based on a new mechanic, which turns it into a very different puzzle. So this effectively more than doubles the value of the game.
Developed by SmartGames, like their other two games Roadblock and Temple Trap, it's a digital adaptation of a clever physical puzzle with the same name.

Like most of Raf Peeters' puzzles, Titanic's theme is not just cosmetical, but it is strongly tied to the mechanics.

The setup is a shipwreck. There are passengers in the water, and lifeboats that must pick them up. In the first few puzzles there is plenty of space, so navigating around seems easy, however the strict movement rules make it more difficult.
The first rule is that to pick up a passenger, a boat must be placed in such a way that the passenger is beside the boat's seat. As you can see, the boats above are two units long, but they have only one seat. Additionally, the boats can move in all directions, but they cannot rotate. This means that the boat at the top cannot pick up the passenger in the bottom left corner, because there's no way to get him next to the seat.

You'd therefore be tempted to move the other boat to the left and pick up that man. Unfortunately, that's prevented by the second rule: when passengers can climb on a boat, they must do it. You cannot pass by them and not pick them up. So as you moved the boat to the left, you'd pass next to the right passenger, and would be forced to pick him up.

Things get quickly more crammed up, with more boats and passengers populating the board. In this puzzle there are three boats, and it's pretty clear by exclusion which passenger should be picked by each, but it's not that simple.
You can't simply move the bottom boat to pick up a passenger, then move it out of the way to be able to pick up the other one, because there's a third rule which prevents that: when a boat is full, it drops anchor and cannot be moved again. So you would end up in this position, with no way to pick up the passenger on the left.
This rule is crucial to the game balance. At the beginning, the passengers in the water limit the movement possibilities; as you pick them up, they free up space, which can be used to make moves which were impossible before. This is perfectly exemplified in the puzzle above, where one of the passengers cannot be saved until you get another one out of the way.

If the boats continued to move freely after being loaded, the puzzles would become too easy after saving a couple of passengers. With the boats forming new barriers, instead, things remain interesting until the end. This restriction is made a bit less limiting by the presence of boats that can carry two passengers. In that case, the boat can save a single passenger and keep moving until it is fully loaded.
This process of moves becoming more limited as you proceed reminds me of an exceptionally hard puzzle game, Tile'm all, though in that case things are made even harder by the fact that no more space frees up as you move.

But don't worry, because the board can be very crowded anyway. There's remarkably little free space in the hardest puzzles, which makes it somewhat surprising that a solution even exists.
There's an additional rule, which I don't particularly like. In some cases, you can move a boat in such a way that it could load more than one passenger on the same seat. In that case, you have to choose which one to pick up, as indicated here by the ring buoys.
I think that this makes the rules less "clean", and I might have preferred if the puzzles were designed to make this occurrence not possible. However, given how crowded the board can be, this was probably just not possible.

What I described up to now are the rules of the standard Titanic game. As I said at the beginning, the update recently released adds a new mechanic. Consistently with the game's theme, the new elements are iceberges.
Ice blocks can be moved, but not directly: they can only be pushed by the boats. For example, in the puzzle above the three blocks near the top are isolating a passenger, so you need to push them out of the way, while being careful to not pick up the right passenger ahead of time. The new element works very well with the theme, and does a good job of mixing the classic rules with sokoban. Note that, unlike sokoban, you can push multiple blocks at the same time.

The paid version contains 204 puzzles, which can be played in any order. The free version generously contains 42 puzzles. You'll want to take advantage of the ability to play out of sequence, because the "iceberg" and "classic" puzzles are in separate groups, but alternating between the two helps keeping the gameplay more varied.

What distinguishes this game from the average puzzle game on the App Store is the complexity of the rules. It's not that they are outrageously complicated, but they need attention and it's easy to get confused the first few times you play. It is even more surprising that this was born as a physical game: I can imagine people making mistakes and forgetting to pick up a passenger. The nice thing about the digital version is that it keeps track of the rules for you.

These are also not the kind of puzzles where you can play but just moving around carelessly. You need to think from the very beginning, because a wrong move will leave you blocked. Basic logic will help immensely, especially in the easier puzzles, because you can rule out all the impossible and remain with a handful (possibly just one) of options to try. The harder puzzles do seem a bit overwhelming.

The graphics are nice. The water in the background is not animated, but everything else is; the boats gently rock, and the passengers turn to follow the movement of the boat you are interacting with. Sound effects are sparse but adequate.

Input handling could be better: the boats can only move on a straight line, so if you want to move on a L shaped path, you have to make the first part of the move, release the finger, then drag again on the second part.

The tutorial section could be improved. It has many pages of text, followed by a couple of interactive sections which don't really add much. It would benefit from being interactive from the start, and could probably omit some details, like the fact that boats cannot move diagonally.

I can certainly recommend this game, along with all the other SmartGames. As I've said other times in the past, my only regret is that there aren't more of them on the App Store.


Logical Reasoning★★★★☆
User Interface★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★☆☆
Saves Partial Progress
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©2014 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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