Earning an honorable mention in our 2nd Flash game competition is Rings and Sticks, a captivating and original puzzle game from designer Komix and created expressly for the competition. More so than any other entry in the contest, Rings and Sticks took the Grow theme and made it a fundamental element of the gameplay.
At the beginning of each level, you start off as a tiny little treeling and are offered various ways in which to grow: you can grow straight, grow a narrow fork, grow a wide fork, grow left or grow right. The objective is to work your way to each of the shiny golden rings spinning above you, suspended in midair. We looooove shiny things!
It can be tricky because each move must be planned carefully. The method you choose (with the exception of grow left and right) applies to all of your branch ends, and you have to be very wary of what is happening at all parts of the tree. The right move for one branch might send another branch too far past the ring it is supposed to catch. Or worse, into one of the pink sparks, setting the entire tree ablaze!
Analysis: What really pulled me into Rings and Sticks was the way it captured the beauty of fractals in a puzzle game—and actually made it fun! Even in the background, you can see some beautiful examples of the types of dendritic trees you can create. There is a very holistic flow to the game as well. You can't focus too much on any one branch without checking on the others to make sure they are still on track. It would be like a symphony conductor who only cued the tubas and left all the other parts to their own devices.
If you do burn up or fail to get all the rings, don't worry. Trial-and-error is a large part of the game, and you can restart as often as you like. On most of the levels, planning is key; there's usually only one way to solve each level, and order matters. Luckily, each pass only takes a few seconds to do, so you can run a lot of trials in a short amount of time.
Rings and Sticks is an elegant puzzler with a very simple gameplay mechanic I really enjoyed. The sounds were simple but complemented the action well, and I think the lack of music was the right choice. A zen-like game of concentration such as this doesn't need music to distract you. My only real complaint is a bug: if you click too fast while growing a branch it may count against your 'stock' without actually growing. A minor bug that is easily avoided.
Such a simple premise executed quite elegantly. Rings and Sticks was one of the first competition entries I played and it stuck as one of the most intriguing. The idea is quite basic, but wrapping your head around the concept takes some time. You have to be able to extrapolate the final position of your branches before you start clicking, which, if you think about it, is quite a feat. Later on some of the levels were were more trial-and-error, and I would have liked to see a touch more strategy rather than guesswork. But the concept is solid and can be adapted to all sorts of games. I hope Komix tries the idea out in a few different genres to see what grows out of it!
Rings and Sticks is just the kind of game we were hoping to see in the competition: a creative and original puzzle game that was built from the ground up with the competition theme in mind. Komix shows how taking a relatively simple idea can blossom into a unique new game that is fun to play. All it takes is a little inspiration and a deadline. An excellent competition entry, and well worthy of its Honorable Mention distinction.