The Pretender: Part One, is a fantastic new platform based puzzle game by Tim Knauf and Tristan Clark of Launching Pad Games, with very pleasing art work by Vin Rowe. Although the developers have just released the game as part of a game competition, and still consider it a work in progress, we think it's quite spiffy already and ready for some exposure.
You are a Victorian era magician. Your act had been growing a bit stale, so you were given a magical book to spice it up. Unfortunately, the book's magic is real and far beyond your parlor tricks. During the show, a door to another dimension opens up and sucks the entire audience into it. You must travel through this world and guide each poor ghostly figure back to the magic door on each level so they can get back to their Earthly life.
There are three different forms you can take to help you on your quest: your corporeal magician form; an airy figure that floats and that can manipulate wind; and a hideous earthen monster that can smash and move rock. By using a combination of forms you must figure out which routes to take, and which obstacles to destroy or move, to solve the puzzle of getting each audience member to the door. The tricky part is that ghosties can only follow you one at a time.
Use the mouse to access menus. Use [arrow] keys to move around. Press [space] to use powers or to click through the dialogue of story mode.
There are four sets of levels of increasing difficulty, and you need to get only four levels correct in each set to unlock the next set. There are optional story levels that you can skip if you just want to puzzle, or you may play through to see the short story unfold.
Analysis: Launching Pad Games have paid significant attention to making The Pretender a joy to play and navigate through. Most of the levels aren't too difficult to figure out, and you may reset a level at any time to try again if you get stuck. Luckily you can skip a level here or there if you get really stuck by clicking on the map. Not having to complete every level in order to progress is an option that really helps avoid frustration. You can always go back later and solve the levels you skipped. The game also saves automatically so you can play at your leisure. Each level has a name, like chapter headings, which is useful when asking for help with a hint. Even making the story levels optional was a choice that had the player in mind.
The story is simple but gives the puzzles a mysterious feel, and the puzzle design and characters are all nicely integrated. The sparse sounds and bits of dialogue from the ghosts are a nice touch, and the intro music also fits the mood well.
Occasionally the game gets a bit persnickety when you are trying to move from a ladder to a platform, and you may have to move up and down a bit to find just the right spot to allow you to move sideways. Also, it was a bit confusing that the magician's wand makes a spark but doesn't have any powers unless you are in airy form. The air wand power with the sail boats is fantastic, but it would have also been nice to have a minor power when you are just in magician form.
If you choose to play through the story levels the game ends on a cliff hanger (thus the Part One in the title). So for those interested in the story, you'll have to wait for the saga to continue. But the puzzles are the main attraction here, smart and elegant brain teasers that get increasingly more complicated as the levels progress. Altogether a fun and challenging new puzzle game from a promising new group of Flash game developers from New Zealand.