Ah, the balloon. Nature's squeaky toy. Bearer of helium, annoyer of younger siblings with particularly fine hair, and terrifier of cats. A bringer of much joy, and yet... oh! So fragile! They must be protected! They must be cherished! They must be hidden away across 40 levels in a puzzle game by Atomic Cicada (Minim) featuring a big blue monster! It's the logical procession of events, I tell you!!... oh, is it time for me to have a lie-down already, doctor?
Meet Nudge, Cookie Monster's beefier cousin with a perpetual frown and a soft spot for balloons. He blunders across a series of mazes, determined to push the balloons through portals to safety. Along the way he'll have to deal with blocks, mimicking barricades, and devilish bombs with minds of their own.
Your goal in each level is to get the balloon, or balloons, into the portals. They can be pushed around with your mighty blue arms... if you can get to them. While the game starts out easy enough with you maneuvering around stationary obstacles, it gets surprisingly tricky. Perhaps resenting getting pushed around, the blocks start pushing back; purple blocks will move from side to side when you do, and green blocks move up and down. What's that? You can handle mimicking blocks? Well, how about bombs that chase you and need to be kept away from both yourself and your precious balloons? What then, smart guy?! Yeah, that's what we thought. So there.
Controls are simple. Pressing the [arrow] keys moves you one space at a time around the screen, and simply moving against a movable object will push it in the direction you're facing, provided there's nothing blocking it. If you make a mistake, you can press the Undo button at the top of the screen to, well, undo your last move, or just press the Reset button next to it if you feel you've mangled the level too much to salvage. Since the bonus that can be applied to your score decreases with every step, you might want to reset anyway if you've spent too much time blundering around.
Analysis: I admit that I am fickle when it comes to puzzle games, one minute praising their inventiveness and brain-bending prowess, and the next minute turning my nose up at their frequently simple presentation and lack of aliens to blow up with big guns. Sometimes, however, simplicity can be a good thing. Nudge takes its core gameplay and polishes it up really well. Yes, you are ultimately just trying to push a balloon through a portal, but the levels are so well designed that it doesn't get stale. Some levels don't even let you touch the balloon directly, instead forcing you to make some of the moving blocks do the work for you. The various obstacles work well together or separately, and it leaves you with a nice aftertaste of smugness whenever you figure out how to manipulate your environment. Mmmm.
The nice thing about Nudge is that while there is frequently only one way to solve a puzzle, I never felt as though the solutions were too difficult. They're challenging, sure, and require you to think a few steps ahead of every action, but never unreasonably so. Because obstacles in your environment don't move until you do, you can take your time and plot out each move. The only thing you'll be missing out on is a big score for speedy completion, but with the level select screen you can easily revisit earlier levels until you have the perfect score to lord over our heads. Yes, you are indeed "the man". "Woo", and so forth.
Forty levels is a good chunk, and they move along at a brisk pace with no really obscure solutions. The problem is that the closer you get to the end, the more familiar some levels might look. Oh, we're sorry, did you hate a particular level? Well, good news! Now you get to play it again, but bigger. Or with two balloons instead of one. It isn't enough by any stretch to make me genuinely frustrated with the game, but it is a little disappointing, since some of the levels are really clever and fun to figure out. It just seems like they ran out of ideas once or twice.
With clever sokoban-style gameplay wrapped up in a cute blue package, Nudge has all the makings of a satisfying afternoon well spent. The inclusion of a level editor means you can create and share your own mazes with friends, or make your own nightmarish constructions of mines and unreasonable corridors to frustrate your enemies. Either way, Nudge is cheerful fun for the whole family. Providing none of you have Globophobia.