Chris and Jeremiah, the talented guys behind Atomic Cicada, are back with a follow-up to Grid, the puzzler that first launched them onto the casual gaming radar. Gridz features 40 levels of the glyph-turning, energy-channeling goodness you've come to expect from the original, without falling into the classic Hollywood bungle of rehashery.
The basic premise of the original remains: you need to turn a jumbled mess of pipe segments into a complete closed system, flowing with energy. Clicking a circular glyph will rotate it, but only if it's connected to an energy source, a condition that sets the games apart from the plethora of related pipe-style games. Where Gridz diverges from the original is in the introduction of two colors of energy — a glyph can hold either color, but the two energies must never be combined, lest an apocalyptically bad movie be summoned from the bowels of Some Picture Studios. We don't want that to happen again, right?
With the dual colors comes new glyphs designed to channel multiple streams without having them ever cross. These glyphs can be turned even if some channels are not powered, as long as there is energy flowing through at least one part. Neat!
Analysis: Often, sequels to puzzle games turn out to be nothing more than new level sets with a graphical face-lift. Sometimes this is a good thing — messing with a successful formula rarely yields positive results. When I first heard about Gridz, I knew such a strategy would not find much success. Not to take anything away from the original, but you could tell by the end of 40 levels that the base mechanic had run its course in terms of level design.
Sure enough, after a brief tutorial, the game introduced the pink and blue streams and multi-channeled glyphs, setting the stage for a gameplay experience that builds off the original while becoming its own entity altogether. It's a subtle, yet undeniable shift: where the original sometimes felt like trying to clean up after an octopus mosh pit, Gridz has a distinct puzzle air about it. There's still a fair amount of fiddling around, but the new elements provide more points of attack into the tangled mess of pipe.
The guidance offered by these new elements serves to make the game accessible to a wider audience by reducing the potential for frustration. Now, if you get stuck working on one stream you can simply switch to the other one for a while. Also, though the multi-channeled glyphs seem imposing at first, they're really one of your best tools, since they allow you to change the flow of the streams without much risk of cutting yourself off. Oh, and that face-lift I mentioned earlier? It's another welcome ally in the fight against frustration: it's a lot easier to tell which way you're turning a glyph, and that dizzying churn of a background has been replaced by a microbial Coruscant.
The scoring system remains the same as the original (-1 point per move and -2 per undo) with the exception of a 5 point penalty for restarting the level. One could argue about the necessity of this new penalty, but I'm more surprised they even kept the scoring system at all. Playing towards the objective of a high score takes away from the flowing, exploratory style that suits Grid so well and replaces it with extensive forethought and mental gymnastics. Thus, it's doubtful that many actually pay attention to the score anyway, instead playing toward that shining moment of accomplishment when the grid is complete and elegantly self-contained. Unfortunately, Gridz doesn't give you much time to sit back and admire your handiwork, which is disappointing, but ultimately easily excused.
So if you liked anything at all about the first Grid, give the sequel a try! It successfully merges the qualities that made the original a success with just enough fresh ideas to satisfy old fans while attracting new ones.