It seems like physics puzzlers are all the rage in the browser gaming world of late. Don't get me wrong, I love me some phuzzles, but sometimes I reminisce about a pre-Box2D world. My eyes get damp and I begin to wonder if there's anyone out there making good old-fashioned puzzles. You know, full of tiles and based on turns, with a gigantic gleaming UNDO button just itching for the opportunity to render your mistakes undone.
But along comes Paradoxion Express and the tears dry up; birds flutter cheerfully to and fro; Al Gore serenades whales and hugs the lowly wombat; in the distance I hear the voices of children singing. Then my roommate gives a hearty belch and I awake and find to my dismay that none of it is real except for the game, which on second thought is OK by me — children make lousy singers.
Paradoxion Express is a Flash-based version of Paradoxion, a download we featured back in April. Created by Russian game designers VSBgames, this free browser version features 60 levels of elegant logic-based combo-making gameplay. The goal is to eliminate all gems and orbs from the board through careful planning and placement. Orbs explode when you line them up in rows of three or more (though some require more) and gems explode when you group them in boxes of four. Explosions can push other objects, which will also explode if they become correctly aligned. By arranging the elements correctly, you can set up a chain-reaction cascade of explosions, sometimes clearing the level in one single blow.
Later levels introduce bombs, which explode when they are moved and destroy any elements near them while pushing away further ones. Another tool you'll see later in the game is shifter arrows, which can be used to shift the position of elements in the field of play. While these extra items offer a needed shake-up (and difficulty bump) from pure orb and gem levels, they do so at the expense of simplicity and elegance. I'm not ready to declare this a bad thing though — there's plenty of elegant levels early on, and it's nice to end the game with some good head-scratchers. if you do happen to get stuck, you can always click "Show Tip" for a hint at the solution. Clicking this button will also give you information about new elements the first time they appear in a level.
Analysis: Paradoxion Express captures that "classic puzzler" feel quite well, and would seem at home on some of the earlier hand-held gaming devices if not for the modern graphics and sound. Yet there's also a certain uniqueness about it: this particular gameplay model lends itself particularly well to long, flowing solutions that are just downright fun to watch.
For the most part, the level design takes full advantage of these cascades, often featuring symmetric levels for enhanced elegance. On the one hand, these levels are what make playing Paradoxion Express a supremely satisfying experience; on the other hand, solving them becomes less about using logic to discern which elements should go where and more about just sensing the gaps and filling them in. Again, this may be a good or a not-so-good thing, depending on your personal preference. As mentioned before, the other elements help enhance the logical aspects of the puzzles, but these only appear in the third level set, which remains locked until you finish the first two sets.
A more definite weak point to the game is the user interface. To place an element, you first have to click the element you want to place, then click the tile in which you want to place it. You are not allowed to move an element once you have placed it, though you can always undo your moves. It would seem that dragging the elements from the tray to the board would be a better fit for the fluid aesthetic of the game, and it would be great if you could play around with the elements out on the board, trying them out in different positions to help visualize a solution. At the very least, I should think it would be easy enough to keep an element selected in the tray so that you can place all of one type without having to reselect it every time.
Although these problems can be somewhat irritating, they are really just minor issues when the game is viewed as a whole. So if you're in the market for a soothingly challenging puzzler that's fun to play right from your browser, try Paradoxion Express!