NOBuzzle Tree, an entry from NOBstudio in our second Flash game design competition, is a smooth logic puzzle game with a strong hint of Eyezmaze's Grow series. A row of icons sit beneath a bare tree. Clicking one causes some limbs above to grow and branch out, sprouting miniature fruit in the process. The goal is to experiment and find the correct order of activating the icons to make the tree grow to fill the screen.
All it takes to learn how to play this game is a little bit of attention. The instructions feel a bit cryptic, but the idea is simple. Let's say you have three icons: a heart, a leaf, and a circle. Assume the solution to the puzzle is to click in that order. Click the heart and that branch grows. Next, click the leaf and both the leaf branch and the heart branch will expand. Finally, activate the circle to complete the puzzle. If you try clicking an icon out of order (the circle after the heart, for example), only that icon's fruit will grow, giving you an obvious clue that you've made an error. With a little trial-and-error and a sharp eye, you can solve most of the game's puzzles in just a few attempts.
Analysis: Apart from making you want to say "NOBuzzle? YESBuzzle!" over and over again, this game has a way of getting under your skin. In a good way. The gloriously simple interface is attractive and well-designed. Everything has an off-kilter look that makes the environment feel dynamic and artistic. The ambient noises are also a nice touch.
NOBuzzle's down side is that it will either be frustrating or too easy for most players. If you get the hang of the game's mechanics early on, don't expect much of a challenge. If you don't, however, this may be one of the most maddening games you've ever played. If the emphasis were on forming a strategy (as opposed to guessing or learning a formula), these two extremes could be balanced out.
My favorite feature in NOBuzzle Tree is when you complete a puzzle and the tree suddenly blossoms to fill the screen. For some reason, it's one of the most rewarding moments I've experienced in casual gaming and a testament to the beautiful design direction taken by NOBstudio.
A simple game with a beautiful presentation.
Hats off to the designer for this interface—from the art to the ambient noises, to the Grow theme, there's not a thing I would change—well, maybe the instructions page. However, the gameplay falls far short of where it should be. Each puzzle is solvable after one test run, even the later levels where fruits don't trigger all other fruits before them. If anything, those levels are easier, because you can switch the order of fruits that are at the same growth phase.
As I mentioned in the comments for NOBuzzle Tree, there's one very simple change that I feel would add a lot more challenge to the game. Like the first few levels, each fruit would trigger every fruit before it. However, the number of fruits to pass the level would be set below the maximum number attainable—as in the later levels. Thus if you caused either too few or too many fruits to grow, you could not pass the level. In fact, this is originally how I thought that the game worked, and I spent a good 20 minutes working out a strategy that could be used to solve any puzzle like this. If you're careful, you'll still only need one test run to solve it, but it takes much more thought and analysis to figure out a solution.