Let's face it: nobody lives forever. We're young, then we're not, and then we're gone. Faced with this morbid fact, many people have sought out the proverbial "Fountain of Youth" to try to stave off the inevitable and cheat death. To date, no one has been successful, but studies have shown that puzzles and mental games do help to reduce functional decline as we get older. Enter Garbuz Games, the developers who take a little bit more time from your life by presenting their latest life-seeking, brain-enhancing puzzle game, Cheat Death.
In Cheat Death, you control the fate of a pencil-sketched man on a cliff trying to get to the "elixir" on the other side before he rapidly ages and turns to dust. To help the man get to the potion, you must manipulate a series of floating Tetris-like blocks and use the mouse to click and drag them into a specific area. Once formed, the man will hike across the path, reach the elixir, regain his youth, and "cheat death" until the next level.
This type of puzzle concept has been done before, but not in quite the same way that Cheat Death presents it. The gameplay can best be described as a cross between "Rush Hour" (the sliding puzzle game, not the movie) and Tetris. Initially, dragging the pieces into their neat formations seems relatively straightforward, but soon additions spring up to make things challenging. First there are immovable blocks in the way, then a few pieces aren't allowed to leave their boundaries. Later, certain blocks need to be rotated, and then there are pieces that require you to alter their physical shape to fit properly. Every level has at least one solution and a limited time to fit all the pieces before your young man turns to dust.
Analysis: I really dig the presentation and gameplay of Cheat Death. It uses a minimalist pencil-sketch style for its character and backgrounds, and the animated wind whisps makes the game feel more alive. The short repeating music has an ominous, Eastern-European flair to it, heightening the tension and surreal quality of the puzzle and situation. The puzzles themselves are nicely ramped up, gradually introducing new pieces and challenges. I found that some of the levels require a bit of trial and error, but thankfully the time restraints (between 30 seconds and 5 minutes) don't seem to get in the way of this. Getting everything to fit just right is satisfying, and the number of levels provided are not underwhelming.
Like most casual games, Cheat Death is not without its issues. The sliding controls are not very intuitive (they sort of drag across the screen like heavy steel girders), though it's something you get used to after a while. There's also not a lot of variety to the backgrounds, and the music can get repetitive after a while. On a personal note, I would have liked some sort of story to go along with the levels — Who is the pencil-sketch guy? Why does he age so rapidly?
Regardless of these issues, Cheat Death is a fun casual puzzler that Tetris and tangram fans alike should enjoy. While you may never be able to truly find eternal youth, at least these series of mental challenges should help reduce your functional decline during your coffee break.
Update: Since the review was written, GarbuzGames has uploaded a new version that makes the game a lot more speedy to play. The lag in dragging the blocks has been removed, and the man now sprints to the "elixir"(!)