English Country Tune
If you've spent any time around the indie gaming scene, you're familiar with the name increpare (Opera Omnia, City of Day and Night), also known as Stephen Lavelle. Known for creating short, small, creative and artistic-type games, increpare has jumped from the realm of experimental games to the world of full-fledged releases, unleashing the fantastic English Country Tune for the world to scratch their collective heads over. The game looks fantastic and plays like several of your favorite logic puzzle games rolled into one superb, pseudo-3D package.
English Country Tune starts simple enough with a few puzzles that are not unlike sokoban. As a small blue tile, you can roll yourself over bits of the grid, shoving little balls called larva as you go. Each larva has its own rules of gravity, so depending on its location, your location, and from which direction you slap it, the ball might fall in completely different directions. This makes a huge difference because the game takes place in a 3D world, even though your movements are largely confined to flat planes. Move the larva into their targets and, if it's there, get yourself to the goal to complete the level.
After the larva world is complete, you get to head off to a new kind of puzzle: setting "whales" free! Each whale cube emits beams of light in four directions. You can't directly shove whales, but when you move against their light beams, they slide to your push. Now, try to get each one of them to the edge of the grid and push them off to freedom! Completing more worlds unlocks advanced versions of the above game types, as well as a few more that are purposefully obscure in design, allowing you the pleasure of figuring out what does what in this glowing 3D world. What's that button? What does it do? Why are those patterns copied to my tile?!
Analysis: English Country Tune is almost a collection of puzzle games built around a strong central theme. Sometimes it feels like Theseus, sometimes sokoban, sometimes EDGE, and sometimes the equally-dazzling Puzzle Dimension. All of the time, though, it feels like a coherent experience, and the challenge from the game's smartly-crafted levels never lets you drop your guard or slide through a stage without putting serious thought into the solution.
English Country Tune is a no-pressure sort of game. Your movements aren't tracked and compared with everyone else in the world, and the time you spent solving a level isn't tallied and shoved in your face to show you how awful you are after each level. For these reasons and many more, this is an excellent game to play in a casual manner. Pick it up, play a few levels, put it down and come back whenever you like. The experience is relaxing (except for a few levels) and the presentation is soft and subdued, creating the perfect atmosphere for solving spatial/pattern puzzles.
To put it bluntly: English Country Tune is an amazing puzzle game. Its construction provides variety without feeling like a collection of mini-games, and the challenge level is such that you're always thinking but (almost) never frustrated. The visual design keeps your eyes fascinated by the screen, and to top it all off, the 3D aspect really does add something to the game. If you even have the slightest interest in puzzle games, grabbing English Country Tune is a smart decision!