Perfect Balance 2
The Perfect Balance games are all about balance in its simplest form. It's down to the basics of physics here, where your goal is to stack a bunch of weird pieces on top of a bunch of other weird pieces and get them all to stay. No ninja highjinks or "Man On Wire" bravado, just careful maneuvering with a touch of [A] and [D] key-enabled rotation. Given that you are never handed a flat surface, this can become tricky. Drop something on a slant and it will slide away along with your peace of mind. What you need is a piece suited to latching around a corner, with another part of it conveniently protruding on the other end acting as a little barrier. Now we can drop that block and it won't go anywhere.
It might have been tempting to simply hand you a lot of Pythagorean shapes at the start and up the ante with a few circles later on, but Perfect Balance doesn't pull punches. The first level presents blocks that seem straight from a surrealist's Tetris set. It's surprisingly intuitive to get them all to fit, though, allowing the game to become a brilliant exercise in lateral thinking. The fun kind, like sitting with a beer and pondering how far a dog can run into the woods (halfway, btw, because then he's running out, you see..).
Analysis: Perfect Balance 2 is not really that different from the original, but it's full of small touches that raises the bar on the series. It is a lot more zen, even though it ironically never imitates its predecessor's encouragements that you "take a deep breath" while testing your final construct. Where Perfect Balance felt like a game, its sequel is an experience. First, gone are the 80 levels you have to hammer through sequentially. Now there are 100 levels, but they are split into five parts each, accessible from the start. The first part features brand new challenges while the following four are all presumably taken from the iPhone version. To remove even more frustration, you can now skip levels (up to five times, then you have to reset your progress). There is no real penalty for this, other than you don't score on that level, but you can always go back and try it again.
Unlike the first game, the sections are not individually themed and the soundtrack does not change either. This could have been annoying, but you hardly notice the ambient electronic muzak as you frown with rotating pieces. Each section does have a vaguely different background, but these ideas were implemented to make them less distracting and keep your mind on the challenge. It's like being in a doctor's waiting room: you never notice the decor if there are good magazines.
Challenge is certainly here in spades. Apart from manipulating strange shapes into Newton-approved positions, the ante is upped with the appearance of heavier blocks adept at keeping pieces more secure and see-sawing bases that tilt under a piece's weight. The latter are used quite cleverly, because sometimes you need to jam a piece between them and a solid base to keep them stable (or in at least one case jam a piece between two such flip-flopping bits of terrafirma).
But I left out Perfect Balance 2's biggest addition. As with the first game, scoring is dictated by a subtracting counter, so the faster you do the puzzle, the more points you hold on to. Now there is a bonus element: once all the pieces are balanced, the game hands you nine diamonds to add to your structure. For each diamond you get to sit still, you receive a score bonus and there is an extra hand-out if you use all nine. This mechanism confirmed my suspicion: many of these challenges can be done in more than one way. Often you can get all the pieces to balance, but can you get all nine diamonds on there as well? To be fair, not even the walkthrough manages that, but you can submit both your score and how many diamonds you have used, so the gauntlet on diamond-mastery has clearly been thrown.
Perfect Balance 2 shows the character of a veteran developer comfortable enough with its game not to throw out the baby or the bathwater, but instead change the soap and light a few scented candles. It takes a good game and makes it great. Even a grouchy snob like Newton would love it.