Today we have an extraordinary new puzzle game from Marco Arsenault, who is probably best known in the Flash world for the popular music sequencing toy Punk-o-Matic (language warning on that link). Z-Rox won't throw you into a mosh pit, but it will test your visualization skills over the course of 100 devilishly simple levels. Each one will show you something 2-dimensional—a letter, a number, a shape, a symbol—and your job is simply to name it. But you only get to see a 1-dimensional slice of the picture at a time, as though it were being scanned from top to bottom by a horizontal laser. You must form a complete mental image, based on your view through that 2-pixel-tall moving window. Some answers are a single keyboard character, while others require you to type out a full word.
The first 50 levels basically keep the training wheels on. You might hit a few bumps, but you can probably get past them using the time honored techniques of Walking Away From the Game for a While, and/or Shaking Your Hands Like There's Bugs On Them. It's the second 50 levels (the "extreme" levels, sigh) that will really test your sanity. You may need a pencil and paper, and possibly some Excedrin (or X-Hedr-N, as they say on the extreme streets of Extreme Town). Nevertheless, I encourage you to clear as many levels as you can before asking for help, because the sense of accomplishment for solving this one on your own is tremendous.
Analysis: Yes, yes, the title is silly. "Z-Rox" is what happens when a punk music fanatic invents a startlingly pure and original puzzle game concept, but just can't help topping it off with a creamy dollop of vanilla Xtreme-ness. But as the ducks say when they're feeling indifferent: "Queh." Very little could diminish the greatness of this game. Z-Rox grabs hold of the forgotten corners of your temporal cortex and wrings them out like used nappies. It's about as punk as a frontal lobotomy, but to be fair, frontal lobotomies are not entirely un-punk.
Z-Rox gives you good value, with several unlockable modes of play and an impeccable user interface. The unskippable and lengthy tutorial at the beginning is a little annoying, but you only have to watch it once in your life. Although it's a relatively short loop, the music by Josh Hunsaker does a good job assisting both your focus and your calm.
The big discovery for me is how beautiful letters can be when described in motion this way. Their slopes, their curves—it's like watching a kind of digital calligraphy. You can almost feel the letters being physically sculpted in your mind. It's an unusual sensation. Like I always say, really unique and well-executed games can give you something no other medium can.
Okay, okay, maybe Z-Rox is kind of extreme after all. If you need me, I'll be on my deck. And by "deck", I mean "skateboard". And by "skateboard", I mean "couch".
Cheers to Cheryl, Michelle, and Vito for sending this one in! =)