Swap logo

Puzzle games come and puzzle games go, but few make a real mark. The successful fw have all combined pressure, mental agility and control dexterity. Rather than stressing speed, the emphasis is on intensive forward planning, to make players sweat out a solution. A brave departure from the normal puzzler format, Swap is initially so bewildering to play it's not entirely clear why you should play.

Multi-coloured swap shop
You are presented with a wall of multi-coloured tiles. The tiles range in shape from triangles to hexagons and come in six different colours. The tiles can be manipulated by clicking on any touching edge, which causes them to swap position, by pivoting around the clicked side. IF a swap causes similar colour tiles to touch, they disappear; scoring points and leaving a dirty great hole in the middle of the wall. Clearing a wall ends that level.

Swapping routes have to be calculated, so that similar tiles aren't isolated when its neighbours disappear. This is complicated by the variety of sizes and shapes. Each one needs specific playing tricks if too many tiles aren't to be left hanging space and unable to swap.

Swap isn't a fast game: even the timed levels are temporarily generous. It's a cerebral test of thinking ahead, working out which tiles will disappear as a result of any particular swap. You are rarely stranded with unswappable tiles at the end of a level, though, as there are a number of points debiting cheats on offer. An avalanche introduces gravity to the situation, pulling all the remaining tiles to the bottom of the screen and removing any resultant matches. Some spare tiles can even be bought at a direct points cost, to match up lonely solo tiles and make them vanish. Even these cheats aren't limitless and real caution is needed if you want to leap through the levels and clear that wall.

Progress throughout the game isn't sequential: the more efficiently you clear any screen, the more points you earn and the higher the next level you have to face will be. IF this isn't to your taste then a level designer is on hand for some self-constructed practice. In fact it is quite curious, fascinating and forgettable. The game doesn't work hard to pull you in, but does exhibit some delightful touches in design. Its simple concept allows for few real embellishments, but the game's simplicity can prove absorbing.

To hook or not to hook?
The puzzles are formed by the limited movement and the disappearing nature of the tiles which combine to form this strange puzzler. Swap doesn't develop these inherent gameplay strengths, but it doesn't really need to, it merely dishes out more complex permutations with far fewer cheat. The unfortunate side of this is that if it doesn't hook you straight off, it never will.

There are few traditional puzzle-game trappings to be found. It is truly different, not stressing action or time, just thought. This can be considered a failing as the slow pace implies a lack of intensity, but it does not lack depth. It does not even lack intensity, the focus is just on the brain and not swift mouse or sprite control.

The lack of physical interaction with Swap, gives it a cool if not cold feel though. There's little excitement while playing, a factor which could be easily balanced with big pay offs elsewhere. Yet, no such pay-offs are to be found and the interest in completing levels wanes. And without player interest Swap's longevity is limited.

Klein aber Stein

Swap logo

Ein Monat ohne eine neue Steinchen-Tüftelei ist ein verlorener Monat - so oder ähnlich sehen das jedenfalls die Softwarehersteller. Diesmal möchte Microids ein kleines Stück vom großen Knobelkuchen...

Das Spielprinzip ist mal wieder von ergreifender Schlichtheit, aber das gehört in diesem Genre ja fast schon zum Guten Ton: Es gilt, ein aus vielen bunten Steinen zusammengesetztes Mosaik vollständig abzutragen. Durch Anklicken beliebiger über- oder nebeneinander liegender Steinpaare bringt man selbige dazu, die Plätze zu tauschen. Wenn durch diese Tauschaktion zwei gleichfarbige Steine nebeneinander zu liegen kommen, verschwinden sie vom Screen - fertig!

Freilich: Geht man die Sache allzu sorglos an, bleiben am Schluß einzelne Brocken übrig, die sich beim besten Willen nicht mehr entfernen lassen. Es sei denn, man greift auf Hilfssteinchen zurück die in begrenzter Anzahl zur Verfügung stehen und dem voreiligen Abbruchunternehmher meist doch noch den Weg in den nächsten Level ebnen.

Mit dieser (abschaltbaren) Option wird die Lösung allerdings beinahe zum Kinderspiel! An Swap sollten sich daher nur charakterlich gefestigte Personen wagen, die es fertigbringen, diese motivationskillende Möglichkeit einfach zu ignorieren...

Was wird sonst noch geboten? Ein Vielzahl weiterer Optionen und Einstellmöglichkeiten (von unterschiedlich geformten Steinen über die Farbwahl bis zur Zug-rücknahme ist praktisch alles möglich), eine mit Ach und Krach als zweckmäßig zu bezeichnende Grafik, nett gemachte Soundeffekte und eine ausgezeichnete Handhabung.

Kein Knobel-Hit, aber solider Tüftelspaß für Leute mit Selbstbeherrschung. (Manuel Semino)

Swap logo

Just when good puzzlers seemed to have dried up, they did.

Oh dear, oh dear, oh dear. It looks like we're finally getting towards the bottom of the barrel as far as these puzzle thingies are concerned. We're not quite there yet perhaps, but recent releases like Logical and (ugh!) Quadrel have looked increasingly ho-hum with each new game released, and while the software publisher's legs aren't exactly sticking out of the top of the container as they poke around inside for more, they do seem to be bending over at quite an alarming angle.

They've bent over quite a long way to bring us Swap, that's for sure - an outrageously simple little puzzler which takes about two minutes to get the hang of, if rather long to master.

Perfectly respectable sounding so far for a puzzler, it's true, but this does lack one important element - any sense of interest or intrigue at all. A good puzzle makes you really want to beat the game but frustrated that you can't, and I suspect this is where Swap is going to have difficulties.

So what's it all about? Well, you're presented with a grid built up of loads of variously coloured shapes. These can be big squares, little squares, hexagonals, triangles - you know the kind of thing. In any one puzzle though, the shapes are all the same type (and are therefore interlocking).

By clicking on any intersection between two shapes can flip them around so each takes up the place formerly occupied by the other. You want to keep doing this until two shapes of the same colour meet, at which point - bingo! - they disappear. The object, then, is to clear the board in the shortest possible time, and with the smallest number of swaps.

That's not all though - there are a few little extras to help you along. For example, when you've run out of swapping ideas you can press a button and all the shapes left hanging about loose at the top of the screen will cascade down towards the bottom, landing in new heaps and hopefully offering new opportunities to disintegrate them.

That's not the only piece of help you're offered too - for instance, you're presented with a small selection of extra shapes which you can place on the grid too, thereby cancelling corresponding shapes. (Just take a peek at the screen shots, and you'll get the general idea, okay?) Of course, as you progress through the levels these little extras become a rarity, so working out the best way of swapping shapes becomes mucho important.

However (you knew it was going to come, and yes, I'm afraid it's a pretty huge 'however'), the problem is simply that all this just isn't terrifically captivating. For a start, you're spending so much time swapping shapes that you're making things disappear all the time, and it soon loses the little satisfaction it once held. You also have to remember that one mistake early in the game can foul things up a treat, and who wants to work out a complete solution to each screen all the time before starting a puzzle? Not me, that's for sure.

The major problem with Swap is that it provides very little reward for quite a lot of work. I have to confess to being more than a little bored of the whole affair after a matter of a few hours, and to glean any extra enjoyment would mean becoming extremely proficient (not a prospect that fills me with excitement).

Even so, it's the kind of game that'll fill a few idle hours, and as a programming job it's at least satisfactory. Not great, not terrible, just a game that would make far more sense at a budget price.

Swap logo

French development house, Microids, are probably the last people you'd expect to come up with the year's most fiendishly addictive puzzler. The Gallic team can usually be found designed computer car simulations for the gigantic Renault car company rather than programming one of the most infuriating brainstrainers of recent times.

The basic gameplay is incredibly simple. A board, consisting of a number of titles of varying shapes, size and colours, has to be cleared by swapping the tiles around. When two or more tiles of the same colour come into contact with each other, they disappear and the player moves on to perform similar moves until the entire board is cleared. That's the theory, but in practice it's a lot harder than it sounds.

The game is essentially split into two halves: a training mode and a multi-level competition. The training mode allows you to become familiar with the game's many options and experiment by designing your own levels. The various options include the size, shape and colour of each piece as well as a time-limit for each level (if you're feeling particularly masochistic).

Best of all is the avalanche option which will send tiles which have become isolated cascading down the screen until they bump into another one. Hopefully, some will match and thus disappear, and the process will continue until no other matching pairs are left. Another useful 'cheat' is a cache of supplementary tiles which can be picked up and repositioned next to shapes which have become isolated or a proving difficult to shift. You can select both the avalanche and supplementary tiles options to come into play at the start of a game or when you've accumulated enough points.

Once you've become familiar with the game's many quirks, it's into the game proper in which the computer devises level after level of devilishly clever screens for you to clear. Each one gets progressively harder, with the player aiming to score a set number of points and stars or wipe out all the shapes. All the options available in the training mode are present at different times and different combinations. One minute you could be facing a screen full of tiny multi-coloured squares with an avalanche option but no supplementary tiles, and in the next level come across a screen packed with three colours of tri-angles and a time-limit to boot.

Incidentally, for some mathematical reason, I probably can't even start to understand, the last combination is the hardest of the lot to clear!

Swap is a belter of a game, smartly presented, with functional graphics and some excellent samples of smashing plates. Every time a number of shapes disappear, one of several crockery breaking sounds escapes from the Amiga, which is highly amusing if you think of the lengths that the programmers must have gone to get such samples.

Unfortunately, the game is a bit easy at first. If you complete a level quickly, you're allowed to skip subsequent stages. I raced through to level 96 within twenty minutes of picking it up, but after that things did progressively harder and thus more rewarding.

With a staggering 999 levels, Swap should come up with a public health warning attached to it...