Chip is a logic puzzle game that is very much focused on efficiency. Finishing a level isn't in question; instead, you are timed, your moves are counted, and there are some extra collectables in some of the levels.
It also another component of customization. There are 3 characters, with several slots for cosmetic items. You buy these with in-game money that you get from completing the levels. It doesn't affect the game at all, it's simply a mechanism to give the player a goal.
As I've been trying to do recently, I'll try to break the review into sections, instead of describing the whole game and its problems all at once.Audio-Visual Design
Not much to say in here. Its interface is a bit iOS-y, with big buttons, and the controls relying only on clicking and dragging. I'll get into the controls later, but the rest works fine for what it is.(1)
I liked the cartoon-y style, with bold lines and clean colors. Nice job on that.
The music also started out to my liking, but there isn't enough variety, and quickly got repetitive. General Structure
There are 4 worlds, each with its new mechanics. The first 3 worlds have 20 levels each (with additional 5 challenge levels). The last one seemed to have been added after the game's release, featuring only 5 levels.
Each level has 3 stars, one for the timed element, one for the number of moves, and one for simply finishing it. Leaderboards are only present for your overall score.
Additionally, some levels have a bag of money, or a cosmetic piece for you to collect. You get gold as you progress, and can then spend it on the shop. You can buy headgear, dresses, boots, etc. to use in each character. These are only visible in the starting screen, and in the level. The objective is to get an energy ball to the your character, and the character appears as you've customized.
It's more of a distraction than a mechanic, but hey, it's cool that it's there, I'm sure there are people who appreciate those details a lot.General Mechanics
You can always see the whole level in the screen at once. Unfortunately, there's no zooming option, which could solve lots of problems. But more on that later. (2)
The level effectively starts when you do your first move. The puzzles consist on shooting an energy ball in a certain direction, and then move objects around to alter the balls trajectory. There are object that reflect the energy ball, portals, magnets, etc. etc. There are many different elements at play, but they're well introduced and don't overwhelm you. Tutorialisation was one of the highlights of this game, for me, but not without its problems.(3)
You can rotate and/or move some objects. For example, there's a wall that reflect the energy ball. However, if it's not the right angle, the ball is simply destroyed, or sent in a direction that you didn't want it to. Or, when starting the level, you may want to shoot the ball into a different direction. Rotation and Movement are level dependent.
There's no point in explaining details here, just trying to give you an idea.Every object is already placed within the level when you start
. It doesn't ask you to construct the level to solve the puzzle. Everything is placed, and you have to play accordingly.
It's a bit limiting, but that's due to the game's (valid) design. If you don't like that type of puzzle, you're better off looking elsewhere.
Alright, onto the major design problems/highlights.1.Controls
This is probably the biggest issue with Chip. You click an object to select it, and hold if you want to rotate it, or click another tile to move it. The problem is that the hitboxes are very dodgy. Part of it is due to the isometric perspective, and part of it is due to its size. I've had to restart levels countless times because I wanted to move and ended up selecting another object, or rotated it the wrong way. The alternative controls scheme helps, by moving the camera with RMB. The main has movement AND the camera tied to LMB which aggravates every control problems.
It's particularly bad in levels cluttered with objects.
Another huge problem with bad controls, is the efficiency
in the level design. Since you are always timed, and your moves are counted, it's too easy to screw up, without it being the player's fault.
The game is not pausable, although there is a slow-down when you have a object selected. It's not enough. They wanted to make a real-time, reflex based puzzle game, and sort of hammered it in, trying not to compromise that initial vision.
A zoom featured could have helped with the hitboxes, I feel. The closer you are, the more precise the movement is, and could lead to fewer screwups.2.Time Elements
There are two elements of time in Chip. One of them, is the time limit for each level. The other, is how sequencial your actions are. You'll have to move and rotate the same object several times, depending on which sections the ball is, and also have to coordinate every move to achieve each star. This could be great, but there are several reasons why they fall apart.
Again, it seems like they wanted to make a game reliant on being fast and efficient, but didn't quite know how to do it properly, hence making those mechanics very artificial.
The solutions rely more on reflexes than logic, sometimes. You can often see how
to finish the levels, but end up failing because of the controls. Also, creating a time limit makes no sense to me, in such a game. There's usually only one solutions, and the creative side of the game is so low, that having it timed doesn't really help. Besides, it is often impossible to get the moves star and the time star at once. That's right. You'll have to replay the levels to get them separately...
I don't think it the real-time element should be present at all, as it doesn't enhance the experience in any way. Plus the clunky controls, it's a nightmare.
A simple pause
would do this game wonders! Time the levels as you want, but make it count only when things are moving. The slowing down helps, but it doesn't quite reach it, and it's just there to stay "true" to the initial design, which doesn't work. If the player paused the game when moving an object, it would certainly feel much better.3.Tutorialization
The game isn't awful. Despite having critical problems, it has some very elegant design as well!
How it teaches the player is one of those features. It progressively introduces mechanics, one by one, and has a couple of levels that focus on teaching the player. Those are easy, but often lead the player in the right direction to beat the following levels, that are a bit more complex.For the most part of the game, levels didn't overwhelm me, and the solutions were spot-on!
Later on, it all crashes, as you need to get each star separately, there are many objects close together, the previous 6-7 moves are now 30, etc.
Another detail, is regarding moves and the tutorials/subsequent level design. The moves counter is supposedly optimized
. However, in some levels, you can do better (which feels good, of course!) by hitting the ball while the object is moving towards the next position. It's like hitting two birds with one stone
. That particular detail is almost tutorialized early on. There was a level that couldn't be beaten with all the stars without this trick. If that is the case, one would expect them to follow with it, and take that into all of the levels' design. They don't.
I realize that this is a very minor gripe, but it's one of those details that stick out, to me. And this mechanic made some levels really satisfying too!
Well, I'm out of characters.. I was positively surprised at first! Unfortunately, when the difficulty ramps up, the game falls apart and every problem becomes too evident. I can't recommend it, but it has potential!