Review: Marching Order12 Dec 2018 0
Review: Marching Order
Released 28 Nov 2018
Marching Order is the perfect game for the yuletide. It’s a cute, relaxing, crystal-clear logic challenge. This is refreshing and timely, because ‘tis the season for rich fare, in games as well as meals. Many of gaming’s biggest games, both in terms of raw content and development budget, drop in Q4, beckoning gamers to side-line other parts of life and mainline these huge games.
Oh, it’s also the season of trips, hospitality and fruitcake. By contrast, sometimes it’s nice to have a refresher, a break from the tumult of big festivities and the onus of this season’s crop of important, must-play AAA games. Marching Order is a nicely done bite-sized snack with endearing presentation, an effervescent soundtrack and excellent (albeit limited) gameplay.
A logic puzzle with two game modes, 'Normal' and 'Hard', Marching Order tasks players towards shuffling around animals to assemble the perfect marching band based on their preferences. The macaw plays best directly behind the elephant; the lion likes to lead; the elephant wants to march behind something with feathers, and so on. This starts out almost trivially simple but as levels go on, additional animals are added to the lineup, as are additional clues. In 'Normal', everything is untimed and the margins of success are measured in the number of moves required to find the right order of animals. (This is an optional, extra metric, kind of like tracking the number of moves used to solve a Rubik’s Cube). Solving it in the minimum number of moves gives a whistle bonus, which acts like an extra life. Normally submitting an incorrect final solution ends the game, but the whistle changes this to 'Try Again'.
'Hard' mode, though, is a race against the clock, seeing how far you can go before the time allotted runs out. They both have similar scaling and the same core logical challenge, so the different modes are really a matter of preference rather than challenge per se.
Logic puzzles are great mental stimulation and exercise. Famous ones like the Monty Hall problem (which pigeons can pass more reliably than Joe Schmoe) or the Watson Selection Test are distinct examples, but this game reminds me of another oldie-but-goodie: Who Owns the Zebra? Marching Order has the same constraints, the same unique solution, but is simpler and designed to scale in difficulty to match the moment.
This adaptability and the game’s overall aesthetic are great marks in its favor. Instead of trying to foist an uber-difficult, one-and-done challenge on the player to prove they are one of the 2% of people who are ‘smart’ enough to do it (such a clickbaity line splashed across brainteaser ads all the time), it starts easy and ramps up until the player fails the challenge. Especially in the timed mode, this doesn’t really take long. The cuteness of the game sets the stage for a calm, collected mindset to tackle the logic challenges. So yes, sometimes I don’t want a flaming-rings, death-defying, world-saving backdrop theme to my mobile games. Epic is nice, but homely and cutesy are often better. The soundtrack helps immensely on this front.
If I had to knock one part of the game, it would be the horizontal scroll of the hints. It’s a clean presentation, to be sure, and in the beginning prevents players from getting overwhelmed, but for later stages this unnecessarily breaks up the puzzle. The hints obviously only hold value in combination with each other, so solving the puzzle is as much about holding all the clues in the player’s working memory simultaneously rather than just applying their restrictions. For timed mode, having to cycle through the hints repeatedly eats up time. A full vertical list would have been a faster, fairer way to present the information for players to process, but this is really making a bugbear of a minor design choice. Yes, it slows people down and prevents quick scans of all the hints, but it’s an evenly enforced outcome for all players.
The game is modest but excellent and fairly priced for the experience. It might not have unlimited staying power or an epic campaign, but for what it asks, it gives a satisfying and salutary experience.