Review: Minesweeper Genius05 Jun 2018 1
Review: Minesweeper Genius
Released 16 May 2018
Aristotle, the hero of Minesweeper Genius, takes a rather literal approach to mine disposal, whipping out his broom to sweep the surroundings for deadly devices. He is a peculiar little character, so proud of his superior brainpower that he keeps his smarts in a glass dome that is attached to the top of his head. The silly plot concerns aliens and scientific experiments, but sweep this aside and you are left with a smart update of a game that has its origin’s in the earliest mainframe games of the 1960’s and 1970’s.
The most well-known version of Minesweeper dates back to the early 1990’s, when it came bundled alongside Solitaire with Windows 3.1. It may not have had the same mass appeal as solitaire, but countless hours of productivity were wasted by those bored office workers, who wanted something a little more tactical than just arranging playing cards. Better still, the unobtrusive graphics, consisting of a small grey grid, were much less likely to catch the eye of a wandering manager.
Actually, Minesweeper Genius has just as much in common with number puzzler Sudoku as it does with its original namesake. Aristotle begins each level placed in a grid, the exit will be marked but the rest of the spaces will be unexplored and could contain deadly mines. You can infer which spaces are safe from the numbers that appear along the edges of the grid. These reveal how many mines are in each row and column. On each level, Aristotle gingerly makes his way from square to square. He is never allowed to backtrack, and should he tread on a mine then he is returned to his starting position.
Minesweeper Genius consists of thirteen islands, each with ten levels apiece. Upon completing a level Aristotle will be awarded a star rating and the next level will unlock. Sometimes, after completing an island, a number of optional advanced levels will also become available. As you progress, more features familiar to those who played the original minesweeper will become available. From the second island onwards, you can flag squares that you think contain mines. Simply press on a square or drag your finger across multiple squares to place flags. The third island introduces radial indicators; these appear in certain squares at the beginning of some levels and display a number that signifies how many of the adjacent spaces contain mines.
To spice things up, the game also introduces a range of special squares that trigger as soon as Aristotle steps on them. There are ones that allow Aristotle to belie his advanced years and leap over a square. Others will slide squares from one end of the grid to the other or swap entire rows and columns. All of the special squares in a grid must be triggered in order to successfully complete a level.
My initial impressions of Minesweeper Genius were extremely favourable, the graphics are clear, the controls responsive and the puzzling initially feels very rewarding. It is obvious that the developers have spent a lot of time polishing and refining their game. It is also commendable that the game offers a generous amount of levels and comes as a complete package, with no extra purchases required. Unfortunately, after playing for a while things began to go downhill pretty fast. Some of the issues are easily remedied; the background music soon begins to grate, but it can be switched off, as can the annoying sound effects that have Aristotle nodding off and snoring after only the briefest period of inactivity. The old dear’s desire for frequent naps may initially be mildly amusing, but I soon felt like grabbing his broom and whacking him over his stupid fishbowl head.
Unfortunately, the game’s biggest issue is not one that can be so easily resolved with the flick of a switch. Minesweeper Genius really suffers from a lack of variety and challenge. Each island follows a similar pattern, starting on small grid layouts that gradually increase in size. It soon begins to feel very formulaic, even the graphics hardly change from island to island. Minesweeper, like Sudoku, is all about making inferences from the limited information on offer in order to build up a complete picture. A large part of Sudoku’s appeal is down to the leaps of logic that you have to make in order to arrive at the correct conclusion. In comparison, the decisions here are much more straightforward and consequently less satisfying.
So, whilst you may initially think, wow, that’s a neat twist on an old classic, Minesweeper Genius soon becomes a bit of a slog. It may make a neat casual game that you can play on your daily commute, but, in the long-term, the repetitive gameplay is a big disappointment. I’m no puzzle genius but still managed to cruise through the first sixty levels with ease, racking up a complete set of three-star ratings. Even at this relatively advanced stage it wasn’t really getting any more difficult. It seems that the game is too obliging and eager to help you succeed. This is largely down to the fact that the puzzles aren’t individually designed but procedurally generated.
Initially, this seems to be very neat and clever, an insurance against player frustration. Yet it turns out that it also makes things too easy, even the special squares that should really add some extra challenge turn out to be a big disappointment. You would think that switching around the grid would really increase the challenge, but actually, the special squares just feel like they are just a point on the board that you have to reach. No matter how drastically they change the layout you can be assured that there will always be a valid move. Consequently, there is never any need to think further ahead than your current move, which is never that taxing, even if you are not a genius.