Review: Perchang30 Jun 2016 4
Released 23 Jun 2016
Early screenshots for Perchang showed such delightful Rube Goldberg devices that I was carried away by flights of fancy involving building all sorts of intricate contraptions. Rodeo Games veterans Ben Murch and Pete Akehurst didn't make the game in my head. Instead, the 50 levels of puzzles involving these devices give players more limited control, instead allowing the designers to put together devices which produce finely-tuned challenges. Instead of being a game about building a machine to do a job, Perchang is about controlling pieces of it with delicate timing. You do get to determine how to connect the control surfaces to the two buttons with which you provide input. Since there are often more than two effectors, you'll have to plan not only how to direct the flow of balls as you intend, but also how to avoid interfering with yourself.
It seems a bit silly to bother mentioning what you can easily see in the screenshots, but the stark aesthetic is so singular that it deserves attention. While minimalist games are quite common on mobile, they're very often presented in the flat design which seems to have so thoroughly defeated what now looks like the baroque imitation of real-world textures and lighting. Such imitation had seemed like the natural outgrowth of the metaphors with which computing was made comprehensible to the masses. Because the simplicity here presents a three-dimensional world, even though you very rarely interact with depth, it doesn't feel like a conscious rejection of needless complexity. It's not an argument about interface design or a manifesto commanding you to cut away whatever you don't need and then cut some more, it's just clean. It's minimalism without the boorish requirement that you think about it (which I've now been thinking about for a whole paragraph).
The experience this all provides reminds me surprisingly strongly of playing Angry Birds, way back when it was first introduced. I have more respect for Perchang, given that it eschews the atavistic pleasures of breaking things in favor of the more civilized joys of putting balls in the holes in which they belong. Please don't let this presage a dark future in which I join my father-in-law in happily watching televised golf. Anyway, levels are generally difficult enough once the game gets going that you'll have to try them several times, and will sometimes experience an epiphany--the levels often implicitly teach you how to solve them. The challenge comes from figuring that solution out, and then executing it. Like Angry Birds, the difficulty of said execution can become tiresome, especially when it's a multi-step process and you know perfectly well what you have to do to succeed.
Fortunately, even the most difficult levels, though they may initially seem laughably complicated, simply require a bit of patience and practice. All 50 levels of the game can probably be completed in an afternoon by a dedicated player. During that time, you'll work with pinball-style flippers, gravity inverters, conveyor belts, sliding platforms, and more. There's enough variety that the game will periodically drop the difficulty for you to learn a new device, which keeps the relatively simple concept (put ball in hole) from overstaying its welcome. Many of the levels are cleverly designed, giving you an initial moment of bafflement, followed by a period in which you'll spin successively wilder chains of events out in your mind until you discover one which just possibly might work. It's just a bit of a shame that the sensation of mastery of ridiculousness which follows is so brief compared with the repetitive attempts to execute your mad plans.
I like physics puzzles, but not careful timing, so I ended up ambivalent about Perchang. So long as you don't mind practicing a solution in real time, it's a very well-executed game. Conversely, it may not be for you if you take no joy in playing ping-pong with the device you get when you take the pages of instructions for two different projects (one involving plumbing and the other exercise equipment), shuffle them, run them through a translation engine from English to Chinese to Hopi to Polish and back to English, and then hand them off to a talented engineer. I find that premise delightfully daffy, but would probably find actually using such a device a bit of a chore.