Review: Perfect Paths

By Kelsey Rinella 03 Jun 2014 0
It really is very gratifying. I know we've been trained to expect explosions, but this is what a plan coming together looks like.

Have you ever looked longingly at your mailbox, waiting for your glossy print copy of Pocket Tactics Magazine and found yourself reflecting on the postal system? What an interesting task it must be to design paths for postal deliveries so that everything gets where it ought to go with a minimum of waste and no collisions. Have you, perhaps, thought that you must be able to find a way to do it which would get your treasured reading material into your hands faster? Perfect Paths stylizes this sort of path-planning into a round-rectangle, relaxing pastel exercise in spontaneous cranial combustion.

The basic gameplay is highly reminiscent of SpaceChem; both games involve programming the movements of units by placing directions on the board, including forming and breaking bonds. But Perfect Paths strips away the faux science and a great deal of the surrounding mechanisms which don't pull their weight in gameplay, and keeps the puzzles relatively small. In doing so, it does lose a little of the programming mindset which made SpaceChem feel like a valuable educational exercise, but it becomes much easier to pick up and play, or to abandon a solution and start over. The brilliance of Perfect Paths is that it preserves the essential experience of SpaceChem's highly rewarding puzzles in a more mobile-friendly structure.

And, by "The West Wing", I mean seasons 1-4. If you make it to Sagittarius, they tell you the president's big secret. I try never to miss a West Wing reference.

The puzzles start simple enough: move these boxes to those destinations. That can be a little tricky, because sometimes the paths need to cross and you're only allowed one instruction per space, but a little clever use of the "keep going" instruction is usually adequate. Then they start adding the ability to bond boxes together and requirements that they be bonded at the destination, and places where you can't place instructions, and the ability to break bonds, and quite soon even a simple seven-by-seven grid starts looking like it has an absolutely immense space of possible configurations, and the ones which solve the problem often seem few and unintuitive.

On the more difficult puzzles, if I'm lucky, I start with an insight and poke around to see if I can fit it into a solution. Often I'll just try doing the most obvious thing first, just to make the reasons it won't work reveal themselves quickly, and then will continue doing things which don't work, gradually figuring out what the constraints on a possible solution are. Eventually, I narrow down the options until none are left, and I realize I must have made a mistake earlier and do it all over again, then decide I'm retreading the same thoughts too much and decide to come back to it another time. Then I come back to it a while later and will often solve it straight away. That pattern is immensely pleasurable to me, and really suits a game which plays as well on the phone as on the iPad, though I definitely miss iCloud saving.

I've seriously completed every level in the damnéd game except this one. By contrast, this is what it looks like when you think a level ought to be simple, become increasingly frustrated, and start tossing out random orders hoping for blind luck.

Developer Hyperbolic Magnetism have committed to releasing a new constellation of puzzles each week. Between that and the salient but not distracting integration of challenges and leaderboards, Perfect Paths provides ample justification for a permanent place on your device, so you can return to it many times after you've solved the initial batch of puzzles. SpaceChem pioneered a genuinely wonderful, difficult type of puzzle, and it wasn't until it was refined so well that the need for such refinement on iOS became clear.

Perfect Paths was played on an iPad Air and iPhone 5S for this review.

Review: Perfect Paths

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