Review: Sky Scramble

By Owen Faraday 30 Jul 2013 0
Therefore, by Modus Tollens, … If that's a bicycle in interstellar space, I should pay more attention to the X-Games.

Bertogames' Sky Scramble is a simple spatial-relations puzzler. Simple -- except that solving the puzzles often isn't simple, and while the presentation is spatial, the reasoning I found myself using was more abstract. Maybe not as simple as advertised, then.

It came as no surprise when I discovered that the game was designed by two mathematicians. Sky Scramble is the only puzzle game I've encountered which doesn't much rely on spatial, linguistic, or arithmetic reasoning, which makes it interesting both for fans of puzzles and for those who generally avoid the genre because of the limited variety of abilities in use.

It's a lesson in counting in binary posing as a puzzle. Spin Out

The setup is quite simple--for each puzzle, you have a constellation of stars of varying radii. You can exchange the places of any neighboring stars which touch in order to move the small red star to the goal. These puzzles are presented in easy-medium-hard triplets of gradually increasing overall difficulty, which gives the game an unusually even pace. Frequently, presenting all of the easy puzzles early on means that players' progress slows dramatically late in the game. Given that Sky Scramble offers almost half of its puzzles for free, this would have given an inaccurate impression of the game's difficulty for those who would be in a position to consider purchasing the remainder.

A digression: when I was a child, I bought a physical puzzle called Spin Out in a museum gift shop on a class trip (I was gifted enough to pay attention to products marketed at gifted children, but not gifted enough to recognize that even the gifted could be suckers). It was sort of a disappointment, at first because it felt like I could fiddle with it forever and not make any progress, and then later because there was just one trick to it. The right pattern was extremely easy to follow if you understood it, but constantly led you into falsely thinking you were essentially back where you started if you didn't, because you wouldn't recognize the importance of one small difference.

In space, no one can hear you scream about spiders. If you must insert gratuitous heavenly bodies in your game, I like this method.

That's what Sky Scramble's hard puzzles feel like to me. I'm constantly taking a few (or more than a few) steps, then feeling like I didn't accomplish anything and backtracking. Only after playing around with it a good deal more and thinking hard about the structure of the puzzle do I realize I had actually been accomplishing something important, and pursue it. The difference between this and Spin Out is that the puzzles don't feel like they're a single trick repeated many times and they are distinct enough that, though there's substantial skill transfer, each offers a unique challenge.

I wish I were a better mathematician so that I could describe Sky Scramble more precisely. I wouldn't be surprised if it's just a special case of some interesting work in Graph Theory or something, with a theme no more accurately modeled by it than you'd expect from a badly-written word problem (but which serves as their excuse to include cool space photos). Then again, perhaps it's best that I can't deny you the opportunity to stretch your brain to encompass these puzzles more thoroughly than I quite have.

Review: Sky Scramble

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