Altered

PC, Mac, Linux

Here are my two favourite things to discover when playing a new puzzle game:

  1. A brilliant original mechanic that makes my brain bend in a new direction
  2. Those moments of being absolutely stuck, and then suddenly realising the solution

Altered offers both, in buckets. It’s fantastic.

At a glance, once you look past just how pretty it is, it might look a bit troublingly like yet another block-sliding puzzle game. But it isn’t. OK, admittedly, you slide blocks, but shut up. It’s different. It’s fresh, tricky, and intriguing, and not Sokoban. Apart from when it is a bit.

At the start the puzzles are based around a peculiar golden statue that can extend perpendicular arms in three blocks up, down, left or right. Always perpendicular, never up and down, or left and right at the same time. And using this ability, you need to negotiate tiled courses to reach a goal. Any part of your block or its arms touching the platforms means you’re good, but you have to twist your brain to think about how it could ever be possible to use these moves to navigate a corner, or cross an awkward gap, without accidentally falling off the levels.

As things progress it introduces more complicated tasks, such as pushing blocks onto switches, to open gates and create new routes, while cunningly ramping up the difficulty to apply all it’s previously taught you in new situations. Then just as you’re getting over-confident, it introduces new block-types to play as.

The second is one that extends arms in the same manner, but only the “hand” on the end is solid. So move it two tiles away and there’s now a gap between your body and your hand, which is not going to support you on a platform. (This is ridiculously difficult to describe with words, so look at a picture!)

After that comes a magnetic block, that doesn’t extend arms, but can attach itself to other blocks, on any of its faces, and in chains. And you’re trying to negotiate these new moves as the game presents elaborate levels with networks of switches and gates, and it all seems too much until you do it and feel like a hero genius.

I’ve reached the point, a few hours in, where I’m properly stumped by some of the puzzles, but at this point it knowingly opens up and offers multiple puzzles to try at once. Get too frustrated by one, and you can spend some time on another, even switching between different block types. I’m so impressed by how intuitively the game seems to read where a player may be at in this way.

The other stand-out feature is that… the game’s nice to you! It’s not punishing, not forever tutting at your failures. Fall off a platform and it’ll just reset you to exactly where you were. Take a ridiculous number of turns to solve a relatively simple puzzle, and it’s good with that – there’s no move counter, no time limit, no star rating at the end. There’s no judgment here. It lets you move back any number of turns, and even has the sense to let you take back a level reset! Gosh I wish more games would do that, when I accidentally hit the wrong button and reset the level instead of take back a turn – here it counts a reset as just another move, so it can be taken back the same.

And as I said at the start, it’s really pretty! With a zen-gardeny vibe, and a mellow ambient soundtrack, it feels as though it’s trying to calm you down as you play, even when you’re completely stumped. It’s effective! I’ve found myself not feeling cross, but rather impressed at how it’s confounded me. Which is some sort of witchcraft.

I’m absolutely delighted by Altered. It’s a very clever and refreshingly original approach to the puzzle format, beautifully presented, deeply intuitive, and will keep you busy for a good long while. I’m so happy to have found this!

  • Glitchheart
  • Steam
  • £9/€10/$12

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2 Comments

  1. A John Walker puzzle recommendation is just what I needed this week! Thanks for the recommendation and the hard work!

  2. I played the demo of this for my own column (which is very much inspired by what you’re doing with Buried Treasure) and absolutely loved it, including and especially the slightly grotesque elements – that weird statue with its freakishly stretching arms – that sneak in between all the Buddhist lanterns and bonsai gardens.

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