Thursday, September 26, 2013

High Puzzling: Eets Munchies Beta (review)

The latest Humble (Indie) Bundle came with beta access to upcoming title in the Eets series (Eets Munchies) being developed by Klei Entertainment. Klei has been on a tear lately producing some fairly successful titles including Mark of the Ninja and Shank and it is nice to see them revisiting one of their older titles. Today I give my (p)review of the beta for Eets Munchies; please bear in mind that my impressions here are not for the final version of the game although I feel that enough content is present that a review is possible.

The Short
+some genuine brain-teasers
+delightful art style
+robust level editor

-little room for creativity in solutions
-ocasional quirkiness to solutions
-limited collection of included puzzles


Caveat: Ability to easily share levels is implemented in final game.

The Long

Eets Munchies continues in the same vein as the other titles in the series offering up a collection of zany tools to guide Eets (a sort of cartoon bunny that bears a close resemblance to Max from the Sam & Max series) to a goal object on the screen. Gameplay unfolds almost like a Rube Goldberg machine where the player sets up the pieces before watching the action unfold and seeing if they have properly put things together to successfully guide Eets (who the player does not have direct control over). In essence, each level is a puzzle to try and figure out exactly how to use the pieces given. In addition to making it to the goal, each level has three items to try and collect on the way to provide an increased challenge. As such, many of the puzzles reward a methodical approach where you figure out how to collect each piece in succession until the it is all put together as opposed to trying to solve everything at once.

Each level has a very specific solution and generally affords few options for creativity; this is especially true if you try to collect each extra item on the landscape. While this static approach can be satisfying when the right solution finally clicks, I found myself, on occasion, watching seemingly logical solutions be foiled by the intentional level design. Some levels bait experimentation along the wrong path with the realization that you are going about things incorrectly only setting in after a lot of tweaking and micromanaging of each individual piece. I am sure that some people enjoy this design but I found myself frustrated when I was sent back to the drawing board after 30 minutes of tweaking because a small and unavoidable rock outcropping would prevent my perfect solution from coming to fruition. On the flip side, the single forced path to a solution ensures that you, mostly, can't stumble to victory placing objects randomly and hoping for the best. Another advantage of the static design is that the difficulty curve is easier to manage with each level feeling incrementally more difficult than the last.

Periodically throughout the games 36 levels, a new tool is introduced to change the way that you can guide Eets. Early on, simple planks can be placed as walls or bridges, later you have access to springboards which can propel Eets high into the air, and by the end game you are tasked with manipulating explosive mine carts which can clear a seemingly impassable path. Each new tool mixes up the challenge and later puzzles require a firm grasp of the capabilities of each. While, as stated above, the game entices failed solutions, it never throws a red herring. That is to say, you are never given a piece or tool that isn't necessary to complete a puzzle, if it's in your box, you will have to use it. Early levels can usually be solved in a few minutes but the end game is littered with some genuine brain-scratchers. To ease the player in, early levels feature a 'hint' option which competently guides to the correct path without giving everything away.

Some frustrations
While each puzzle has a specific path to victory, one of the Eets Munchies chief frustrations is just how finicky it can be even when you are on the right path. Some solutions require a level of pixel precision in object placement for everything to go right. Others, require an element of timing in knowing when to detonate a mine cart or activate a spring. While none of these problems can't be overcome, it is a bit annoying to have to redo a level three or four times just to zone in on the sweet spot for specific object placement or to accurately time that last jump. Obviously, this can sometimes make it difficult to determine if you have been steered down the wrong path; I feel that if I have correctly determined the solution, the pieces should be much more cooperative. Admittedly, for one later puzzle, I felt compelled to look up solution online to actually determine if I was doing it right (it turns out I was and many other people were experiencing the exact same frustrations that I was). It might be nice to see the final product have a feature where if you place everything extremely close to the right positions that it 'auto-corrects' if you are a few pixels off.

Graphics and Sound
Graphically, Eets Munchies sports a cartoony look with each level element feeling like it seamlessly belongs. The Eets series has been routinely praised for it's graphical personality and I feel the trend continues. Each element is vivid and vibrant and watching the action unfold is a treat. Interacting closely with the graphics is the sound design. Every clickable object responds with a comical sound effect with the persitent effect of Eets movement, which alters based on the speed at which he is traveling, sets an overall mood. While some of the effects do eventually become grating, I found this to usually be at the points where my frustration with a particular puzzle was reaching it's peak. In other words, the sound itself may not have been the problem.

How long it takes to collect every object in the 36 levels (without cheating) will depend on your ability to solve problems. I suspect most people will be able to breeze through the game skipping a few items here and there in a few hours. As such, the base game feels a bit short. That said, a built in level editor is included (although the ability to easily share created levels isn't yet implemented) which should lead to a healthy dose of community content. While I am not very adept at creating my own content, the editor seems quite robust and easy to use and should be able to more than replicate the kinds of puzzles already available. One small issue I have here though, is that unlocking assets for use in the level editor is done through completing the included puzzles. While this ensures that users will have a familiarity with the objects that can be placed, I think it is an unnecessary barrier for those who just want to jump into creating their own content. Provided that the game is embraced by the community (and level sharing is actually implemented), you can expect quite a bit of bang for your buck.

Ultimately, Eets Munchies is a competent puzzler with a few annoyances. With a projected price tag of $9.99 I think that the game is worth a look, especially for fans of puzzle games (provided that the final version allows for easily sharing levels). That said, if you disliked previous entries in the Eets series (or puzzle games in general) then you can safely pass on this one.