Chip’s Challenge: a Sokoban Laboratory

IMG_0001.PNGFor those of you who like the idea of Sokoban, but find it a bit abstract, Chip’s Challenge is probably a good alternative. The original game was designed in 1989 by Chuck Sommerville for the Atari Lynx (in a sense an iPhone predecessor). In Chip’s Challenge, you guide around Chip McCallahan through a series of increasingly difficult puzzles. Many of the puzzles have Sokoban parts in them, but there are many other additions, like ice for sliding, conveyor belts, floors that only be passed once, and bouncing balls that ask for precise timing.

There are various games in the app store that take more or less direct cues from Chip’s Challenge, although I have no idea whether there are any direct links. None of the games even mention Chip’s Challenge. Only one of the games (Loopy Laboratory) cites Chip’s Challenge so directly that it is clearly inspired by it.

The following games might be worth checking out if you are into this kind of puzzles (links redirect to iTunes):

Atari-lynx-chips-challenge.pngLoopy Laboratory in the iPhone (picture in the upper right) is most similar to the original Chip’s Challenge (picture to the left). There are way points that have to be passed before the goal can be reached (chips in Chip’s Challenge, batteries in Loopy Laboratory), there is ice, fire, water, and conveyor belts and there are colored doors with matching keys that are needed to open them. Differently though, Loopy Laboratory does only minimally include dexterity puzzles (like timing your movements with other moving objects). There are spiders and fireballs, but they can mostly be tricked by logic.

A major difference is that in Loopy Laboratory it is possible to pan through the whole level, so you can plan your movements in advance. In Chip’s Challenge this was impossible. This made the puzzles harder, but it also made them more tedious (because you had to start over due to missing information). I find the possibility to pan is a good addition. However, the puzzles of Loopy Laboratory might be a bit more difficult: people with some experience of Sokoban or Chip’s Challenge will easily solve the 50 puzzles included.

IMG_0002.PNGMouse House (picture to the right) removes all references to Chip’s Challenge, though still almost all ingredients are present. There are Sokoban-like puzzles (using balls, though, counter-intuitively, these balls only move one tile when pushed – bad design decision), way-points that have to be passed (cheese), cracking floors that only can be passed once, conveyor belts, and cats with fixed movement schemes that have to be avoided.

pathways.PNGPathways (picture to the right) takes up the idea that some tiles can only be passed once. However, instead of using this to pepper up other puzzles, the breaking of the floor itself is made to the centre of the puzzle. The goal of each puzzle is to remove all tiles. Some tiles break after one passing, others need more trampling before they break (indicated by the number). Unfortunately, the levels that I have looked at are stupidly simple. Maybe there are some more difficult levels later on, but it takes ages to move through the simple levels, so I gave up. I also think that the principle itself just does not allow for complex puzzles, though I am happily proven wrong on that!

Korebasi.pngKorebasi (illustrated to the right) is a strange mix of ingredients. Although it looks like a top-down puzzle, there is actually gravity towards the bottom of the screen, making stones fall down (but all other objects are curiously not affected by this). The puzzles are relatively simple, and a lot of them involve much dexterity to get the movements with the right timing.

Of all these puzzles, Loopy Laboratory is both visually and practically hands-down the best puzzle of all of these. It is particularly pleasing to play, not only because of the gorgeous looks and the nice puzzles, but also because of the good control system. In all other puzzles presented here, you have to tap once in the direction of intended movement for each step. This very quickly becomes incredibly tedious and slow. Loopy Laboratory uses the swipe gesture to direct movement, and when the finger is left on the screen at the end of the swipe, the little girl that has to be guided to the goal will remain moving in the direction indicated. The big improvement of the swipe is that it is independent of your current position (a swipe itself already has direction). A single tap always has to be coordinated with your current position to infer the direction intended, so the position where you have to tap changes all the time. Developers: please take a look at the implementation of movement in Loopy Laboratory!

IMG_0005.PNG[Update 27 January 2009] An update for Mouse House became available some time ago that added the swipe-movement, just like in Loopy Laboratory. The game has become much better playable now, and the puzzles are fun. Maybe a bit on the simple side for a well-versed puzzler, but definitively enjoyable.

[Update 26 February 2009] I have had some more time to play Mouse House. There are 50 levels in all, and they do not get really difficult, but they are interesting enough to remain interesting. Level 44 (shown here to the left) was the one that got me hooked the longest. It takes some careful moving around of the balls to pass all the stinging bees (the balls only move one square per push, like the sokoban boxes—a really bad design decision to visualize them as balls, because I would expect balls to roll until blocked). I consider this game money very well spent!


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