Movement-until-blocked mazes

IMG_0002.PNGA regular maze is good, but a concealed maze is better. By allowing only particular kinds of movements, a simple grid suddenly can become a twisted virtual maze. A recurrent trick is to only allow straight movement that continues until blocked. Various puzzles in the app store use this approach. And to give away my conclusion, I find Q Touch (shown here to the right) currently the most interesting of them.

The following five apps all are this kind of “movement-until-blocked” mazes:

MouseAbout.pngOf all these puzzles Mouse About (shown here to the left) has by far the most polished presentation. This puzzle is really gorgeously made. Unfortunately, as a puzzle it is less satisfying. The puzzles are not very difficult, and there is time pressure for each level. Limited time of course makes it more difficult to solve a level, but I consider this to be a cheap trick.

The principle of the game is interesting though. You are a mouse and have to eat all edibles on-screen. You can move orthogonally in any direction, but when you start in any direction, you move until you reach something to eat. If you don’t reach anything, you move out of the board and are eaten by the cat. As an extra help, you are also stopped by other objects lying around, like the nuts and bolts in the picture. The result is a virtual maze, in which you will have to find the right order to eat the food. Take the wrong order, and you’ll end up in a dead end. Note that you often cannot retreat your steps, because you have just eaten your last way-point!


Exactly the same principle is used in Stompem (shown here to the right). Contrary to the previous one, Stompem has incredibly simplistic graphics. This might appeal to some retro-lovers, but I just find it a very unsatisfying experience. As for the puzzle mode, this is basically the same as in Mouse About. Yet, instead of edibles to be consumed, there are flowers or balls to be demolished (and this destructive aspect earned the puzzle a 9+ rating in the app store). There is nothing in Stompem like the nuts and bolts in Mouse About. Instead, the red objects have to be stomped twice, adding some extra depth to the structure of the maze.

As a puzzle, Stompem is fine. Even the easier levels that I tried need some attention, so I think the higher levels might actually be interesting. Fortunately, there is not time limit, but unfortunately levels cannot be freely chosen. So, if you go for looks and time-constraints: take Mouse About. If you can stand the poor graphics: take Stompem.

mines.PNG Although it looks rather different, the puzzle structure of Melonchi Minecarts (shown to the left) is almost the same as the previous two games. In Melonchi Minecarts you are riding over rails, but you can only turn at the gems to be collected, the tracks are all orthogonal, and the tracks disappear when you have passed them. The result is just a simplistic version of the above. Add to that extremely simple level design, a somewhat counterintuitive vanishing of the rails, and a poor usage of the size of the screen. Summarizing: better take one of the above if you like this kind of puzzles.

dynamate.PNGThe other two puzzles in the “movement-until-blocked” category take a different approach. Both have multiple objects to be moved, and the puzzle consists of moving the objects in the right order. In Dynamate (shown to the right) moving balls of particular colors together makes them disappear (e.g. a red ball bouncing against a green ball makes both disappear). The goal is to let all balls disappear. In higher levels all kind of extra gimmicks are introduced, like teleports and forbidden walls. Overall, the approach of this puzzle is interesting, though the rules are so counter-intuitive that they always have to be shown on the bottom of the screen, so you can check them regularly (which is necessary!). Also the implementation is terrible: the balls are much to small to easily be selected, there is no possibility to undo, and the developers have a somewhat curious taste of level design, which makes me suggest you’d better …

qtouch2.PNG… try the final puzzle in this category: Q Touch (shown here to the left). In Q-Touch there are multiple balls that all have there own goal position, depending on their color. They can reach the goal in any order and with any timing. The difficulty lies in reaching the goals anyhow. Like all previous games, the balls move in straight lines and only stop when blocked. To reach the goal, you regularly have to use other balls to stop you. So the balls function a bit like the nuts and bolts in Mouse About, though now you have to bring them in the right position yourself. The puzzles are challenging, the implementation is clean and non-intrusive, level design is satisfying, the control of the balls works intuitively, and there is full undo. The only thing I would like to see added is the possibility of free level choice, with thumbnails of the lay-out (see for example Subway Shuffle, Naboko or Theseus for examples of this approach).

The upshot of all of this: the serious puzzler should go for Q Touch. If you are somewhat less abstractly inclined, try Mouse About. If you like the kind of puzzles of Mouse About, and you can stand bad graphics, go for Stompem, which will give you somewhat more satisfying puzzles. Forget the others.


3 Responses to “Movement-until-blocked mazes”

  1. Bob Hearn Says:

    This puzzle concept goes back, I think, to Nob, with his UFO puzzles, which ThinkFun marketed as Lunar Lockout (and later, as Pete’s Pike). Those are really wonderful, compact puzzles. In the Lunar-Lockout version, there’s a goal piece and several robot pieces; the goal is to get the goal piece to the middle of the 5×5 board. You can move any piece, but only in a straight line, until it hits another one. You can’t move a piece if there’s not another piece to stop it (i.e., no walls, and no moving off the board).

    There is actually a Lunar-Lockout ripoff on the App Store, called Riddle Racer. They didn’t do a great job with the interface, and it doesn’t look to be very popular.

  2. michael Says:

    Thanks bob for the added background! I didn’t know about that, and I completely missed Riddle Racer. I’m checking that out immediately.

  3. miteethor Says:

    Have you ever played Brainstorm on pocketPC?

    In this game you slide blocks which each have their own personal gravity via an arrow, which can be transformed via special areas of the board. The goal is to bring the blocks together and make them dissappear from the board while they all move in different directions. I’m wondering if it’s a clone of another game or something similar is available on the iPhone platform.

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