Vexed: the original match-and-vanish puzzle

vexed.pngContinuing the series about sequential removal puzzles, this post introduces Vexed, which is probably the first puzzle to use the principle of automatic and immediate removal of tiles when identical tiles come into contact. This principle has become enormously popular in the wake of Bejeweled and its masses of clones and variants. Bejeweled turns this principle into an arcade-style game because removed tiles are replaced by new ones. Vexed has a clearer puzzle logic: remove all movable objects by bringing identical objects together.

Vexed was developed 1999 for the Palm by James McCombe (who worked for Apple afterwards, though this stint does not appear to have any relations to this puzzle game). A screenshot of the original Palm version is shown below to the left. It used a 6 by 8 grid (the outer boundary of grey blocks is always present). The grey blocks are walls that cannot be moved. The other blocks can move horizontally when they are supported by other blocks – they fall down otherwise. As soon as two (or more) of the same blocks come into orthogonal contact, they vanish, often resulting in supported blocks to fall down, possible forming new matching groups which will disappear, etcetera. The main problem is not be left with singular blocks of any kind, because they cannot be matched anymore, and thus cannot be removed. If that happens, something went wrong, and you will have to find a better solution.


James McCombe has published Vexed under a GNU public license, and the Vexed Project has been active in continuing level development and keeping the resources available. There are two versions of Vexed available in the app store (links redirect to iTunes): Vexed and Vexed!! (spot the difference). The version without the exclamation mark is shown at the top of this post. This implementation does everything right: the puzzle is visually clean and unobtrusive, all levels can be freely chosen in whatever order you want, there is full undo, and you can even get hints when you are stuck. And most importantly, the developer of Vexed, Mikko Kankainen, gives full credit to the source of this puzzle. So, try this one to get your shot of vexed. The limited costs are well spend on such a fine implementation.

In contrast, keep your hands of Vexed!! I keep returning to the pesky situation of given credit where credit is due, but in this case the situation is really clear. There is a clear license, easily obtainable on the web (the Vexed project is the third hit in Google when you search for “vexed”). Still, the developer of Vexed!! (the version with the exclamation marks) seems to find it sufficient to say that “Vexed is a well-known block puzzle game. It was very popular on Palm & Windows CE from long time ago.” Sorry, that is not sufficient.

Another similar puzzle is Super Fruitfall [iTunes link]. This puzzle originally was made by London-based game developer Nissimo and published by the company System 3. It was originally released for Wii in December 2006. I have not tried out the iPhone version, but you get a feeling for the puzzle from a few levels available on the web. The idea is like Vexed in that matched tiles disappear. However, there are two differences to classical Vexed. First, in Super Fruitfall the tiles (or better: fruit) only disappear when at least three of them match. And, second, you cannot move tiles: you can only tilt the whole board, resulting in the fruit falling down. This puzzle-mechanism is also found in other iPhone puzzles, but then in a maze like setting. The sequential removal puzzles in Super Fruitfall seem get tricky pretty soon, so this seems to be a game to try out as well if you like Vexed.

[Update 14 January 2009] It look like the “speed”-mode of FLIP is very similar to Super Fruitfall. The description in the app store is somewhat cryptic, and the videos on their website are also not very informative. The “puzzle”-mode seems to be a tilt-maze. Did anybody try this game and can give more information? [Update on update] see my later post on FLIP.

[Update 23 March 2009] After some tips from commentators (see below) I have to revise and amend this story. This game apparently originated in the Taito Corporation (like very many famous games) in 1989. The precursors are called Plotting and Flipull, culminating in the game Puzznic, which is exactly like Vexed. So the concept does not go back to James McCombe. Neither does the name “Vexed” originate with him, as this name appears to have been first used by Andrew Von Dollen in 1997 for a Puzznic-clone written for the TI-86.

[Update 8 June 2009] This game looks like Vexed with rotation, but I didn’t try it out yet: Aquazzle.


9 Responses to “Vexed: the original match-and-vanish puzzle”

  1. Eric Herboso Says:

    What an ass. The least they can do is give credit to the game designer.

  2. Splunge Says:

    Hmm… Neither offer the source code so both of them are a bit grim. (The original is GPL licensed)

  3. Harold Tessmann III Says:

    I agree that they should give credit where credit is due: to some nameless designer at Taito, because Vexed looks a lot like Puzznic which debuted in 1989. (Puzznic may have duplicated some earlier version, but I don’t know of any.) In fact, the screenshot of the iPhone app clearly duplicates level 8 of the Game Boy version and the Palm screenshot copies level 2 .

  4. Harold Tessmann III Says:

    Hrrm. In case this thing completely prevents me from posting URIs, you can find the screenshots I mentioned on Mobygames.

    level 8 of the Game Boy version:,183844/
    level 2:,183835/

  5. Michael Cysouw Says:

    Thanks Harold for the tip!

    There are some more inconsistencies in the story about James McCombe, because there also is a game called ‘vexed’ by Andrew Von Dollen from 1997. He explicitly writes that it is a “clone of the Gameboy mind game originally called Puzznic.” So, apparently neither the idea, nor the name should be attributed to McCombe.

  6. Bob Hearn Says:

    The game was also known for a time as “Cubic”. Here’s a paper showing that Cubic is NP-complete.

    It references a website where you can play cubic, which is now defunct.

  7. Joe Santos Says:

    the original game was PUZZNIC. i played it a lot in the 90s when i was a teenager. in the higher levels, when i couldnt solve a stage, i took notes drawing the puzzle, then solved it at home, and next day back to the arcade place to go to the next level. I downloaded a Vexed for PC and the puzzles are EXACTLY THE SAME i played in puzznic! Not a single change! They are copied exactly! cheers from argentina!

  8. Bento Says:

    The Taito game Plotting is a very different game to Puzznic. Although at first glance the games resemble each other visually ( small square tiles with similar logos on them ) the gameplay is entirely different.

    In Puzznic you have direct control over the tiles, whereas in Plotting you don’t.

    Puzznic, it seems to me, is actually the predecessor to Puzzle Bobble ( aka Bust-a-move ), which Taito released 5 years later.

    If you can imagine Puzzle Bobble played on a rectangular grid, and rotated 90degrees clockwise, with no interaction between the two players, then that’s a lot like Plotting.

  9. WDKtheV Says:

    An app called Vexed (Free) from Viz4biz has just been released (March 3, 2010) for free. From initial impressions it is a solid version based on the original and contains over 1000 levels with three different skins including original PalmOS. As far as giving credit to the original, the game does reference, which I guess is at least a start.

    A priced version of the game appears to be in the works which will contain an easy mode (possibly a help system?).

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