Zenge came to my attention as a free game on the Google Play store — it will remain free until midnight, so anyone catching this review on the 25th, download it ASAP — but I imagine it would be worth the typical $0.99.
While it can be mentally-frustrating to purchase a game — I mean, who pays for games — Zenge is an effort deserving of reward. Charming, clever, and all-around calming, Zenge will have you solving puzzles as you unlock more of its interesting story.
With any puzzle game, gameplay is key. Well, I guess with any game, gameplay is key, but with a puzzler, it doesn't necessarily matter how the game looks or sounds; if the puzzler isn't solid, the whole thing falls apart.
Luckily, Zenge succeeds on all fronts.
Here's the deal — each puzzle is made up of a number of shapes. In the center of the display, there is the outline of an even bigger shape. You drag the individual shapes towards the center of the screen to fit into that outline. Once that's done, you win, and see you've built a piece of artwork (more on that later).
Sound easy? Well, it is. At first.
Soon, the game throws obstacles at you. Certain shapes block the paths of other shapes, meaning you need to consider alternative paths:
If this shape needs to move forward, but this shape is blocking it, that means I need to move that shape out of the way ... but now there's a shape blocking that one ... huh
If you stick with it, though, you will eventually find the right path. There's nothing more satisfying than getting stumped on a stage for a while, only to have to correct solution click in your head all at once.
I have to say though, I started to get a little ... bored, after a while. But I think Zenge anticipated that. Every so often, right when you feel tired of the game, Zenge introduces a new challenge. Whether that be a new shape, a new type of movement, or a new way to have your path to the center blocked, Zenge mixes the game up at the perfect moment to grab your attention again.
In addition, each change to the gameplay is subtle — Zenge won't necessarily tell you how to solve the new puzzle, but the stage is cleverly designed to teach you how to play. I don't think the game is looking to frustrate you intentionally — it's looking for a way to challenge you, but expects you to have what you need to solve it.
Believe it or not, there's actually a story to Zenge. Remember that artwork you create with the completion of a stage? Each artwork is a piece to a story. It's an interesting way for the game to tell a story, and gives you another incentive for finishing each puzzles.
While definitely a fresh way of doing things, I wish the story was a bit more concrete. It's a bit tough to follow, and requires a lot of filling in the blanks. That's not necessarily a bad thing, but I think it was a tad too vague.
Zenge isn't about the looks for me. That's a polite way of saying ... it can be a little ugly. I'm not too bothered by that, but it's worth mentioning. The pieces themselves are lacking in any real definition or depth, and the stages they move around in highly resemble blueprints.
The artwork that each puzzle creates is cool, however. I really enjoy each one — they have an early-computer rendering style to them, but they're done well.
The game has a great soundtrack — a very minimalist piano score relaxes you into each puzzle, and changes subtly along with gameplay. You might not notice it after a while, but the soundtrack really becomes part of the experience. I'd play this one with headphones just for the music.
Preview a bit of the soundtrack below:
The sound effects are useful, but leave something to be desired. Certain elements of the game benefit from having these effects, but I wish they were a little more defined. Nothing that really hampered my experience, but just a small thing I noticed.
For those of you clicking on this article before midnight on the 25th, Zenge is free. But to all others, the game will cost $0.99. Is it worth it? I think so. For $0.99, you get a wonderful puzzler without ads, with a fantastic soundtrack and stages upon stages to solve. Many in-app purchases in "free" games are more expensive than that. It's not an action-packed thriller, but if you're someone who likes puzzle games and wants a fresh experience, Zenge might just be up your alley.
+ clever puzzle system
+ creative storytelling techniques/artwork
+ great soundtrack
– while creative, the story is a bit too vague