iPhone Life magazine

Review: COGS by Chillingo

I do not like sliding puzzle games.  I find them boring, tedious, and ultimately frustrating.  Thankfully, some developers seem to feel the same way and are actually making attempts at turning the genre into something fun and compelling.  The developers of COGS have succeeded in a big way.  Each puzzle is different, and they managed to infuse the third dimension into the game play in such a way that it not only doesn’t destroy the premise, but actually enhances it.  Add to that some nifty contraptions rendered in stylish graphics and you have yourself a winner with COGS.  If you’ve been avoiding the slider puzzle genre as it’s permeated the App Store, now would be a good time to try one out.  Just don’t get your hopes up that any other slider puzzle will come close to this one in terms of enjoyment.

If I’m not mistaken, the concept of the slider puzzle started out simply as pictures.  Then people got “creative” and started using numbers, but the whole concept hasn’t really evolved over time.  I’m not really sure it could have as far as a true physical representation of the game is concerned.  The beauty of making an electronic version of a game, however, is that you have the leeway to do things you can’t in the physical world.  Sadly, not many developers have taken such liberties with this genre until recently, and none have been nearly as creative as COGS.  The game features a series of gadgets that are “broken”.  To fix them you have to slide either gears or pipes around until you create an unbroken path between two points.  In some cases the gears will turn a propeller.  In other cases one or more gears might contain a peg that does something like ring a bell.  The pipes carry steam that can be used for things like inflating balloons.  I’m being somewhat vague here, but one of the things that’s really neat about the game is actually seeing what the next puzzle has to offer, and I don’t want to spoil too much of the coolness for you.

Fix The Whirlybird

I will go into a bit more detail about a couple of things, though.  Some of the puzzles have cubic surfaces that really add a neat element to the game play.  You have to manipulate tiles on multiple faces of the cube in order to solve the puzzle.  What got my attention even more, however, was the double sided puzzle.  Unfortunately I think there was only one of these, at least in the levels available with initial purpose, but boy was it neat.  Basically you had tiles that had pipes on both sides, and you had to make sure that both sets of pipes were connected to win the board.  You almost have to see it to fully visualize it, but in essence it’s like taking a Rubik’s Cube and flattening it so it only has two sides.  Hopefully more of the puzzles available through in-app purchases are like this.

The “main” mode in COGS is Inventor mode.  In this mode each puzzle has three criteria: solution, time to solve, and number of moves used.  The nice thing is that you will always get three stars for the solution, because you can’t beat the puzzle until you’ve solved it!  For the other two criteria you can earn between 0 and 3 stars, depending on how quickly you solve the puzzle and how few moves you solve it in.  Thankfully you can replay any puzzle you’ve already solved to earn more stars in the time and moves categories if you didn’t get three stars there the first time.  Aside from the first couple of puzzles, every puzzle requires a certain number of stars to be unlocked, but you can play any unlocked puzzle to earn those stars.  Challenge mode allows you to play any puzzle that you’ve beaten in Inventor mode in a timed or number of moves scenario.  In timed Challenge mode you get 30 seconds to complete the puzzle and in number of moves Challenge mode you get 10 moves to complete the puzzle.  You can earn between 1 and 3 stars for each puzzle in each of these modes, and those stars count towards your total for unlocking additional puzzles to play in Inventor mode.

Fill The Balloon

Now if you want to stick with Inventor mode, you might be a bit disappointed with the length of the game.  There are 11 puzzles that come with the initial purchase, and I beat 10 of them in less than an hour (I’m not quite sure I’m smart enough to beat the 11th one).  I would argue that this game is more about the quality than the quantity of the puzzles, however.  Even though the solutions came rather quickly, it was still quite fun playing each puzzle and see what the next would have to offer.  Plus, while I’ve beaten most of the puzzles, I haven’t earned the maximum amount of stars for each, so there’s replay value there as well.  And if I get brave enough, I can always venture into the realm of Challenge mode, where I have as yet to beat any of the puzzles.

Graphically COGS goes above and beyond what you expect from most puzzle games.  The background has a kind of weird embossed look to it, but it fits with the whole “turn of the century” feel of the game.  The gadgets / puzzles themselves feel like a set of extremely well designed wind up toys.  Even the menus are really neat.  It actually feels a lot like an extended set of mini-games based off of the adventure game Syberia.  The sound effects are pretty good, though the volume could stand to be a bit louder during actual game play.  You can hear the cool sound of gears turning really well as the menus flip around, but not so much as you’re actually connecting pieces while solving the puzzles.  The music is also nicely done, and sounds like something you’d hear playing in an old fashioned music box.

Ring The Bell

COGS is a great game.  However, I don’t agree with all those who are touting this as “the puzzle game the iPhone has been waiting for”.  In fact, I would not consider this a puzzle gamers’ puzzle game.  In fact, I would classify this as a casual gamers’ puzzle delight, assuming you’re looking at Inventor mode.  Now I will say that hard core puzzle gamers will get a kick out of Challenge mode, but quite frankly I think they’ll be bored with Inventor mode rather quickly.  Lucky for me, while I like puzzle games I’m a casual gamer at heart (at least I am these days), so COGS is just about perfect for me.  I just wish there had been a little bit more to Inventor mode.

Overall Score: 9/10
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Eric Pankoke has been a gamer for more than 20 years. He began with arcade games, moving to consoles and eventually handhelds and Pocket PCs. Now he spends most of his time on one of his iOS devices. Eric has written more than 700 gaming reviews, which have appeared on a number of gaming websites as well as several issues of both Smartphone & Pocket PC and iPhone Life magazines. He regularly contributes to iphonelife.com and TouchMyApps. Ultimately he hopes to eventually develop games himself for whatever the hot mobile device is when he finally gets moving.