Cryptex of Time
The word "cryptex" is a neologism coined by the author Dan Brown for his 2003 novel "The Da Vinci Code", denoting a portable vault used to hide secret messages. It is a combination of the words cryptology and codex. Surprisingly, I didn't realise this when starting my review for Cryptex of Time, though I had only previously encountered the word in said novel. Given this, I am more favourably inclined to accept that a cryptex could also be a form of ancient lock used to hide treasures, though the existence of any such devices is perhaps questionable.
But never mind. Cryptex of Time isn't about historical accuracy but about solving puzzles, and it does so very well. You take on the role of a treasure hunter, guided remotely by Annie, who provides advice about the various cryptexes you encounter. Starting with a map of the Mayan region, your task is to solve a sequence of cryptexes in order to advance and obtain treasures, including maps to new areas.
Cryptexes are solved by matching three or more gems (or blocks, plates or runes - for simplicity, I'll refer to all as gems). No, don't go yet... Cryptex of Time actually does this in an almost unique fashion. For a start, the matches don't need to be straight lines. You can clear groups of connected gems in any shape, as long as they all connect to each other horizontally or vertically. Secondly, the cryptex itself is a cylinder which you can rotate. Your task in any cryptex will vary - generally you need to either match X gems or clear Y wheels (an entire circle of gems). You do this by rotating the wheels to create matches. Of course, rotations will affect the entire cylinder, not just the gems you can see.
There is a huge variety of gameplay in this simple concept. The speed at which new wheels drop down is one variable, and in one mode gets faster as you clear the level. Forcing the player to clear a cryptex within a set number of rotations is another (every little step is one rotation, so big twists of wheels are not advised). Later cryptexes don't automatically clear matches, or need to be "shaken" to make new blocks fall. Special gems can also fall that explode or remove whole lines/wheels when you complete a match next to them. And there are bonus rounds where you guess the next gem in a sequence.
Graphically I think it is fair to say I was blown away. The title screen alone shows an immense amount of time and effort, and the backgrounds for the different settings, the world map - the quality of the artwork generally - is immensely high. Gems rotate and fall smoothly and actually do "fall off" the cryptex when matched rather than simply explode or disappear. The fonts and buttons were reminiscent of a previously reviewed game, "Magic Match", though I am not aware of any connection between the two aside from the obvious attention to detail.
Sound too is high quality. Sound effects are plentiful - quite impressive given the limited opportunities for them - and the music is both beautiful and atmospheric. There are options to adjust the volume of either, as well as the particle effects for gem matching, though thus far I've felt no urge to silence the game. The quality is remarkable - even more so when you read the game credits and find that one person is responsible for nearly all of the development.
Playability is another high score. Aside from entering the name for your profile (allowing you to have several people playing individual games) and the space bar for "shaking" cryptexes, control is pretty much entirely mouse. Actually, even the "shaking" has a handy button you can click on. The left button allows you to hold onto gems and move the mouse to rotate wheels. The right mouse button, when held, lets you rotate your view of the entire cryptex. You can also rotate the entire cryptex by moving the mouse cursor to the edges of the screen. You can replay any level you like, and you gain access to the next world several levels before the end of the previous one - allowing you to either continue the first, or try the next. This provides a little welcome variety, especially given the different styles and features of different worlds.
Initially I had some concerns about the longevity of the game, as I flew through the Mayan levels very quickly. I also got through the Egyptian levels without too much hassle. Worried that Cryptex of Time may be too easy, I was pleasantly surprised to find new challenges on the next two worlds (indeed, the first cryptex of the fourth world took me several attempts!) and now feel the opposite - that the difficulty curves a tad steeply around the middle of world 3! There's also a free play mode, which keeps dropping wheels on you at an ever increasing rate and can be played in any of the four worlds that have been unlocked.
Beautiful to see, with delightful sound and music and with gameplay simple enough to engage anyone, yet varied enough to stave off boredom for some time, Cryptex of Time is a must-see for any puzzle fans. Anyone designing a match-3 puzzle game, this is the level of quality you should be aiming at. I hope we will see more from SOLO Development in the near future.
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