Overall Score 72%
The Astroslugs are a race of, well, slugs, that dream of leaving their home planet and conquering the universe. Fair enough - who doesn't dream of doing that? There's only one snag - their spaceship has no fuel. This is where you come in - your task is to head out alone into the wilderness, looking for the slugballs left behind by your sluggy ancestors. When arranged into the right glyphs, these can generate the energy you need to launch the ship. Next stop - the universe!
Astroslugs is a puzzle game in which your task is to fit a given set of shapes into an arrangement of slugballs. You do this by "drawing" the shapes with your mouse, dragging out the required patterns and marking them in a range of different coloured slug slimes. When you've managed to fit all the patterns into the puzzle, the mystical energy of the ancient slugs is released and bottled up for your spaceship. Puzzles are split up into areas - complete all the forest puzzles, for instance, to open up the desert puzzles. You can approach the puzzles in each area, however, in any order you wish. When a new area is unlocked, you can also choose to stay in the current area and attempt some much tougher puzzles for a lot more energy.
The graphics are decidedly cartoon in style and have a wonderfully comic feel to them. I can't imagine these slugs conquering my back garden with any success, much less the universe. Menu options are given on roughly assembled wooden signs. Slugballs are easy to spot - they're balls filled with holes - and the style continues with such things as the slugs' homes in the forest. It's a very well presented game with plenty of background activity. Sit back and watch the woodland creatures popping in and out of shot, or the slug slowly sliding down a sand dune in the desert!
A range of music tracks for the title screen, maps and different areas accompanies Astroslugs, and is another example of the excellent presentation. As there's only one backing track for the puzzles in each area, you may find it gets a little repetitive. There's also a suitably slimy set of sound effects, along with some squeaky wooden boards, effects to accompany all the background activity and an interesting puff of air sound when you remove a glyph. I had no idea you could blow away slime as though it were merely dust, and will try it the next time slugs invade my garden (possibly en route to galactic conquest).
Astroslugs is very easy to learn. The opening section, around the spaceship, features a series of tutorial levels that introduce the concepts of drawing shapes and such things as rotating and mirroring them. Tutorial advice appears at the top of the screen so you can click on it to read about how things work. New glyphs are introduced gradually too, as well as shortcuts for drawing the more complex ones, and once you get onto the puzzles proper they start out easy and get progressively harder. The energy released from each puzzle is a good indicator of how difficult it is, though these things are always subjective. If you make a mistake, you can remove shapes individually or reset the entire puzzle.
But how long can it last? There are plenty of puzzles to keep you going, and the unlocking of entire areas at once means that getting stuck need not limit you too much. You might find that you pick up some new strategies by approaching other puzzles first. There are no limits on time or number of attempts, so you should get there eventually, but some kind of hint system would be a big help. Removing individual glyphs is easy - either redraw over them, or simply click on them with the right mouse button. On the other hand, getting stuck on the last puzzle of an area can be frustrating. Saving is automatic, with multiple profiles supported. One disappointment is that, once completed, there's little incentive to replay puzzles. Some players would like to be able to, say, beat their previous time.
While professionally put together and easy to pick up, I found a few irritations in Astroslugs. One was the level completion animation, which takes about ten seconds to run through and cannot be skipped. I liked it the first few times - energy bubbling into the flask, the stopper going on, and a triumphant "+1" slamming onto the board - but it grows tedious after a while. A simple option to skip it with a mouse click would be good. In a similar vein, one needs to click on the "Next" option in the bottom right to move on to the next puzzle, which seems a little unintuitive - often puzzle games simply require a mouse click without needing to click on particular buttons or at least a clearly centred button. I am also unclear on the target audience. Young children might struggle with the "drawing" method, though the theme seems very much aimed at them, and the puzzles get relatively difficult rather quickly. Early puzzles have names of some meaning and the resultant shapes could potentially look like something - but later they just seem abstract. Child friendly levels where they have to make pictures with the glyphs would appeal, in a similar vein to the alphabet puzzles in Professor Fizzwizzle. Older players may well find the game lacks challenge beyond the puzzle's main dynamic - no time limits, no targets, no real variation. Just fit the shapes into the puzzles, over and over. While the shapes may change, the dynamic does not. This will undoubtedly impact on the longevity of Astroslugs.
A pretty solid puzzler with a good deal of care taken with its presentation, Astroslugs takes the humble puzzler in an interesting direction. I fear, however, that it hasn't taken it far enough to give the game the depth it needs.
Keywords: astroslugs review, bit barons reviews, bit barons games, astroslugs scores, pc game reviews, indie game reviews, independent gaming.