So you’ve played puzzle games, right? I mean, obviously. If you haven’t, you’re odd and no one cares about you.
Most of them divide into two groups, basically: Games where you match bits to other bits like Tetris and Bejeweled and whatever and games where you use logic to figure out the proper solution like Sudoku or Picross. And I guess adventure games, where you just guess at things and curse. All good games that are fun to play. SpaceChem, by indie producer Zachotronics, makes each of them look like more of an insult to your vast, all-conquering intellect than the last.
Puzzles in SpaceChem are about taking chemical input from point A and turning them into output at point B. You do this by slotting instructions into either of two assembly lines in a Reactor. Here, it’s easier with a picture:
You can use either Red or Blue to create chemicals, grab them, bond them to other chemicals, drop them, and output them. You’re given a specific set of input chemicals to work with, and a goal for your solution. There’s also a few restrictions in terms of what can be double or triple bonded. The idea is to get things working so that you not only get a single chemical output right, but so that you can leave it to run hundreds without a hiccup or a collision. Obviously, they let you speed it up to Crazy Fast in order to test that bit. Eventually, you begin requiring multiple reactors like this connected together, constructing a complex chemical in a chain of input, assembly, and output.
Rather than giving you a puzzle with a solution, SpaceChem gives you some goals and a few tools then demands that you figure it out. You might find one of the hundreds of possible solutions, and find out that yours is a kludgy horrid ugly thing that everyone else is laughing at. You took 40 parts? What are you, a moron? Ugh.
SpaceChem encourages you to not just manage to solve the puzzles it presents, but to come up with a clever way of doing it in the most efficient manner possible. As you move through the game and into multiple reactors working at once, it’s fascinating to see the little graphs presented post-leve l-which chart your solution against all other recorded ones based on number of instructions, time taken, and number of reactors used- open up. One level was completed by some clever jerk with a quarter of the instructions my solution took. How? Well… I’m going to have to figure that one out.
It’s a sort of puzzle game I haven’t seen much of at all, and I feel pretty comfortable saying it’s the greatest single idea conceived in human history. The ability to actually innovate in order to solve a problem is incredibly engaging, and makes you feel clever as hell when you finally get something right. Particularly if you see you did it with above-average efficiency.
You might not think you need to buy it but that’s just a last-ditch effort by your brain to keep you doing anything other than figuring out puzzles. You definitely need to buy it right now.