Chains: The view from across the stream

Another day spent in Chains. After spending a good long time on the Stream, and almost but not quite convincing myself to drop the difficulty down to Easy just so I could get past it, I finally had a breakthrough. My winning technique was a bottom-to-top approach: I start at the bottommost clog on the board and delete the largest, most space-filling chain I can see, then work my way upward, doing the same, creating pockets of emptiness that bubbles can fall through to create new chains for my next sweep. I still don’t know exactly how the game measures “flow”, but this approach at least gets things moving all over.

Having done that, I zoomed through the next six levels in short order. They continue in the same pattern of alternating levels with time pressure with levels without. I’m finding the levels without to be trivially easy — you’d think that the extra thinking time would allow for tricky puzzles, but I’m finding that it requires more thought to discover efficient tactics for the time-pressure levels. Perhaps this game was calibrated for a different sort of player than myself, but it seems unbalanced to me. Again I think of the choice to present it as a linear series of levels, rather than having them all unlocked from the beginning: the disparity of difficulty probably wouldn’t bother me so much if they were presented as mini-games selected from a list, or a Wario Ware-style grid.

About to lose a fewSo far, I’ve spent more time on that Stream level than on the rest of the game put together, but that could change: level 11, titled “Coathanger”, looks like another toughie. It pours bubbles constantly onto a two-sided platform that swings left and right, and asks you to prevent more than 30 bubbles from falling off. Previous challenges to keep stuff from falling off were more absolute about it: if anything left the screen, it was an immediate loss. On the Coathanger, the level designer knows that this is an unreasonable demand. A certain amount of slop is inevitable. And by allowing it, they gain the freedom to make the level that much harder.

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