The Second Sky: Secrets of the Shattered Mine

I’m still in that mine, but at least my lack of progress is once again elective. I’ve opened the exit, but I’m hanging back to figure out the level’s two Secret Rooms.

They’re hardly Secret at all, really. The level has an obvious structure, two rows of rooms on either side of large chasm with a circuitous network of rickety walkways over it. Any room-sized gap in those rows begs to be filled. On top of that, you can in a sense visit the Secret Rooms early, via passages that loop back into isolated pockets that let you look at the puzzle content without being able to reach it. Where other levels hide their secrets, this one throws them at you as a dare. This may have something to do with my insistence on completing them before moving on.

These Secret Rooms aren’t just sealed behind a crumbly wall in the hope that you won’t notice them. Their entrances are guarded by secondary puzzles in other rooms, requiring you to solve the room again in a harder way. The presence of these antechamber puzzles is obvious, marked by an opposed pair of room-clear gates acting as a sort of airlock. If you can solve this puzzle, it gives you extra motivation to solve the puzzle beyond it. If you can’t, you have no business attempting it yet.

The level’s puzzle theme has three elements. First, the pickaxe, a new weapon that’s basically the dual of the spear: sharp sides and a blunt tip, so it kills when it swings and pushes when it pokes. Then there’s the powder kegs, which are small bombs that you can push around. (It’s good to finally have another pushable item, by the way. The City Beneath had pushable mirrors, and it always seemed a little weird that mirrors were the only things you could push, because it meant it often didn’t really matter that they were mirrors. Whenever the level designers needed an object to weigh down a pressure plate, they used a mirror, because that’s what was available to them.) Finally, there are mimics, which imitate your movements. Mimics aren’t new, but they’re thrown in because they interact with pickaxes and powder kegs in unintuitive ways. For example, if you arrange things right, a mimic with a pickaxe can push you, allowing you to move two squares on a single turn.

A pickaxe enhances your pushing ability a little, letting you stand oblique to the push direction, but not nearly as much as the stick or the spear, which let you push laterally or even angularly. Here, you can only push from behind. Most of the rooms here have random decorative powder kegs stacked in corners and crannies where they’re unpushable and the only way to interact with them is by accidentally blowing them up. Occasionally, though, one will be placed in a way that you can get behind diagonally. Maybe it’s not easy to get there. Maybe you have to do something tricky involving a mimic first. But once you do, you have an extra tool for solving the room, one that wasn’t obvious at first glance. It strikes me that the use of irregular jagged-walls-and-random-boulders terrain is similar: any bump or protrusion might be the crucial thing you need to catch a mimic against to make it move the way you want, and the fact that there are such irregularities all over the place means it’s not obvious which ones are important. The reason that the level can get away with so much obviousness in its secrets is that it’s sneaky at a lower level. This contrasts greatly with the Tar Recycling Annex, which kept things highly regular in order to keep the player’s attention where it needed to be.

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