Friday, May 30, 2014

Feature Friday #12 - Guide The Light

Every Friday on our blog I’ll feature a game that’s doing something unique, innovative, and truly noteworthy. This isn’t just an app review; it’s an analytical look at a fresh game from the perspective of someone within the game industry. 


Mobile gaming has changed immeasurably since Apple opened its App Store almost six years ago. It seems that with each new year we’ve seen several different paradigms that take the platform in a direction, only to be shifted again by the next trend. It’s been the features that don’t dictate gameplay, but provide value across genres that have prevailed while other gimmicks faded away. These are things like Game Center achievements, friendly and encouraging character animations (even if they don’t have anything to do with actual game itself), and an emphasis away from actual story, opting instead for a common theme to hold the game together (think Temple Run - they never even explain why you’re running from those Demon Monkeys...). All of these aim to provide depth to a game, while simplifying the actual gameplay into the ever popular bite-sized pieces mobile gamers seem to crave. Sometimes, though, it backfires. Guide The Light is a pretty good puzzle game that gets in its own way with features like the ones listed above. 

At its essence, Guide The Light has you use mirrors to connect different colored beams from one point to another. Of course there are intricacies and special abilities to make this more complex and challenging, plus a few that nearly ruin the whole experience (more on this later), but that’s the premise. It’d be perfectly fine if they kept it like that, but the developers decided to add in the aforementioned “staples” of mobile games. The Game Center achievements basically amount to “You solved this puzzle” and most of the animations serve only to slow down the game. I suppose I appreciate that there’s some kind of theme to it all - you’re trying to recover jewels from the pyramid, and various traps are set to put an untimely end to your expedition, or something like that - but my attention to detail (or lack thereof) shows the overall relevance to the game itself. I don’t feel a need to belabor this point, so I’ll leave it as this: if you’ve made a good game, don’t feel that you need to put gimmicky features in it just because everyone else does. 
I've achieved so much!
For my next point, let’s handle the good game aspect. Guide The Light is a good game, but not a great game. In addition to the mobile features it shoehorned in, later levels have some really annoying aspects that detract more from the game than they add. Guide The Light has depth - 50 levels total - and most of the advanced items succeed in making the game challenging, in the right way. Boxes that produce multiple colors, double-sided mirrors, and motion-activated walls all force you to get creative when solving later puzzles. On the other hand, booby-trapped barrels and walls, plus creeping spikes and crawling spiders lead to constantly restarting the level, and slow the game down to a crawl. It’s true that I wouldn’t have reached these misguided challenges if I hadn’t enjoyed the ones I played first, but that doesn’t change the fact that these end up making incredibly more frustrating. 

Another feature to help me through the tough times was the Vision Crystal, the once-per-fifteen-minute get out of jail free card. Yes, set on a 15 minute timer (which you can pay to remove), you’re allowed to watch a video depicting exactly how to beat the level you’re currently stuck on. I’m torn because although it’s easy to detest the pay-to-win strategy, I appreciate the relief in skipping some of the levels that drove me equally crazy. Maybe it’s just me, but this seems like the developer is acknowledging the game’s faults and weighing them against the users’ inherent distaste for cheap monetization tactics. True, the solutions are probably online somewhere, but this leaves a weird taste in my mouth at the very least. Despite my compaining, I’d imagine anyone looking to get something out of the game will use this feature sparingly, making it more of an irritant than a real concern. 
Dun, dun, dun!
It might be hard to believe, but through all this I mostly enjoyed playing Guide The Light. As I said earlier, the criticisms all come from getting too far into the game and being subsequently disappointed that the later stages didn’t live up to initial (high) standards. For a puzzle game, it’s solid, if not spectacular. As a story-based adventure, on the other hand, it falls completely flat. If there’s a lesson to be pulled from Guide The Light, it’s do one thing well, not several things okay. 


Guide The Light was developed by Phasic Labs and published by AppyNation. The game is only available on iOS, and goes for $0.99. It's a pretty good purchase for a while, and if you're into colorful and tricky puzzles, is definitely worth a buck. There's also a free version, so you can check the game out before you buy.

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