I love puzzle games and I’ve played a huge number. I consider myself pretty good at them but by no means an egg-headed expert boffin. I’d read lots of reviews for ECT, all talking about extreme difficulty, so with a bead of nervous sweat trickling down my neck I gulped, reached out a trembling hand and installed…
Each level is a 3D structure which you can rotate to view from all angles like a CAD model. You control a flat square which flips over and over to move around the grid of the puzzle. The early part of the game is mostly Sokoban based puzzles where you push balls and cubes towards exit squares or off the edge of the grid but before long you enter new worlds where the rules fly off at a tangent in totally unexpected ways.
Most puzzle games are based on a single concept that increases in complexity but the basic idea doesn’t change. What sets this apart from other games is that a particular concept will increase in complexity only for a few levels before changing to something completely new. It’s like having several different puzzle games all rolled into one.
Each puzzle is so cleverly designed that I often just sat there marvelling and admiring it from all angles before I even got around to tackling it. Conversely, some of the most difficult ones are the smallest, using only a few blocks.
Let me try and describe one just to give you a taste. Imagine an actual Egyptian pyramid with secret tunnels inside it. Right in the centre is a cube with beams of light shining out from each face. From outside the pyramid you can use these beams to push the cube through the passages, out of the pyramid and off the edge. If you take a wrong turn the beam will be blocked and the cube will get stuck.
User Interface / Aesthetics
Main level overview is a minimalistic 3D interconnected network with 17 coloured worlds, each with its own name to describe the types of puzzles within. You rotate the 3D network to select the world you want to enter and as you do so the puzzles are laid out in the same way, showing miniature versions of the actual puzzles, so you can easily identify them without any need for a numbering system. New puzzles are white and completed ones turn black. The network is expanded as you complete puzzles until the world is marked as completed and can be identified as such on the main world overview. This unusual system feels efficient, natural to use and just looks great.
Level designs I would describe as elegant rather than beautiful. Good use of colours highlight the special features of each puzzle and worlds all have their own colour themes. The plain backgrounds have what looks like tiny blurred leaves being blown in a strong wind. At first I thought something had blown onto my monitor, then I wondered what the purpose of this was, then I finally realised that it’s a constant reminder to your subconscious brain that the 3D puzzle is suspended in an open space rather than on a flat background and these ‘insects’ also swarm around the uncompleted levels on the main overview to further highlight them. This attention to detail is a typical example of the care that has gone into the game.
Settings menu has everything you need and the screen resolution updates instantly without restarting the game, which is a nice touch. One minor problem I found is that on Linux the graphics quality doesn’t persist, it reverts to ‘good’ on every game restart so I have to manually change it to my preferred ‘fantastic’. A side effect of this is that I found out how active the dev is, who responded to my forum post within hours.
The game only has keyboard controls (arrow keys, Z to undo, R to reset, Shift to rotate) but I mapped my Steam controller and found it works really well. You can also set up your Xbox controller using the Guide on the community page – I would recommend doing so.
This is the only Steam game I’ve ever seen where the Linux version is better than Windows. In Win the screen is fixed to 4:3 ratio but in Linux you get full 1920×1200 widescreen. Yay!
The background music is the usual ambient relaxing sounds, nothing to write home about. I switched it off and listened to PiL instead, I think it suited the excitement and rebellious craziness of the puzzles better.
!!! EXTREMELY HARD !!!
There are a few easy levels to introduce new mechanics and a few medium ones but the vast majority will test you to the limit and beyond. You need a high degree of spatial awareness at all times. There are no timers, difficulty settings, move counters or any other extraneous distractions, just pure unadulterated puzzling.
I’d like to comment on some of the negative reviews of this game complaining that it’s “too difficult”. I’ve never heard anything so ridiculous. Decent puzzles are supposed to be hard, isn’t that the whole point of them? “I’m too stupid for this game” shouldn’t be a reason to give it a negative rating, it’s not the game’s fault is it?
The only minor criticism I have is that you need to overcome a crescendo of difficulty in order to unlock new worlds which then start off with easier puzzles to introduce new mechanics. This unlocking method is done in such a way that you always have 2-3 different world types available so you can switch between them to refresh your thought process if you get bogged down on one particular puzzle, but it also has a bottleneck effect in that you can be struggling for some time with a small number of very hard puzzles, then you drop over a cliff to begin your climb again with new puzzle types. With that said, I can’t really offer any solution to this issue. I suppose it does give you a bit of a breather after a hard slog.
100+ levels and these are not 5-minute jobs. Many of these will take hours, not minutes. It will take a long time – IF EVER – to complete the game, and you will not become so accustomed to the gameplay that it becomes easy, as with so many other puzzlers, so there is plenty of replay value. All in all, compared to other games in this price range the value here is outstanding.
No cards. No achievements. As the dev has noted on his discussion forums, this is a deliberate move. My understanding is that he’s vehemently proud of his work and doesn’t want it to be sullied by such trinkets. In my opinion he has earned the right to adopt this attitude. Besides, the game is hard enough already. I think the extra pressure of chasing achievements would tip me over the edge and the men in white coats would have to come and take me away to the funny farm.
It does have Steam cloud support which is very useful as it’s the sort of game you’ll want to carry around with you and do a level or two now and then.
As I said, I consider myself a bit of an aficionado when it comes to puzzle games so I don’t say this lightly: this obscure, 5 year old, low cost game with an odd name is, beyond a shadow of a doubt, the best one I’ve ever played (yes, better than Portal 1 and 2!) After this I’m looking forward to Stephen’s Sausage Roll, the newish title from the same dev.
Do not treat this like any other cheap casual puzzler to fill time without too much challenge when you’re bored. This is a puzzler’s puzzle game. It’s a military grade assault course for your brain.
Warwick’s note: Jim’s original review score was 10/10. Although I believe that he has covered the game very well I too have completed the game and feel that the negatives that he points out do lower the score from being a ‘perfect game’ to a still outstanding game.