Meld Review

Meld may appear simple on the outside but is truly a work of genius

 

MELD – A REVIEW BY WARWICK JANETZKI

MELD, developed and published by Axis Games, who are better known by their popular and critically praised Axis Football franchise, is a puzzle game that features hundreds of levels and a built in level design editing feature so that players can play and share levels made by the community.

Meld

Meld may appear simplistic…

PROS:

  • Amount of content: The amount of content is extremely high for an indie developed puzzle game.
  • The melding concept: The melding concept is very sound and has been well designed and implemented. Primary colours (red, blue and yellow) are able to be melded together to create a secondary colour (e.g. blue and red make purple, blue and yellow make green, etc.)
  • Simple to learn: The game has a very generous tutorial feature built into the game that will teach you the basics. This makes the game extremely easy to learn at the all-important early levels of the game and difficult to master later on as the mechanics build upon one another and make levels much more complicated later on. Levels quickly stop being a simple create-a-path to complete a level type game as the required level of strategy increases.
  • Powerups: The game adds another layer of complexity with the game’s powerup system. Players are able to purchase a number of different powerups which by theory assist the player. But the player must be intelligent with their choices. The right powerup can make things a lot easier but the wrong one or a poorly used one can be detrimental.
  • Level editor: When Meld gathers a community that appreciates the game – and there will come a time when the game is popular – the level editor will add even more content to an already seemingly content packed game.
  • Value for money: For the amount of content that comes with the base game Meld even at its higher than ordinary indie puzzle game price is value for money.

CONS:

  • Simplistic graphics: This is actually being very petty. I had to dig to find a negative in my critique. The simple graphics do not hold the game back but they could have been better. The writing is at times a little small to read (I played the game at 1600×900 windowed) which made me squint a bit more regularly than what I am accustomed to.

CONCLUSION

If you’re a fan of puzzle games that make you use the totality of your mind then chances are that Meld will find its way onto your wishlist. Whether you agree with the asking price is entirely on you to decide but there is a ton of content and sufficient bang for your buck for those who find themselves enjoying the game and with a level editor there should be much more to come.

MELD – A REVIEW BY JIM DEADLOCK

TL;DR This game is a work of sheer genius. If you’re a puzzler you owe it to yourself to buy Meld and if you don’t relish every minute of it I’ll eat my hat!

At first glance it looks pretty tame. Make a line of hexagons to join the terminals. How hard can it be, right? Wrong! The first few levels are straightforward but you’ll soon be scratching your head as the complexity ramps up. Various types of obstacles start appearing on the board and new powerups are introduced at intervals (16 of them in total!) Each new powerup is explained very clearly and the first couple of levels ease you into it gently so its usage is clear in your mind before you start exploring its potential.

Meld

… But is a work of sheer genius

Difficulty

With most puzzle games I usually reach a point where I can’t finish a level so I finally give in and go to Youtube or Steam Guides for the solution. I’m invariably disappointed because now the level is spoiled and I’m convinced that I could have done it myself if I’d thought about it a bit longer but I’ll never know because I can’t un-know the solution.

Meld is a newish game and there are currently no guides to be found online which means no temptations, but the mechanics of the game have completely neutralised any urge to rage-quit and google the solution because you can set your own difficulty preference. Each level gives you a set number of moves and a small number of powerups, if you run out of moves you fail. You’re awarded 1, 2 or 3 stars for completing the level, the fewer moves you make the more stars you get – time taken and number of restarts are shown but this doesn’t affect your score. 1 or 2 star solutions are fairly easy for the first 100ish levels so total failure is unlikely but just in case you do get stuck you can use your supply of plasma, which you amass throughout the game, to purchase extra powerups if you want to cheat to improve your score or if you just want to get the level out of the way to unlock the next one.

If you want the hardcore challenge – 3-star solutions with no purchases – you’ll often tell yourself “this level is simply not possible to 3-star!” but if you stare at the board long enough you’ll eventually have that Eureka moment and congratulate yourself on your mental prowess. You always have ‘lesser’ solutions to fall back on, but some of these puzzles will leave you mentally exhausted. When the Fusion powerup first appeared on level 115 I felt my melted brain oozing out of my ears. Many levels have crystals placed around the board and if you want to go hardcore++ you can try the long route via all the crystals.

Every level is possible to 3-star (including all crystal routes) with no purchases. I can tell you this because I’ve done it!! If you play into the advanced levels you’ll swear I’m lying but my conscience is clear. There’s a special place in Hell for whoever devised level 192 though. As you gain experience you’ll become more proficient and the previous levels that you couldn’t 3-star earlier will seem easier when you go back to try them again.

Graphics/Audio

There’s an astronomy theme: shoot a comet through a wormhole, place a black hole etc. with nice sounds and animations – starbursts, energy-blur and a lot of zapping. Enough to make it pleasant to look at without interfering with the gameplay. The background music is unobtrusive and can be left on, although I prefer listening to my own music.

The Meld logo doubles as the key to the game. It’s shown prominently on the level screen and you find yourself checking it constantly against the board to see which colours meld with which and how to apply the powerups. Brilliant.

Level Editor

There are only a handful of user-contributed levels so far but I plan to add to them. The tormented becomes the tormentor.

Steam

6 trading cards and 20 achievements – some interesting ones as well as the usual progress-related. 20th one isn’t dropping though (see below).

Value

… is OUTSTANDING. 200 puzzles (plus more user-contributed), and every one of them is carefully crafted with unique combinations of obstacles and powerups. At no point does it feel samey or repetitive, but at times you may wish it was just to give your poor battered brain a rest! There’s a lot of replay value as you’ll normally do 1 or 2 stars for many of the levels on the first playthrough, then go back to try for 3 stars. Unlike other puzzle games you will get full satisfaction from every level without the temptation to look up spoilers. You can see by my play time above that there are many hours of puzzling to be had.

UI Is A Shambles

What I think happened here is that the genius (really) devs completed construction of the magnificent 200th level and decided to celebrate by getting blind drunk, so they took their laptop with them to the pub and created the UI while they were there, in between tequila shots. Here are the results of their folly:

  • The sound settings, levels overview and achievements are not on the main menu like every other game I’ve ever played. To get there you have to load/start a game level and then go into the settings from the game screen. I would insert a Jackie Chan WTF meme here if I could. It’s absurd.
  • The aforementioned sound/background settings are lost every time you exit to the main menu. Every time you start the game you have to go in and reset it. It’s quite irritating.
  • Lost progress. I got up to level 75 and then one day I started the game to find my save had vanished for no apparent reason and I had to start again from scratch (levels are locked until you complete them). 10 hours down the pan. I wasn’t best pleased. I’ve scoured my filesystem but I still have no idea where the save files are kept and there’s no cloud support either.
  • No undo. If you make an unintentional move with a slip of the mouse you can’t undo. Restarting the level and redoing only takes a matter of seconds so it’s not a big deal but it would be helpful. How hard would it be to have right-click undo?
  • If you 3-star a level by using purchased powerups it blends in with all the other 3-star levels so if you want to have another hardcore go at it later without buying powerups there’s no way to distinguish it from the other ‘pure’ 3-stars on the level overview.
  • The in-game register button doesn’t work. Tip: go to the website to register. The level editor help button doesn’t work either, I’ll have to work it out for myself.
  • The time formatting is a bit messed up. Most levels take less than 5 minutes but if you’re trying to 3-star an advanced level it can take over an hour. 1 hour 73 minutes on one occasion(!)
  • The 20th achievement (Perfection) is broken. It doesn’t show either in-game or on Steam. I think the devs are trolling me. I want my perfect game dammit!

Verdict

Puzzle games are my thing. I’ve played a lot of them and this one is a strong contender for my all time favourite. The mechanics are simple, you move hexagons around, but the puzzles are so cleverly contrived that you’ll be grinning from ear to ear when you find that sweet 3-star solution. The gameplay is so good that I can forgive the mess of a UI. It’s been on Steam for 3 months now and only 13 reviews, I feel sorry for all the people missing out on this hidden gem, it deserves to be a bestseller.

If you enjoy Meld then I also highly recommend Hexoscope, another join-the-hexagons puzzler but with completely different mechanics.

Good

  • Awesome, brain-melting puzzles with a rich variety of mechanics
  • 200+ levels, every one of them unique and challenging

Bad

  • Shambolic menu/settings layout but I don't care
  • Simplistic graphics
8.6

Great

Warwick Janetzki - 7.7
Jim Deadlock - 9.5