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Astroslugs

Reviewed by  Mr. Bill


Back on January 12th of this year, I received an email from Alexander Zacherl about a game called "Astroslugs".  As I read his description of this strange game, I became intrigued with it.  He and two others, Sergej Klementinovski and Alexander Widl, had formed an independent game development studio in Munich, Germany called 'Bit Barons', and then took two years to finalize and release their first game (Astroslugs) for both the PC and the Mac.  After I finally finished playing this devilishly tough game, I decided that these 3 fellows showed a lot of promise...  they would be able terrorize people like me for years to come with their fiendish puzzle games.  Alex referred to the game as soothing and colorful.  Colorful, yes.  Soothing...  well, I don't know about that.  Maybe he says that because there's no time limit on the puzzles, and no penalty for doing anything wrong.  And some of the delightful upbeat music, written by their friend Filippo Beck Peccoz, might be considered soothing (if you turn on your speakers, you can hear a little of the game's introductory theme right now).

But what about the game itself?  You are a purple slug wearing a hat (2nd from left above...  sorry about that), and you have been given the task to find enough energy for what looks like a crashed spaceship.  If you (the slug) are successful, you will have enough energy to launch the spaceship from your home planet and begin conquering the universe (big ambition for such a lowly creature).  So as you move from one area to another on the slugs' home planet, you discover particular patterns of grey slugballs with holes in them (drained of energy) lying on the ground.  You must fill them with energy by covering each pattern with a specified number of the slugs' ancient glyphs (certain shapes made up of brightly colored slugballs connected by slime).  No colored slugball can be placed on top of another colored slugball (that is, one colored slugball per grey slugball).  And there are a total of 44 of these patterned slugball puzzles found in 5 major regions of the slugs' home planet.  These major regions are: the spaceship, the forest, the desert, the mountains and the polar region.  The last 'end-game puzzle' lies in the central area of their home planet.

Notice in the puzzle on the right that there is a particular arrangement of 38 grey slugballs without energy.  The picture to the left is an enlargement of the left side of the puzzle so that you can see the 10 specified shapes that you must use to cover this pattern.  As you can see, there are 5 different shapes involved, but 3 of these shapes are repeated a specified number of times...  3 Xs that consist of 5 white colored slugballs connected by slime, 3 Ls that consist of 4 green slugballs connected by slime, and 2 diagonals that consist of 2 red slugballs connected by slime.  But only one of each of the other 2 shapes is required...  a right angle made up of 3 purple slugballs, and a straight chain of 4 yellow slugballs.  Now I did say that only one colored slugball could rest on each grey slugball.  But something the developers call 'nesting' is often necessary.  This is when the slime regions of glyphs may cross in order to reach a grey slugball that is on the other side of, or inside, another glyph.  Note the examples in the picture below (which was taken from a different puzzle).  There you can see (in the lower right) 2 offset V shapes, each consisting of 5 white slugballs whose slime crosses the slime of an X consisting of 5 red slugballs.  You can also see (in the upper left) 2 diamond shapes, each consisting of four green slugballs nesting into one another, and one diamond glyph nesting with one X glyph (in the lower left).

The closest kind of game that "Astroslugs" might be compared to is a pictureless jigsaw puzzle, because you have to place particular shapes in certain numbers together to cover all the grey slugballs in the puzzle.  But in this game, you do not have to slide the pieces around or flip them over or turn them.  Instead you simply draw the shapes onto the puzzle area with your mouse.  You just left click on a grey slugball and, while holding the left button down, trace out the shape you want over the grey slugballs.  And the developers have provided you with a very simple and to the point tutorial during the first five levels of the game that teaches you what to do.  This tutorial explains and demonstrates how to draw out all of the shapes, how to remove a shape if you don't want it any longer, and how to reset the entire puzzle if you wish to start over.  And this part of the game is easy.  But then you are sent out on your own for the next 39 levels, which seem to get progressively harder.  Well actually they do get progressively harder, and Bit Barons has tried to rate how hard each puzzle is by giving them a number from +1 to +10.  Each of the four major regions of the home planet (forest, desert, mountains and polar) has a basic number of puzzles, and after you complete the basic puzzles in each region you will be given two bonus puzzles.  You can either finish the two bonus puzzles right then, or leave them for later and move on to the new region that has just become available.  But you will not be able to get a perfect score of 200 out of 200 points, or witness the strange ending of the game, until you have also completed all of the bonus puzzles.

According to the developers, all of the puzzles have several to many ways to solve them.  But to me, the hardest puzzles seemed to have very few ways to solve them, if not just one or two.  When I reached one that really stumped me for a long time, I printed out the blank puzzle, and then printed out a couple of other pages with the specified number of the shapes that would be needed on this puzzle.  I then cut out all of the shapes needed and walked around with the puzzle on a clipboard for 2 or 3 days.  Having it on paper with cutouts of the shapes needed allowed me to study it carefully while I ate or watched the football playoffs and slowly move the different shapes around.  Sometimes one seems to get locked in on only one way to start the puzzle, which always ends at a dead end.  That is when you need to force yourself to drastically change the way you start the puzzle.  Don't let the shapes that appear on the puzzles themselves dictate your moves.  At present there is no built-in hint system, but the developers are planning on adding one in the next update for both the PC and the Mac.  This game is a real challenge and at times requires a lot of patience.  But if you become too frustrated, there is help available.  Look at the very bottom of this page.

I had absolutely no difficulties with the installation, or any problems while playing the game.  It ran perfectly.  However puzzles do take several seconds to load, so just be patient.  Both the music and sound effects were enjoyable and did not detract from the game.  The Options Menu allows you to adjust the volume of both the music and the sound effects, choose full screen or window, and choose the language you prefer.  All of the signs for the various menus, etc, were made of very old weathered wood and held together with badly bent nails.  Some of the signs and even parts of their spaceship were held together with what looked like adhesive bandage tape.  The backgrounds and activities within the backgrounds of the puzzles were colorful and had creatures moving in and out of view.  Birds and bees would fly across the screen, slugs would glide in, and once a scorpion even crawled into the scene.  But it was a little unnerving when the buzzard flew by and looked at me while I was working on a puzzle in the desert.  It was all very nicely done.

What can we expect next from Bit Barons?  Well now that they have the PC and Mac versions available, they are working on a version for the iPad.  They say that this iPad release will include both the hint system and a level editor.  A level editor will allow fans to create their own puzzles that they can share with other "Astroslug" players.  And when that is finished, they plan to do Apps for the iPhone and the Android.  Then they will produce an update for our PC and Mac versions that includes both the hint system and the level editor.

Do I recommend this game?  You bet I do!  I love games like this, and I can zone out on them for days (sometimes weeks) at a time, especially when I am very tired or stressed out about something.  But it is also a game that one can play for just a short period of time, when you simply need a break from real life.  So enjoy!

  March 2011  Mr. Bill


Full View Screenshot


Developed (2011) and published by  Bit Barons.


Rated:   E   for Everyone


Minimum System Requirements:  Windows   MAC


Where To Buy This Game:


Walkthroughs or Hints:

"Mr. Bill's SOLUTION Pictures" available here!



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