Blek: A modern, minimalist, and revealing puzzle game is TabTimes’ Game of the Week

January 11, 2014

Puzzle games are perfect fare for bus rides, commercial breaks, and just about every other two-minute pause in our lives. This makes them a perfect fit for the iPad.

What I love about the modern tablet- and smartphone-oriented era of the puzzle game is how creative, elegant and mood-enhancing this category has become. In both art direction and game design, mobile game developers are discovering myriad ways to express themselves, and we’re seeing some fairly eye-opening results.

The touch interface is certainly a catalyst in this regard. From a design perspective, the mechanic of using your fingers instead of a mouse to do things is liberating, and is inspiring more physically-oriented game concepts.

Blek does all of the above in such an elegant manner that it is a revelatory experience. I mean that literally – you can express yourself in surprising ways as you attempt to solve the game’s 100+ puzzles. And if you have an iota of introspective curiosity, you will find yourself learning (or at least thinking) a little about yourself in the process.

The core of the game is that you draw a line that eliminates all colored dots it encounters, but is in turn swallowed up by black dots. The goal is to eliminate all the colored dots on the screen without being eliminated by the black ones.

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Blek was developed by Kunabi Brother, which is a game design studio made up of two brothers in Vienna, Austria. Based on their web site, and their description of the game, it is clear that these guys enjoy making games. Blek has a decidedly minimalist approach. The hook is that whatever line you draw on the screen continues to repeat itself, up to and including bouncing off of the horizontal borders of the screen. (Drawn lines will disappear at the top and bottom of the screen, however.)

The genius is that it mirrors your input, both in terms of style and cadence. If you draw quickly, the game will reproduce your stroke in a rapid fire sequence of movements. Draw more methodically, and you’ll see that reproduced as well. Watching the game reproduce your drawing style is mesmerizing.

The beauty of Blek is that there is no sense of tension whatsoever. Instead the game’s minimalist design rewards creativity and experimentation. You don’t incur penalties for failing to eliminate all the colored dots on the screen. There is no fail screen. There is also no timer and no score. And you can quickly interrupt an unsuccessful approach by simply touching the screen.

If I had one criticism of Blek, it is that the absence of social connectivity feels like a missed opportunity. One of the main lessons I’ve learned from games like Candy Crush saga is how effective embedding an overt social context in your game can be in motivating players to continue playing your game. Knowing that your friends have passed missions X, Y, and Z creates a subtle, enjoyable tension.

Ultimately, I suppose, this runs counter to the minimalist nature of the game. Still though, I would love to see how my friends are solving some of the puzzles I’m moving through. A “Share this Solution” would be an alternate, less competitive way to provide social context.

Other tablet games I’m playing

1. Battle Supremacy: A surprisingly “core” gamer’s game that allows you to command a World War II tank in a variety of single-player and multi-player missions. The graphics are incredible for a tablet game.

2. Robocop: A fun free-to-play action-cover shooter for the iPhone and iOS. It will reportedly be available on Android devices on January 15.

3. Lost Toys: A slightly unnerving puzzle game where you have to repair a series of children’s toys.

4. PBA Bowling Challenge: I’ve gotten completely hooked on this officially sanctioned bowling game, which also features multiplayer modes. (Also available on Android.)

5. Super Stickman Golf 2: I got pretty sucked into the original Stickman Golf, so I’m happy to see a sequel. The gameplay hasn’t changed much, although there are many new power-ups. (Also available for Android.)

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