Indie Game of the Week 176: Tangrams Deluxe

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I figured it's high time I get started on all these games that landed in my lap recently. For disclaimer's sake, I was going to look at Serenity Forge's The King's Bird this week but decided last second that I didn't want to be playing a very challenging platformer in 30 degree heat, and so made a lateral switch to Vertical Reach's Tangrams Deluxe: a relaxing puzzle game that explores the spatial awareness fun of tangrams.

I first encountered tangrams, or at least the video game version, with the excellent Neves for Nintendo DS. A tangram is a puzzle consisting of seven shapes - two large triangles, one medium-sized triangle, two smaller triangles, a square, and a parallelogram - which can be rearranged to form a wide variety of images. Puzzle games based on the idea tend to give you the outline of these images first, and then task you with inserting all the pieces so that the outline is completely filled and none of the pieces overlap each other. It's one of those types of puzzles your brain is either adept at solving or isn't, though it does get remarkably easier with practice as you notice certain repeating solutions and learn the relationship between the pieces. For instance, the square, parallelogram and medium triangle all have the same area as the two smaller triangles combined, so the latter can be used to create any of the former in a pinch. It's also best to start with the larger triangles, because there are fewer places for them to fit, and then work from there.

One of the few tangrams that stymied me for a little while. Just a weird assortment of shapes in the bottom half there. (I think it's supposed to be a bird?)
One of the few tangrams that stymied me for a little while. Just a weird assortment of shapes in the bottom half there. (I think it's supposed to be a bird?)

As such, though Tangrams Deluxe has over 200 puzzles, you move through them at a relatively brisk pace. Once you've placed a few pieces it's usually obvious where the rest of them will fit, and the game's straightforward mouse-driven (or touchscreen) interface makes it simple to quickly orient and place them. It's also fairly lax about filling the image outline perfectly: usually, the shapes will click into place as soon as they're all in close enough proximity. However, where Tangrams Deluxe falls apart for me is in the myriad smaller choices behind this UI which, though relatively minor gripes, collectively add to a more irksome whole. These include: giving every individual tangram piece their own drop shadow, which is the same gray color as the image outline and creates a bit of visual confusion whenever you place a piece; whenever you win, you get this obnoxious soccer whistling chant remix of the main music, and its noisy discordance goes counter to the usually serene BGM ambience of puzzle games; and the game sorts all its image puzzles into broad categories (rabbits, boats, houses, etc.) so that, when moving through the puzzle list in the default order (there's a "next" button after every puzzle if you don't want to go back to the menu each time), generates a lot of repetition. It just feels like the game got the essentials right and botched it with the small finishing touches surrounding them.

Still, a puzzle game that I could master almost immediately was appealing in a sort of lazy summer exercise sense where I'm really not in any state to take on anything more advanced right now (grateful that I didn't try to get way into Sokoban or something). I'll chalk this up as a vacation week and maybe attempt something a bit more demanding next time. Or I'll just play another easy explormer and have a grand old time looking for the double-jump or ground pound. Not like y'all can't stop me.

Rating: 3 out of 5.

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