English Country Tune
There’s a certain masochism involved in being a serious gamer, right? I mean, we want fun games, but we also want challenging games, and every challenging game will occasionally make you mad as hell. I probably screamed “fuck!” ten times an hour while playing Super Crate Box, and I adore that game. I suppose it’s an odd way to spend one’s leisure time, but I wouldn’t trade it.
If that makes no sense to you, and in fact sounds like a form of minor lunacy, you probably shouldn’t play English Coutnry Tune (Universal). But if you know what I’m talking about, then you’ll probably want this 3D puzzle game, from the prolific mastermind Increpare, on your iWhatever. ECT cultivates challenge as if it were a vintage of fine wine; you will sense notes of bafflement, incredulity, loss of self worth, nutmeg, and despair when you play, culminating, always, with a crisp finish of satisfaction.
What I’m saying is, ECT’s puzzles are tough but fair. Its premise is utilitarian—you are a tile, and you navigate a series of three-dimensional, grid-based levels solving puzzles. Mostly, you push things; you push balls into goals and push blocks off ledges. It’s hard to pin down what makes it better than other games that do those things, but basically, the puzzles in English Country Tune are just really, really good. After a couple brief tutorial levels, you won’t find a single puzzle you can solve by just pushing stuff around mindlessly, which means you actually have to think about every stage.
The reason ECT is so mentally engaging, I suspect, is that the rules governing how objects behave are both unusual and rigorous. The most striking example of this is how the spheres (which the game calls “larvae”) interact with gravity. In-game text says, “The larvae are weightless. They simulate gravity as a camouflage technique. They will fall relative to how they were pushed.” So, you determine how gravity affects the spheres based on the direction you push them from. They will fall in opposite directions if you push them from the top versus the bottom.
Understanding this concept is hard (and so is explaining it), but incorporating it into your brain to the point where you can actually predict how spheres will fall requires a dizzying knot of mental contortion. But when you get it, a transformation takes place, not on screen but in your mind, and the game becomes maleable. This happens over and over again in English Country Tune, when you learn a new mechanic or discover an evasive solution, and it makes every last bitter drop of challenge worthwhile. You will stare at the game for entire minutes, straining to see something you are incapable of seeing. Then a switch flips, and wouldn’t you know, it was right there the whole time.