PEGBRJE: Dis Pontibus and STOWAWAY
Spaces for all, spaces for none.
Dis Pontibus is a procedural puzzle game created by Marcos Donnantuoni, an indie developer out of Argentina. Players will follow a tiny orange fellow as they attempt to bridge the gap between grids, with only strange blocks to create the bridge.
Each puzzle Dis Pontibus throws at the player has a simple set of rules to follow, at least at first. First, the player’s goal is to simply get across to the next grid at the designated area to continue the traversal. Second is that the blocks can ‘defy’ gravity, but only if they are connected to the pier block that is covered in dimples. This means that a direct path needs to always lead back to the pier, no diagonals allowed. If a block is no longer on a block chain that touches the pier, that block will sink in to the water, regardless if the player is on it or not. Third is that the colour of the block determines how it moves around to be positioned. For example, the green blocks are able to move in all four directions, while the yellow have a pivot point they must rotate over and the orange/brown snake their way across the water depending on which of the block ends have a bigger block icon (see above for more details).
What makes Dis Pontibus so intriguing is this simplicity, how only a few rules can leave a player stumped for hours on a single puzzle without remorse. This is what allows its secondary functionality to shine; outside of the introduction levels, the levels are procedurally generated and auto-curated. No two games will remain the same the farther a player gets as puzzles morph and warp based on the seed given at the introduction. The gameplay and level construction is the same — this isn’t random by any means — so players can feel confident in their agency as they continue to each puzzle. This also means that no puzzles are impossible, no matter how frustrating they may be. Sorry, that will not work as an excuse.
Dis Pontibus is devilishly clever in its execution. It makes the act of moving a few blocks around suddenly a monumental task requiring all of the brainpower to pull off. Even once you get the hang of it, there will still be dozens of puzzles that will stump you until that glorious moment arrives and it seemingly solves itself after hundreds of attempts. If you love simplistic puzzles that can suck you in deep, then this might be a good one to try out.
STOWAWAY is a loveletter to scifi horror crafted by DirigoGames, a solo dev situated in the United States. The player is a simple technician aboard the Aurora, a decommissioned station orbiting Earth. Upon receiving a request to dock by the comet hopper Taurus, the crew finds nobody left on the ship; at least, nobody human.
As the resident busybody, the player will start their adventure in STOWAWAY doing simple tasks such as flipping switches and helping out the other crew members with the trusty flashlight. It helps the player acclimate to the ship and its layout. Once the lights begin to flicker and the Taurus is opened there won’t be any time for second guessing oneself.
The darkness of the ship was already foreboding, but a few glimpses of the ‘stowaway’ will get the blood pumping immediately. Soon, instead of helping others, players will be trying their best to help themselves escape the ship. They’ll need to run around, avoiding whatever lurks in the walls as they get to the command and find a way to escape. Hopefully, the rest of the crew is doing all right, but there’s a sickening feeling that they probably aren’t.
If the inspiration wasn’t obvious, STOWAWAY captures the magic of horror in the same vein that Alien did way back in ’79. The oppressive darkness mixed with the low-rez visuals makes it impossible to see things clearly unless they are brightly coloured or the flashlight is shining directly at them. The atmosphere is created by the sheer lack of things that can be seen, rather than the horror that can be. The game preys on the primal fear of the unknown and our inability to trust what our eyes cannot see. Only then will whatever lurks in the dark appear, when the paranoia is at its highest, to set the mind at ease; because they’ll be dead.
Add on a subtle yet eerie soundtrack, and STOWAWAY achieves its goals almost immediately by creating a game that made me nervous before the alien even arrived. The ship’s design feeds in to the fear as it is surprisingly simple yet full of winding hallways that look almost like places you had already been, but cannot confirm without turning around and going back — and we don’t plan on doing that, ever. If you loved Alien and were looking for a game that capitalizes on the fear of the unknown, this is a fantastic game to try out.
Links? Probably? I have no joke for today.
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