The TOP TEN Brain Games
by Al Backiel


Back in DP #23, I did an article on what I considered to be the Top 10 Brain Games. Since that time (Early í95) several more of these mind games have been released on various systems. So this update could be considered choices 11-20 out of the Top 20. Some games were missed completely by me the last time around or they just missed making my Top 10. As with the first group, the following criteria was used:

A) All games should run sequentially, not randomly. Tetris-style games require some thinking, but they run differently every time you play them. Therefore you can never come up with a single solution.

B) All levels of a game should be infinitely solvable using more logic than reflexes.

The new Top 10 games (not necessarily in any order) that come closest to meeting the above criteria:

CRYSTAL MINES (NES/LYNX) - An excellent blend of action and logic puzzles. The original CM (with 100+ levels?) came out as an unauthorized NES third party title from Color Dreams. So this gem (pun intended) could easily have been overlooked. Color Dreams evolved into the Christian company Wisdom Tree. They used the CM game engine, changed the graphics and levels and released Exodus and Joshua on the NES. Both have a set of 100 or more logic puzzles alternating with Bible quizzes. CM II (181 levels) appeared on the Lynx and is the most common version, because it had the blessings of the hardware manufacturer. Carl Forhan has added 50 levels (plus x hidden) on a CD called CM II: BURIED TREASURE. The new levels can be downloaded to the Lynx utilizing a special patch cord connected to a PC. The game selection menu appears on the PC. Carl did get a little help from his friends (e.g. Scott Davis) in designing the various levels. One of the names I recognized was Harry Dodgson, the designer of the Atari 2600/7800 development tools. The levels can be quite challenging and it is recommended that you play the earlier software first to get a feel for the games and what to expect. Also contained on the same CD is a Level Design kit so that you can create your own puzzles. Songbird Productions (http://songbird.atari.net) is the source for CMII:BT.

LEMMINGS (various titles on NES/GB/LYNX/GEN/SNES/PSX) - A true Lemming always follows the leader of the pack. Even to its own destruction. The Lemmings are divided into Blockers (stop others), Builders (build diagonal bridge sections), Climbers (scale anything vertically), Diggers (dig straight down), Bombers (explode and make a hole), Miners (dig down diagonally), Floaters (parachute down via umbrella), & Bashers (tunnel across). Switch to the proper Lemming at the appropriate time to survive. Some Lemmings may have to be sacrificed as long as the minimum number reach home safely. There is also a time limit to deal with. I have always enjoyed this series. I usually pause each new level and plan my strategy according to what is allocated. I have played the Game Boy version of Lemmings and they looked like ants. It was a strain on the eyes and besides it may have been exactly like the NES version. This is an excellent series of logic puzzles, but it still requires a degree of precise timing. One mistake and you may as well self-destruct and start over again.

KICKLE KUBICLE (NES) - Very similar to the classic Adventures of Lolo series. This one adds a rotating hammer that hits a square and may trip other switches. So you have to visualize events occurring in order as in a complicated Rube Goldberg gadget. Trial and error will get you through eventually. As expected the puzzles eventually become more difficult.

TETRIS 3-D (VB) - No, I am not contradicting myself here. There is a puzzle mode inside this game that contains 20 puzzles in which the puzzle pieces are not random, but sequential. Each puzzle is a block puzzle in the shape of an animal or object. As you play each level, you get to see upcoming blocks (which may be different from the normal Tetris shapes) and you can also get cross sectional views from top to bottom. Place one block out of the pattern and you get an error message ending the level. If the puzzle is completed correctly, you are rewarded with a cute little animation. Also a 3-D ring of completed levels is formed.

TOWER TOPPLER (7800) - This game has the unique feature of a rotating, cylindrical tower in the center of the screen. The tower must be scaled to the top in order to advance to the next level. You have to basically run through a whole obstacle course on your way to the top. Pretty tricky to do because timing is critical. Memorizing the various levels and trying new strategies will help. There are no password continues, but luckily there is a cheat which you can use to practice the higher levels which was published in the Atarian magazine and I quote "You can get an infinite number of lives by allowing Pogo to fall into the water on your last life. As soon as the bubbles disappear, activate the level select by moving the Player 2 difficulty switch left. Move the switch right when you reach the level you want. The life counter will have no marks on it. Let Pogo die once before attempting the tower and you will have an infinite number of lives." There were also GB and NES versions of this game called Castelian.

TRICKY KICK (TG16) - A collection of 60 progressively more difficult logic puzzles. The objective is similar to Shanghai in that you have to match identical objects on the screen so that they disappear. The screen must be completely cleared within a set time frame in order to advance to the next level. The graphics are nicely done and the game can become very addictive. You will want to solve them all. There are a variety of positive and negative features which make things interesting. So it is not just a simple matching contest.

CHEW-MAN FU (TG16) - There are a hundred puzzles (Area 1-10 x Round 1-10) in this fun game. The object is simply to place three different color balls on their respective squares. There are various enemies like gorillas that will throw barrels at you or turtles that will slow you down. Very addictive. If you miss, you are even more convinced that your next strategy will succeed. Voted one of the best "sleeper" games in DP #29.

BUBBLE BOBBLE (NES/GB/GBC) - This one looks like a kids game, but it does require some thought. You do get to notice the patterns that the enemies follow and discover how to complete each level. This game has had a number of sequels. You can defend yourself by blowing bubbles and enclosing your enemies. It has the same charm and relatively easy difficulty level as the Bugs Bunny Crazy Castle series. Rainbow Islands (NES) is a BB sequel, but it is more of a platformer. I wouldn't recommend it because it takes a lot of patience. Parasol Stars (TG-16) is another sequel.

PRINCE OF PERSIA (various systems) - This game can be frustrating at times, because there are a lot of areas that must be explored and doors that have to be opened. There are bosses at the end of levels that have to be dealt with, if you get that far. Luckily there is a password continue feature. The animation of the Prince was considered very innovative for its time. Besides regular jumps, he can actually jump up and pull himself over a wall. The only problem that I have with these games is that there are many dead ends with no way back. So, taking notes or mapping is a good idea as there will be a lot of trial and error.

LODE RUNNER (various systems) - Basically, you have to dodge enemies and collect all the gold to get the ladder to exit to the next level. You utilize ropes and ladders in your quest. You have one defense. You can dig holes which will temporarily trap your enemies so that you can get past them or slow them down. By studying the patterns that they take, it is possible to devise a strategy that will succeed. Sometimes, a pile of gold is stolen and you have to trap an enemy to get it coughed up. Hyper Lode Runner (GB), I found hard to dig. I mean that figuratively and literally.

Honorable Mention : Megalit (GB), Nail n' Scale (GB), Pyramids of Ra (GB), Tail 'Gator (GB), Mole Mania (GB), Super Skweeb (Lynx), Insmouse (VB), Dino Dudes (Jag/Lynx), Dinolympics (Lynx), Pick n' Pile (2600).

PREVIOUS TOP 10: LOLO/BOXXLE/CHIPíS CHALLENGE/PUZZNIC/BOMBERMAN/KWIRK/ ESCAPE FROM THE MINDMASTER/SOLOMON'S KEY (series)/BUGS BUNNY CRAZY CASTLE/ CATRAP

PREVIOUS HON. MENTION: A BOY AND HIS BLOB/AMAZING PENGUIN/BUBBLE BOBBLE/ CYRAID/GODZILLA/PRINCE OF PERSIA/SNOW BROS./SPANKYíS QUEST/TOWER TOPPLER

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