Critical Play: Puzzles

For this critical play, I played the game Factory Balls, a simple online puzzle game developed by Bart Bonte. I LOVED playing this game as a kid and it was incredibly fun and nostalgic (and surprisingly challenging) to go back and play it again!

The target audience for the game is any age, likely beginning around age 10 but progressing as the difficulty of the puzzles increases. The controls are intuitive and the first levels create an easy introduction to the main mechanics and goals, but difficulty quickly progresses to create a game that can be challenging even for adults to play.

The game is a single-player experience with a simple goal: to make your white ball match the image on the box by clicking on various tools that color, cover, and distort the ball in various ways. For example, users can first color the ball yellow, then cover it with tape, then color it black, then remove the tape to reveal a black ball with a yellow stripe across the middle. By exploring the almost infinite patterns that one can create, players eventually figure out the exact order of each tool to ‘solve’ the puzzle. 

Factory Balls could be described as a zero-sum game as the player simply tries to solve each puzzle in as few guesses as possible. The main type of fun in the game is challenge: players become gradually more invested in the puzzles as the intensity increases and their logic skills improve. With more difficulty, too, the game introduces new tools and actions. While initially the main tool is concealing and coloring in a certain order, the game eventually introduces new tools/textures/patterns like grass, glass, and puckering to keep the game as engaging as possible and to reduce the monotony that could come from simply repeating the same puzzles in different orders.

As the difficulty progresses, however, so does the frustration. I was a lot more frustrated by the later levels of the game as a simple misstep would remove all of my progress and I would have to start completely over (for example if I forgot a step at the beginning or if I accidentally covered over a detailed section). Adding a limited undo button would help this, or perhaps allowing players to add checkpoints or a similar mechanic to save progress. I also would appreciate even more tools/textures/patterns to use on the ball as well as the ability to simply sip over certain levels so I can focus on the ones that feel the most stimulating.

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