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Chains (PC) artwork

Chains (PC) review

"Not found in this game: bondage."

As the 16-bit era faded, so too did my interest in the puzzle genre. By that point the steady flow of mediocre puzzlers had all but killed what little interest I had in the genre. Besides, I had access to Tetris and Dr. Mario. What other puzzlers would I ever need? Although I had washed my hands of the genre, it had never forgotten me. I could sense it watching me, waiting for the perfect opportunity to force itself back into my gaming diet. It wasn't until I downloaded Steam that the genre discovered a chink in my armor and exploited it with a vicious fervor. It must have known any time I download a title, especially in a bundle during Steam's ludicrous sales, that I always feel obligated to play it.

[Disclaimer: Dramatization]

"Oh! Random Indie Game That Probably Sucks #865 is on sale, dirt cheap! I simply must add that to my backlog, where it will sit untouched for a couple years."

Your cart...
Indie Bundle Pack Selection L: $6.99

"Uh, no. I want RIGTPS #865. I don't need any of that other crap. Go back."

Thank you for your purchase!

"Argh! What did you just sell me? Chains? Is that a BDSM game? Maybe I can remove it if I right click on it and..."


Chains 10% at 1.8 MB/S

"You son of a..."

So I delved into Chains and its connect-three-or-more-like-colors-to-make-them-disappear setup, expecting wholeheartedly to dismiss the game as another ho-hum puzzler that should have stayed on the SS NES as the ship sank. I looked forward to spitting on this game's doubtlessly predictable main menu, likely consisting of Arcade Mode, VS. Mode, and a Challenge Mode. I also relished how I would use this title to bolster my cynicism towards its genre, and how it'll never be superior to Tetris.

Then I beheld the main menu and ate my words.

Chains asset

Chains's menu didn't list yawn-inspiring modes. Instead, what greeted me was a list of ambiguous stage names. The first called itself "Trident," named for apparent three-prong structures present in the level. Each "prong" was actually a vertical tube that caught colored bubbles as they descended, which I made short work of by dragging my cursor over them to clear them away. There was little excitement or entertainment to be had in this level, yet I still found myself wondering what lay beyond it. This wasn't because the gameplay was original or anything grand, but mostly because of the stage's trident-like structure had piqued my interest. The possibilities for future intriguing structures, as well as challenging stipulations, seemed endless.

Further stages provided trickier puzzles and added conditions I would never have imagined. One stage, entitled "Exact Change," featured a tremendous coin sorter with bubbles of various sizes and colors stacked inside its innards. Each bubble displayed a number value, with a quota sitting off to the side. Having to create a chain of bubbles of an exact value (and the same color, to boot) was no simple task. Thanks to my mad mathematics skills, I rose to the occasion and advanced to the next puzzle. Ultimately, it was a nice change of pace from ancient puzzler tropes, and somehow less stressful. It could be that the level was still challenging without requiring me to possess cat-like reflexes.

Chains asset

Math wasn't the only card up Chains's sleeve. It also tested my speed in a stage called "The Stream," where bubbles descended through a meandering pipe. My objective was to maintain a steady enough flow for five minutes. To exacerbate matters, larger pieces tended to build up a the bottom thanks to an obstruction there. It was here I discovered precisely what Chains was all about: strategy. I often debated during this level whether or not it was wisest to eliminate many small chains quickly or spend extra time destroying massive combos in order to clear away greater chunks of bubbles. There was also the trouble of deciding where I should focus my attention. I questioned at times whether it was more effective to keep the obstruction at the bottom clear or wipe out as many enormous pieces near the top before a bottleneck could occur. Regardless of my strategy, this challenge took me several tries before I overcame it.

By that point, Chains had successfully hooked me. So I tore through more stages, playing one called Jaws in which bubbles continuously filled a U-shaped structure with tooth-like shards jutting out from the top. I had to work quickly to clear bubbles, because even one pop on the teeth spelled failure. Another one called "Gravity" featured a collection of forty or so bubbles that gathered in the middle of the screen. The trick was to create a chain of thirty, which proved troublesome thanks to the sloppy mixture of three colors. Although the key was to pick one color and try to weed out the others, it was tough to get enough of one color into a large enough cluster to clear away so many, especially when unwanted colors kept respawning.

Chains asset

Although I loved the clever stage designs and variety of objectives, I noticed that much of the game still boiled down to luck. For instance, I'd sometimes receive a wealth of the same color off the bat and clear it easily. At other times, obtaining enough colors together to form substantial chains was like pulling teeth, and I found myself failing whenever a setup like this reared its ugly head. Because of this, I became obsessed with restarting each level until I had a decent start. Unfortunately, the only method the developers could have taken to alleviate this issue would have been to structure the levels such that certain colors fell at certain times, but that would kill the game with predictability.

Ultimately, I'm glad I forced myself to play Chains. It didn't entirely change my attitude towards the genre, but did teach me that there is still some potential left in it. All it takes is a developer with some fresh and clever concepts to revitalize it. Despite all my gushing, though, you must remember that Chains is not an earth-shattering game. It's a solid distraction that will provide a few hours of entertainment, and really that's all it needs to be. Kudos to you,!

JoeTheDestroyer's avatar
Community review by JoeTheDestroyer (February 08, 2013)

Rumor has it that Joe is not actually a man, but a machine that likes video games, horror movies, and long walks on the beach. His/Its first contribution to HonestGamers was a review of Breath of Fire III.

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