Any regular reader of Geeky Hobbies likely already knows that I am a big fan of puzzle games. It is easily one of my favorite video game genres. They might not have a ton of action, but a good puzzle game is hard to beat. Figuring out a clever puzzle is really satisfying. Well today I am looking at a new puzzle game ZHED. Originally released on iOS and Android ZHED is making its Mac, Nintendo Switch, and PC debut today. When I first saw ZHED I was intrigued as the game appeared to have an interesting puzzle mechanic. At first ZHED might look like a basic puzzle game, but beneath the surface is a surprisingly deep game with unique mechanics that should please puzzle game aficionados.
We at Geeky Hobbies would like to thank Ground Control Studios for the review copy of ZHED used for this review. Other than receiving a free copy of the game to review, we at Geeky Hobbies received no other compensation for this review. Receiving the review copy for free had no impact on the content of this review or the final score.
ZHED is a puzzle game broken down into levels. Each level consists of a grid with a couple different types of special squares. First there is the goal square. The objective of each level is to fill in the goal square. You accomplish this by using the number squares scattered around the grid. When you click on one of these squares you will get to choose which direction that the square will fill in spaces. You can either fill in the spaces above, below, left or right of the square. The number of spaces that are filled in depends on the number on the square as it will fill in those many spaces. Any spaces that are already filled in the chosen path will extend the length of spaces that the square will fill in. You must use this mechanic in order to build a path in order to get one of the number squares to reach the goal square to complete the level.
To further illustrate lets take the picture at the top of this review. At this point some of the number squares have already been used to fill in some of the spaces. For this player’s next move they can take one of two actions. First they can select the three and have it fill the spaces above it. Next the player can select the two and have it fill in the spaces to its left. The one towards the middle of the grid will then be selected and you will choose to have it fill the space above it. Since the two will have filled in the first empty space the one will then fill in the next space. Along with the three this will fill in both spaces between the one on the left and the goal square. You can then have the one on the left fill to the right which will cover up the goal square. This will complete the puzzle and you will be able to move onto the next puzzle.
When you first see ZHED it might not seem like there is much to the game. The game is not particularly flashy as the graphical style is pretty basic. That is not a big deal as it is a game that is entirely focused on the puzzles. Even the gameplay seems kind of simple. How much could you really do with a game where you are mostly just trying to fill spaces on a grid in order to create a path to the goal square? For the most part the gameplay in ZHED is pretty simple. You just select a square and decide in which direction you want to fill in squares. With this mechanic the gameplay in ZHED is quite straightforward. For the first ten to fifteen levels the puzzles are pretty simple as it is pretty obvious what you should do.
After those first levels though ZHED starts to grow on you. The mechanics in the game are quite straightforward, but the game works because it does a good job utilizing them in order to craft interesting and entertaining puzzles. In the first puzzles it is usually pretty obvious what you should do. The puzzles become quite a bit harder later in the game though as you need to really start thinking outside of the box. This is where ZHED really starts to pick up. While the overall mechanic is pretty simple, the game utilizes it really well. The game does a really good job mixing challenging puzzles with a laid back experience. There is no time limit for the puzzles and you can easily either reset the whole puzzle or reverse the last move. This creates a relaxing puzzle game as you can take as much time to solve a puzzle as you need.
The first key to solving the puzzles is figuring out which square will be used to fill in the goal square. As the squares can only move at right angles, the square that will ultimately finish every puzzle will be in a straight line above, below, left or right of the goal square. This is the case as there are no other ways of filling in the goal squares as the squares can only fill in spaces in a straight line. In the first levels and every so often in the more difficult levels there will only be one choice or it will be really obvious which is the right choice. In the later levels this becomes more difficult as there will be two or more potential options. As the puzzles seem to only have one solution you need to figure out which square you need to make a path to or you will never be able to solve the puzzle. In some levels this can be pretty hard, but the longer you play the game the more likely you can make a good educated guess of which square is the target.
After figuring out which square to target you can start to figure out how you are going to build the bridge to the target space. The bridge needs to fill in enough spaces so when this key square is moved it will make it to the goal square. This is easily the most interesting part of the game. You basically have to count up how many spaces you have to fill in, and then determine how you are going to fill in enough spaces along the desired path. This is where the game’s creative puzzle design comes into play. Rarely do the squares work independently of each other. Therefore you have to create a path that eventually fills in the spaces that you need to fill in. This regularly requires using one group of squares to fill in some of the path of another group of squares. This allows those squares to fill in more spaces as they can jump over the spaces that have already been filled in. As you play the game you get used to figuring out how to use one square to support another.
While the gameplay is pretty simple, I actually liked it quite a bit. The mechanics are simple, but figuring out the right order of using the squares as well as which direction they should fill in adds quite a bit of challenge to the game. In order to solve some of the puzzles you really need to think outside of the box. At first glance ZHED may look like your typical puzzle game as it shares a similar aesthetic. In action though it feels like a pretty unique puzzle game. When you first hear about the game it might not sound all that interesting unless you are a big fan of puzzle games. Once you start playing the game though it is quite relaxing while also providing enough challenge to remain satisfying.
Speaking of challenge many people are probably wondering how difficult ZHED is. I think that is going to somewhat depend on the player. Some people will be naturally better at the game than others. This mostly depends on how good you are at visually seeing what needs to be done and figuring out how you can manipulate the squares to create the required path. I think some people will find the game to be on the easier side while others will think the game is pretty hard. I personally would say that the game is moderately difficult. I haven’t finished all of the puzzles so I can’t comment on the last puzzles. Based on the levels I have played though I have found some to be really easy while others were quite challenging. Ultimately this lead the game to be challenging enough that it felt satisfying while not being too difficult that it was frustrating.
Even if some of the puzzles are hard to figure out ZHED was smart to include a clue system. As you progress through the game you will unlock clue credits. These clue credits can be used on any of the puzzles. When you ask for a clue the game will reveal the first move you should make. Any additional clues will reveal the next move you should make. Therefore when you get stumped by a puzzle you can ask for one or more clues until you get to a point where you can figure out how to solve the rest of the puzzle. Asking for a clue doesn’t automatically give you the answer as it feels like more of a nudge in the right direction. I like when puzzle games include hint systems. If you don’t need them you can just ignore them. For those that get stumped though you can use the clue to give yourself a nudge in the right direction so you can figure out the rest of the puzzle. This helps prevent the game from ever becoming too overwhelming.
As for the length I can’t give you a definitive length as I haven’t finished the whole game. At this point I would say that I have finished around half of the levels. This probably took me a couple hours. As I am assuming the difficulty will continue to rise as you make it further into the game, I would assume the second half of the game will take at least as long as the first half. Ultimately the length of the game will come down to how fast you can solve the puzzles. At this moment the game has 100 levels. In theory you can finish each level within around 30 seconds as each level doesn’t have too many squares to deal with. Outside of cheating I find this highly unlikely though. Most of the length will come down to how long it takes to figure out the trick of each puzzle. Some people will do this quite quickly while others will take some time. In all I would say the length is about what you would expect for this type of puzzle game. The game isn’t super long, but for its low retail price of $3.99 you should get your money’s worth out of the game if you like puzzle games.
At first glance ZHED doesn’t look like anything particularly special. The game looks like any other puzzle game with its overly simple graphical style. In action ZHED is a pretty interesting puzzle game. While similar to some other puzzle games the main mechanic in the game is pretty unique. To finish a level you basically need to use the squares to create a path that ultimately allows you to cover the goal square. This is pretty simple at first, but it gets progressively harder as you advance in the game. The puzzle design is pretty clever for the most part as you have to think outside of the box to solve many of the puzzles. The difficulty is going to depend on the player, but it does a good job for the most part creating a challenging experience. The length is pretty good for this type of puzzle game especially when you factor in the game’s price.
My recommendation for ZHED is actually pretty simple. If you have never really liked puzzle games or ZHED doesn’t sound all that interesting it probably won’t be for you. People who like abstract puzzle games though and think the premise sounds interesting should really enjoy ZHED and should consider picking it up.