When I was a kid I found some amusement in those little plastic sliding puzzle games. Of course they were a lot more fun when you could take the pieces out and put them back in however you wanted – it made them a lot easier to solve! I’ve never been much of a fan of electronic versions of this type of game, though there have been a couple of developers that have made interesting mash-ups using the sliding puzzle mechanic as a basis for a different type of game. Mixzle is one such effort, and one of the most original at that. Every level requires you to dunk a ball in a basket, and all the intermediate pieces to make that happen must be moved around the board via the sliding puzzle method. It can get frustrating at times, but I also find myself actually getting addicted to the concept.
Each level has a ball at the top of the screen that must be dropped into a basket somewhere else on the board. The position of the ball and basket will be different on each level, and occasionally you might even get to move the basket around the playing board. More importantly is the fact that you must slide all the pieces into place so that the dropped ball can bounce, teleport or whatever it needs to in order to get to the basket. So what are these pieces?
They start with simple wooden parts that might be horizontal, vertical or diagonal boards, or possibly even triangular pieces. Then you get similar pieces that are wrapped in cloth so they provide a softer bounce. Springs provide a stronger, quicker bounce. Fans blow the ball or cause it to float, depending on whether they are horizontal or vertical. Teleports allow the ball to move from one spot to another without hesitation. There may be other objects as well, but that’s for you to discover as you play.
Just like the standard sliding puzzle game, the board is divided into an equal number of squares horizontally and vertically, but one is missing so that you can move all the rest of them around. To move a piece, simply drag it to an adjacent spot, assuming that spot is open. One caveat is that every board has at least one piece that can’t be moved. Another interesting feature is the ability to rotate pieces on certain levels. Unfortunately there is a specific place on the board where the rotation occurs, so it can be rather costly moving pieces to that spot. You score appears to be based at least partially on the number of moves you make, so unnecessary trips around the board can be quite detrimental.
You start the board with 10, 20 or 30 balls – this can be changed in the settings. When you think you have all the pieces in place, press the start button and see if you make the basket. I also think that your score is based on the number of balls you have left, but nothing in the game confirms either of these suspicions. If you miss, start rearranging the pieces again. The nice thing is that you can always base your next try off of your last attempt, so if you were close it might just be a matter of sliding a particular piece up, down, left or right one square. On the other hand, if you’re playing with 30 balls and you’ve tried 15 combinations that didn’t work, it becomes rather difficult to keep track of that all in your head after a while. And, should you actually have to start the level over again, your back to square one so to speak.
The visuals are actually quite polished. The pieces look good, and everything is animated when appropriate. The basket even flops around as you slide it across the screen. The sound effects are pretty subdued, but then there isn’t really a lot of need for effects. I do like the robotic sound the arm makes when it drops the ball. There’s decent music when the menu is up, but there’s actually no tune playing during the game itself. That’s a bit disappointing, as it tends to be more noticeable in slower paced games like this.
I’m still not a huge fan of the sliding puzzle mechanic. However, when it gets used in a situation like this, it actually becomes an interesting game play tactic. The levels are well designed, and even when they seem impossible it’s usually just a matter of adjusting the location of a piece or two. It can sometimes get frustrating playing a level through more than one “game over”, especially when you’re playing with the 30 balls setting, but there’s still a sense of accomplishment when you’ve finished a level. For those that are patient, this will become an addictive experience.