Yesterday, the Mac and iOS worlds were surprised by the release of The Heist [$0.99], a puzzle game by tap tap tap that promotes the team’s MacHeist bundles of discounted software goodies. After a few moments of panic while people worried that MacHeist had given up on its Mac bundles and moved on to iOS giveaways (they haven’t, a new MacHeist bundle is still coming), I started to dig into the game.
What I found is a fun puzzle game that can be approached in two different ways. As we mentioned in our coverage of the announcement, The Heist includes a special PC/Mac software giveaway from MacHeist. You can certainly look at it as a cheap promotional game with a free reward at the end. And that’s a selling point, but it’s really not the best way to approach this game. The merits of the reward (which I’d rather not spoil, though I’m sure it will be discussed in the comments) are being debated, with some folks disappointed it isn’t cooler/newer/more valuable. To this I say that The Heist isn’t just about the destination; the journey is plenty of fun too.
So instead of approaching this game as if it’s a loot pinata and you’re the one holding the big stick, consider picking it up for the puzzle game that surrounds the gimmick. I wasn’t expecting much; call me cynical, but promotional games often fall a little flat. So I was pleasantly surprised when I realized that The Heist is slick, clever and challenging. MacHeist has set up a few Alternate Reality Games (ARGs) to promote their bundles in the past, and this game takes brings in a couple unique features that I’d love to see brought to bear in a serious, large-scale iOS ARG. Those aside, a simple story sets you on the task of penetrating the vault that contains your reward. To do so, you’ll first need to complete a series of puzzles.
There are four puzzle types in The Heist. None of them are completely original, but they’re all nicely done. The first is a sliding block puzzle that asks you to extract a microchip. Slide the blocks back and forth in two dimensions to free it. The second is a puzzle that’s very reminiscent of Sudoku, but with abstract symbols in place of numbers and a less uniform grid design. The third is a modern take on Sokoban, a classic game that involves pushing boxes around a maze. The final puzzle type is a simple sliding puzzle – a grid with one empty space that you rearrange into a complete image.
Each category has 15 individual puzzles of increasing difficulty. Your success will depend a lot on your aptitude with each puzzle type. To unlock the vault, you’ll need to complete about 60% of the total puzzles, and they have to be well-divided between each category. I found many of the higher-end puzzles quite difficult, but enough experimentation will get you through each of them eventually.
All of the puzzles in The Heist are controlled with taps, but those controls aren’t perfect. In the box-pushing puzzles, I grew increasingly frustrated with imprecision as my little pusher robot wandered back and forth to either side of the box I was trying to get him to push. And I would love some way to mark a tile that is definitely correct in the Sudoku-style puzzles. But by and large, everything plays quite well. The game also looks good, with a nicely designed vault-cracking theme for each puzzle – although I’m not quite sure how the zen garden stylings of the Sudoko-like puzzles relate to cracking vaults. Innovative security measure, maybe?
With 60 puzzles total, The Heist offers a good amount of game for your buck. There are also 19 Game Center achievements to unlock. Some you’ll pick up in the ordinary course of the game, some require a completionist streak, and some are just for fun. I’m hoping to see more from this game, or from tap tap tap in the same theme. While the reward for playing The Heist isn’t to everyone’s taste, it’s pretty cool to be given the chance to play a good game and get something extra out of it. If MacHeist wants to keep us thinking about its bundles with regular content updates and new rewards to be earned, I’d certainly be pleased.