When you’re dealing with truly classic puzzles, you have to have a twist. We’ve all long-since found our favorite tangram apps or sliding block puzzles and moved on. The Heist ($0.99) is one example of pulling off the classic puzzle twist to great effect. Now Toy Studio and Mojo Bones are trying something similar with The Curse ($0.99), testing the will of puzzle fans as they go through 100 classic puzzles to solve a much bigger mystery.
Even the premise feels like a classic: by opening the book of puzzles, you’ve unleashed what may be a terrible curse. Only by solving every single puzzle can you put the proverbial genie back in its bottle. Come to think of it, though, the genie isn’t all that proverbial in this case: it takes the form of Mannequin, a malevolent and somewhat creepy force that really doesn’t seem like he ought to be freed. You’ll want to stuff him back into his book come hell or high water, but beware—The Curse will not break easily.
If you’re bored to death of classic puzzles, The Curse is not for you. While the atmosphere and premise are creative, the puzzle types are more than a bit familiar. Over the course of the hundred puzzles, you’ll solve a ton of tangrams, move water between jars, slide blocks around endlessly, and turn plenty of lights out. Some puzzle types only pop up once, like Hanoi, and others, like riddles, take a bit more originality—but you won’t find anything new here.
The Curse makes up for that with atmosphere. You flip through pages of what feels like an actual book, and when you complete each puzzle a solid stamp comes down to mark it off. But it’s Mannequin that truly steals the show. As you work your way through the book, Mannequin shows up to berate you, test you, and threaten you, and he does a great job of it. His voice acting pulls off a perfectly infuriating level of condescension, and the developers pull out a few tricks toward making him seem a little more magical than you might expect. You’ll learn to hate his masked face.
The atmosphere is marred by a few awkward design decisions, though. Nothing takes me out of each scene like a prompt to post about it to Twitter or Facebook, for instance. And to meet the needs of sensible interface design, the book is cluttered with pulsing buttons and instructions. I’m sure some users would have been lost without them, but it seems like subtlety could have been used to greater effect. Bookmarks, perhaps, instead of a page slider—anything to better maintain the game’s skeuomorphic design.
And then there are the hints. Understand, you need to be very good at quite a variety of puzzle types to make it through the book without help. Some puzzles are obscenely difficult; others may only stymie you because you’re not very good at that particular type. Either way, you might need a hint, and The Curse is happy to provide—for a price. Four hints for a dollar, and up from there.
I have nothing against consumable IAP, but here it’s annoying. When you’re constantly being defeated by a tight timer or a tough turn limit, you might start to wonder if the puzzles were designed to force you to buy hints. I doubt it, but that didn’t keep me from feeling uncharitable about the whole thing on more than one occasion. It’s hard enough to swallow your pride and ask for help—to then be told you have to put down a buck to receive it is a barrier that will turn a lot of people away.
If you’ve ever wanted a good collection of classic puzzles on iOS, The Curse is it. It offers a huge variety of puzzles, many of which are genuinely challenging. Add to that the excellent atmosphere and a strong impetus to keep pushing through until you finish, and we’re looking at something outstanding in its niche. It’s just too bad it suffers for design decisions that have nothing to do with the puzzles themselves. If you end up stuck, though, you might want to visit our discussion thread. It’s full of helpful people, and, more importantly, plenty of moral support. You’re going to need it.