Is this new puzzler cool as ice? Or will it be left on the App Store to melt?

Puzzle Retreat is a new puzzle game from The Vogel Agents, the folks who brought us the popular track-switching Train Conductor series. But while this new venture proves to be a solid touch-based puzzler that offers a brisk challenge for mobile gamers, there’s nothing that really stands out about its presentation or controls, and its repetitive nature will leave most gamers feelings as cold as the ice blocks that make up each puzzle.

As seems to be the case with most puzzle games these days, the concept of Puzzle Retreat is easy to learn, but seriously head-scratching to master. The object is simple: use tiny blocks of ice to fill in a square-tiled game board. You can slide the ice blocks in any available direction you want in order to fill in the open slots on the board, but different obstacles and map layouts will be there to make sure you stay on your toes. The catch is you’ll have to fill each available square on the board, and you’ll need to use every block of ice that’s given to you in order to do so. And as far as I can tell, there’s only a single solution to each puzzle in the game, which only makes things more complicated.

Puzzle Retreat is all about planning ahead and learning from your mistakes: and trust me, you’re going to make a lot of them. Luckily, the game has a great “undo” feature, which lets you retrace your steps move-by-move, or restart the entire puzzle over from scratch. But even for a puzzle game, Puzzle Retreat is extremely slow paced. The ice blocks themselves seem to move at a crawl, and you’ll see this before you even get to your first puzzle, when you need to slide a block of ice across the START menu to begin. Everything else in the game just feels a little sluggish, even the menu interfaces, and it gives the impression of being slow instead of peacefully tranquil.

The game comes with three initial puzzle packs, “Welcome,” “Fireplace,” and “Nature,” but three additional packs of 24 puzzles labeled “Piano,” “Bath,” and “Chocolate” can be purchased for $0.99 apiece. However, don’t expect too much variety in the visuals of each separate pack, as every puzzle is set against the same boring background of a hardwood floor. The puzzles in Puzzle Retreat are difficult, perhaps a little too difficult at times (if anyone can help me out on level 1-42 I’ll be your new best friend). But when the going gets tough, each level offers an integrated discussion board, specific to the puzzle you’re working on, that lets you talk it through with other puzzlers or offer up solutions from your Facebook profile. It’s a really neat feature that not only brings together Puzzle Retreat players in a cooperative manner, but saves a lot of time from having to scour the internet for a certain solution. I’m sure I’ll be using it much more often now as more players begin to pick up the game.

Puzzle Retreat     Puzzle Retreat

I think the biggest problem I had with Puzzle Retreat is in its lack of new gameplay elements that appear the further you progress. In addition to the multi-numbered blocks that shell out two, three, four, and even five ice cubes at a time, you’ll also encounter stop blocks that put a barrier in the middle of your path; arrows that change the direction your ice block will slide; and fire blocks that melt the ice you lay down on the board. But that’s about it, and you’ll be introduced to all of them before the end of the first Welcome pack. I even skipped ahead to some of the later puzzles in the game to see if this ever changes, and I couldn’t tell some of them apart from the puzzles I had already completed at the beginning of the game.

Once the fire blocks get introduced, the goal of each puzzle starts to get a bit murky. Whereas before, all you needed to do was fill every square on the game board with a block of ice, now you’ll also have to use every playable piece whether you need them to help you finish out the board or not. In other words, fill every slot with ice, and then melt all the ice you just placed.

So in the end, Puzzle Retreat is still a nice challenging puzzler, but it offers nothing special to really draw you into its world, and its puzzles aren’t so inventive or mind-boggling for you to go and tell your friends about. While it does offer a few welcomed features like the in-game help boards, and even though everything is pretty technologically sound, this average title is just as likely to just give players a case of brain freeze as it is some cool winter puzzle fun.