The latest offering from the team behind cosmic romance arcade game Stellar Smooch (and one half of the team behind Swap Sword), Beglitched is a quirky combination of genres wrapped in explosive pastel graphics and playful hacker culture. Even after spending a few days wandering its world in a cat avatar guise it’s a difficult game to explain, and it’s honestly often a difficult game to play. But there are puzzle mechanics in effect here that really work, and patient players that don’t mind long bouts of confusion and defeat will be rewarded with a game that’s not quite like anything else they’ve experienced before.
The first obstacle to enjoying Beglitched is simply setting expectations. If you glance at screenshots, it’s difficult to tell what’s actually going on except that it appears to feature match-3 boards. It does, but it’s not a match-3 game. It’s more of a strategy puzzle that takes place in a match-3 universe—an extremely difficult, easily lost strategy puzzle. The icons you see on the match-3 boards are actually used in pursuit of a Battleship-esque hide-and-seek skirmish: hacker challengers will be concealed somewhere on the board and it’s your job to figure out what tile they’re hiding beneath and then blow them up with a bomb. To do this, you’ll need to use compass and computer panels to narrow down their location, meanwhile matching tiles that will give you more moves and energy in order to continue using the abilities of those same tiles. Once you finally figure out where the hacker is hiding, you need to get a bomb tile to that location and activate it. Oh, and many of the hackers move after you take a turn, so you’ll always be hunting them down in a new location. And they attack you when you run out of turns (cycles), reducing your health and ending the game if you run out of hearts.
It is a lot to consider, and that’s the shorthand version. Between those match-3 board battles you’ll travel around servers set up by the Glitch_Witch who has asked you to help her clean up some problem spots. The servers are built on connected computer nodes that contain hidden objects ranging from useful items to deadly mines. What’s hidden beneath can only be deciphered by unveiling nearby nodes and using their icons to narrow down what you’re standing on—a node stationed between two others with “treasure” icons on them probably has treasure inside it. We saw another player refer to this as Minesweeper and that’s the best description we’ve heard, although there are a lot more options for items beneath the nodes beyond just mines. Your goal in each server is to find your way to the exit and usually to defeat whatever hacker “boss” is stationed there, although there are plenty of other challenges thrown in—like security systems that spawn enemies with every step or an additional task of safely transporting pictures of cats to the end of the level.
We like the all these ideas and how they fit together in the “hacking” format. The characters you encounter are cute and have unique personalities. The servers can be approached in almost any order and there are lots of little secrets to uncover. But Beglitched is one of the least newcomer-friendly games we’ve ever played, and the cost of admission is high. The tutorial is essentially just the game asking you to figure it out for yourself, which would be fine in most straightforward titles, but is exasperating in such a complex genre mash-up. The levels—each individual server—are unpredictable and must be finished on a single life. If you lose all of your hearts, you’re sent back to the beginning of a server. And it’s impossible to tell when you’re nearing the end—on one level we beat the “boss” by throwing all of our health and items at him, only to find the next section was filled with more nodes and enemies, not an exit.
Successfully thwarting an enemy hacker and completing a server is extremely rewarding, but the time spent painstakingly reaching that point and restarting until you do is often frustrating. Every time we’ve played Beglitched we’ve ended up with a pounding headache, possibly from holding our breath in stressful anticipation of losing a battle or possibly from the glitched-out screen transitions—we’re not sure which. But we are sure that Beglitched is not for everyone. Some players will absolutely love the extreme difficulty and gradual progression as you learn to master the game bit by bit. But others will not find the reward worth the exhausting effort, no matter how many adorable cats and ribboned elephants we get to meet in the process.