By Ryan Cox `18
You are presented with only a dark screen and a grid of colored boxes. Tapping on one of the boxes, or “lights” as the game calls them, brings up a sparsely-designed screen. The goal is to turn on the lights by performing an action hinted at by the graphics.
There is a catch, however: tapping the screen or the lights does not do anything to guide you toward the solution. Instead, you are forced to use the myriad of iPhone features to solve the puzzle. This deceptively simple puzzle game is “Blackbox,” called “devilishly clever” (Six Colors) and “utterly diabolical and utterly brilliant” (CNET) by critics, and boasts a 4.8-star review on the Apple App Store.
Upon first opening the app, the player is presented with a short tutorial and the first puzzle. Instantly, the player is given a challenge to overcome, and despite its simple design, it takes a while to figure out the trick. This tutorial sets the pace for the rest of the game. After this, the player is left to his own devices; there is no help option, no settings page, just the grid of challenges and the player’s own creativity.
The puzzles are designed, according to the App Store description, to be “on the cusp of maddening but always solvable.” The solutions are always right in front of you, since they involve the device’s various features, but the cryptic, minimalistic clues require some creativity to solve them, making the moment of finally solving one incredibly rewarding.
Trying to abandon the instinct of using the screen to solve the puzzles is difficult at first, and frustrating at times, but makes the game stand out from the rest of the mobile puzzle games on the market. If you get stuck, hints are available for purchase (you are given three for free, at the start of the game).
“Blackbox” has intrinsic replay value. Some puzzles require you to come back periodically to turn on all the lights, while others simply take some time for the player to think about the clues and hints. While this works well for some puzzles, others are downright tedious, requiring the player to open the app at precise times of the day, making some challenges unfortunately time-consuming. The game comes with 46 free puzzles, but there are also additional packs available for purchase for $1.99 each.
It would have been nice to have alternate methods of unlocking these, considering the app is free, but after playing through the free challenges, it was difficult to resist dropping the money on each additional pack to see what other iPhone features were used.
Overall, “Blackbox” is a unique, challenging, and clever puzzle game that stands out from the rest of its genre by forcing the player to think beyond the screen. As of now, the game is available for iOS devices only.