As I have said in a number of reviews before, puzzle games feel right at home on the Nintendo Switch. Their pick up and play nature are an ideal fit for a quick puzzle here and there before playing a bigger adventure on your TV, on your commute to work, or even just in bed before nodding off to sleep. The genre is growing by the week and one of the more recent releases, Energy Cycle, looks to entice with its unique and potentially interesting gameplay. Does it do enough, though?
So, how do you play? Energy Cycle features a mechanic that I’ve not seen in other puzzle games before and while that might sound like a great start, sadly the fun fizzles out far too quickly. The way it works is each puzzle is made up of a number of energy cells of varying colours, with the overall aim being to try and get all of them on a grid to match. This is easier said than done though since tapping on a single cell will change not only its colour but also any that happen to be adjacent to it – whether that’s horizontally or vertically. This can potentially cause a chain reaction changing the colour of an entire row or column of cells so its key you think about your next move.
While the earlier puzzles will require little more than a few taps to change a small handful of spread out cells one by one, the more you progress the further ahead you’ll need to plan. While altering a cell to make it match a majority may seem like the right move at first, you’ll need to consider how it might then change those you don’t want to. Like a Rubik’s Cube where moving the squares around to get one colour bunched together may cause negative effects on another you just set up, the same problem occurs here. And, just like a Rubik’s Cube, I found the actual process to prove more frustrating than it was fun.
Energy Cycle includes three modes although all essentially boil down to the same sort of thing. Puzzle puts you against a number of pre-set grids with no time limit and is probably where you’ll want to begin thanks to its gradual increase in difficulty. However with a limited number of stages to complete your play time here will be relatively short. Time Attack meanwhile continually throws random grids your way, extra seconds being added to a constantly depleting clock every time you successfully complete one. This is easily the toughest mode of all and requires you to think on your feet as your precious seconds tick away. Finally, Infinite Play removes the time pressure altogether allowing you to take your time and solve as many puzzle grids as you like until you’ve had enough. This is an ideal place to practice.
Unfortunately, none of these modes really stand out, instead delivering a distraction that’s by no means terrible in any real way but not exactly something you’ll find yourself drawn into. The thing about classic games like Tetris or Picross is they feel both rewarding and rarely if ever become repetitive. Energy Cycle’s gameplay meanwhile feels like the kind of basic puzzle experience that wouldn’t be out of place on a smart device. On a games console that is already building a fairly strong selection of puzzlers including Puyo Puyo Tetris, Snipperclips Plus and Gorogoa this cell-based head scratcher fails to stand out.
Another reason for this is in the game’s underwhelming presentation, a mix of black backgrounds and basic looking energy cells. Sure, puzzle games aren’t exactly known for their looks (with one or two exceptions like Gorogoa) but they can certainly look better than this. Again just like the gameplay, the visuals evoke a smartphone-style about them. Functional but uninspired.
You can play the game with traditional controls or if you prefer using the Switch’s touchscreen in Handheld mode. Energy Cycle definitely feels better suited to being played on the go, the short puzzles ideal for jumping in and out when you have a few moments to spare. That is until a better puzzler comes along.
Energy Cycle is a relatively forgettable puzzle experience. While the general idea is a passable one, a lack of substantial content and straightforward presentation result in a game that feels like it would be more at home on a smartphone than a games console.