The Witness does not explain how the puzzle panels are solved.
Instead, it offers a few easily-solved tutorial puzzles from which you can reverse engineer the rules. Sometimes it even makes sense to backtrack a little and test out your rule theories. Puzzles need rules. But, first, the rules themselves are the puzzle.
Now imagine a puzzle game that is just that: have you played Understand (Artless Games, 2020)?
Nutshell: Hard but addictive, replete with punch-the-air moments of victory.
This is the first puzzle of set 3-9. The first puzzle always tells you how to solve it. Well, ain’t that lovely. Just draw across the circles, from left to right.
Cool, the puzzle is solved. The three circles at the bottom of the screen are filled in. It appears that the rule might be “connect the circles”. But this is puzzle 3-9. I’ve got the battle scars and the bloody T-shirt already. I’ve seen enough of Understand to know it is never this simple.
Oh look, Understand continues to troll me with the second puzzle. My first stab-in-the-dark guess was to connect the circles together and that’s the puzzle solved. Ha ha, but no. The rule isn’t “join the damn circles”. Fool me twice, can’t get fooled again, as a great man once said.
But the third puzzle continues the trend, gaslighting me on an industrial scale. I actually begin to think that maybe… maybe the puzzle really is this simple? That can’t be right, surely. But it definitely seems like connecting circles is part of the solution?
Motherfucker. Understand rolls like a troll. Here’s the fourth puzzle and its batshit solution.
If you want to know why you can’t just juice your way through every puzzle with random squiggles, let me introduce you to the eighth and final puzzle in the sequence.
And even once you’ve figured out the rules, solving this boss puzzle is sweaty brain time. Breaking news, just in! I wiped the solution so I could share a non-spoilery puzzle screenshot with you, but now I’ve forgotten how to solve it. Screaming emoji.
Understand is a laboratory of logic and I am its chief scientist. You can’t simply scratch out the solution to each puzzle and infer the rules; that’s not enough work to earn wisdom. These black boxes need to be tested to destruction. Solutions are rarely unique and only by sifting through both solutions and non-solutions across multiple puzzles will inspiration eventually find you. Understanding seldom hits like a lightning strike but coalesces gradually through moments of maybes and pauses of perhaps. You will test your hypotheses. You will make your science.
Understand might look a little austere but it compensates with the colour and beauty in its puzzle structure. Not all of the challenges are winners and there have been a few moments where I’ve questioned the design. But there aren’t enough of those questioning moments to undermine my relationship with Understand.
I’m in love with this game. While puzzle games are usually about displaying a mastery of the rules, Understand never lets you feel like that. Every foothold on its puzzle mountain is unique and each stage of your ascent will feel like your first. How can you possibly call yourself a master if the knowledge you acquire is never used?
Understand is available on Steam for Windows and Mac.
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