A fracture runs through my memory of Pipe Push Paradise (Corey Martin, 2018). On one side of the fracture, I am dissatisfied, tortured. On the other, I am entranced.
Which perspective reveals the truth?
I received a Steam key for Pipe Push Paradise around its release but I didn’t make time for it. After a peek at the trailer, I had two thoughts. First, it was riffing off Stephen’s Sausage Roll (Increpare Games, 2016) and as I already had mixed feelings at the time about The Roll I wasn’t encouraged. Second, I didn’t like its look. That might sound harsh but I know myself pretty well: if an impression of the puzzle mechanics is not enough to persuade me to fire up a new game, sometimes the visuals cajole me into it.
I was battling through tons of puzzle games last year, though, to ensure I was doing due diligence for The Ouroboros Sequence. I would often dabble in something new or short for the purposes of diversifying the research. One of these dalliances was with a title called Hiding Spot which was also by Corey Martin. And it turned out that Hiding Spot was brilliant, although it remains unfinished because I’m stuck on three rockhard challenges (708, 903 and 906, for the curious).
Hiding Spot sports a mix of interesting mechanics combined with tight and relatively small level design. Realising how good Hiding Spot was, I knew I had made a mistake foregoing Paradise and had to get it into the playlist sooner rather than later. Even better, it was now also available on mobile, which is a much better environment for puzzle research than my PC at 11pm. (Probably a key reason why making progress in Stephen’s Sausage Roll was always horribly slow: desktop only).
Pipe Push Paradise is a Sokobanlike where the “blocks” are pipes which the player must use to connect a water inlet to an outlet. These pipes come in various shapes and sizes but it is their 3D aspect that evokes the soul of Stephen’s Sausage Roll. Pipes can be rolled into different orientations. The first Paradise area focuses on moving pipes into the correct configuration, familiarising the player with the nuances of pipe manipulation, particularly within cramped spaces.
This is just the foundational stuff, though. Paradise pushes the envelope in the second set of levels by introducing platforms which can rotate pipes through 90°. The terrible genius of these platforms is not apparent with the first level, but the second, Hoist, makes great promises of the mindscrambling to come. Hoist asks you to connect an inlet and outlet which are… above your head. It turns out the apparently “incidental” feature of the rotating platforms is much more important than rotating: the platform lifts a pipe off the ground to rotate it and if another pipe or a wall sits underneath the rotated pipe, it will be parked up there – not on the ground. A groan and a wow bundled into one delicate package.
Later there are pits which the player must concoct increasingly bizarre schemes to extend pipes across. And much, much later, magnetic pipes enter the fray, which link together if their ends meet. Magnetic pipes are their own little private garden of headfuck because when you push them, they move weird; it seem like a whole new Sokoban ruleset to acquire. Paradise is not flooded with rules and I appreciate the lack of obvious symmetry in them; each new mechanic injects something fresh and surprising. And how the different components interact is fully explored. If a rotator platform is located at the bottom of a pit, does that make for an interesting puzzle? Paradise will tell you. And with a little bit of imagination, you can even kill yourself.
I eventually warmed to the style of Pipe Push Paradise but there is a sting in its tail. It’s a given that logic puzzles must present information clearly and this is critically important in Paradise due to the complex 3D slant to many of the challenges. However, the style sometimes lets the game down and the clearest example of this was the late puzzle Assembly Line 4. Several times I believed I had solved it only to discover I had misninterpreted the vertical layout. There are three pipes on top of each other in the following screenshot. For bonus points, how high is the inlet pipe?
Were there boss level issues? Not so much. I confess I absolutely adored some of the late game levels which push the mechanics to the edge. Levels like Sky Parlour and Sunken Path cause you to deal with something that appears impossible – although I’d argue that Sunken Path requires a leap of faith with the mechanics. You can only access the final level, Apogee, if you have completed every other level – which is a risky design move in my book. However, it is a slice of brilliance, a fantastic high note to end on.
Still, when the final level was conquered, there was no getting away from it, I really enjoyed Pipe Push Paradise. I really enjoyed it… eventually.
Here’s the problem. Remember I said the first zone of the game familiarises the player with pipe manipulation? That was the intention, the theory of it. In practice, it took me 75% of the game to reach the level of competency I needed to think smart about each level. Until that point, Paradise was a horrible slog.
You must not simply know it takes two pushes to turn a pipe over. You must not simply know how you can slide a pipe instead of rolling it. You need to develop an instinct through continued, deliberate practice. And new foibles introduced late in the game with pits and magnetic pipes throw a serious spanner into your fledgling mental plumbing. By game end, all of this feels second nature. But until that point comes, you’re relying heavily on Monte Carlo play. Even now I still have trouble with claustrophobic levels like Six-Point Turn where you need precise movements to move everything around in a tight space.
As expected, repetition was the fix. I kicked off the PC version around halfway through the mobile game – the two are not identical – and began redoing the levels. I haven’t yet finished it twice but I’m just two puzzles away from the finishing the core game in the PC version. (Much thanks to the audience for pointing out I had not seen the bonus levels after I claimed to have completed the game in last month’s stream.)
Having survived Pipe Push Paradise, I can now celebrate the game, call it a work of puzzle genius. But what about all that pain? All that time I wanted to quit and was so, so convinced I wasn’t going to understand it?
Maybe all logic puzzle games should be described thus: self-flagellation is the only path to enlightenment.
Some of Paradise‘s levels require so much walking around, you’ll feel your fingers have done a marathon. This is not just a problem of experimentation – the solutions simply need a lot of manipulation. If you make a mistake and don’t realise it, sometimes it’s quicker to reset the puzzle than having to slap the undo button thirty times.
The mobile version tries to ease the pain by offering the same movement paradigm as A Good Snowman Is Hard to Build (Hazelden & Davis, 2015) – you tap and drag where you want to push. However, Paradise‘s control scheme did not work very well on my phone: selecting the right spot on a small screen tended to be hard; sometimes the game appeared unresponsive but actually my move was invalid; often, you do not drag far enough and the wrong move plays out. And, curiously, while a single swipe can cause your avatar to carry out fifteen different moves, the undo button will only undo one move at a time. On balance, I found this frustrated more often than helping.
The physical labouriousness of solving any puzzle is not terminal for Paradise but it does make the slog feel more sloggier.