Bricko!

Some video games age like wine, others age like milk and "oh joy!" Bricko!, a puzzle game with a simple premise, easy to pick up and far more challenging than it looks, belongs to the first category.

In Bricko!, random blocks fall down the playing field, rapidly filling the available space until the upper area is too clustered to let new blocks in. Your score is based on the number of blocks currently in the field; push already placed pieces to the left and right (by respectively clicking their right or left rivet) to make room for more blocks.

The task seems easy enough until you get your first block stuck in a gap by accident. So you begin to move surrounding blocks to free that once piece you need, only to trigger a cave-in. As a crater forms on top of the screen, more blocks pour into the field, jeopardizing your strategy. After a while, you decide to focus on another section of the puzzle... and things go sour again!

It's a slow-paced game at first, but the more you play it, the more you "get it:" you start planning your moves ahead, search for the best block to fill gaps, devise a global strategy... it provides an oddly satisfying and Zen experience similar to inventory micro-management in games such as Diablo II and Resident Evil 4. It never feels frustrating or cheap: the game is fair, the rules are simple, and YOU are in complete control of the situation. Therefore, any mistake you make, you can learn from. When you finally resigns yourself to submit your score (press escape anytime during gameplay,) you only want to dive right back into it and "do it right this time."

The game displays graphics in 640x480 with 16 colors. Everything is simple and composed with two gradients only (red and gray,) which is enough for the game. The font used was a weird choice but it's not a deal-breaker. Worth mentioning also it the complete lack of flickering.

The game also features SoundBlaster digitalized sounds. The sound card is automatically identified via the DOS environment configuration string, so make sure it exists (if you're running the game in DOSBox, you don't have to worry about that.) While there are maybe two or three different sound effects (no need for more,) the game doesn't have music.

Controls remain responsive even with low processing power. Setting DOSBox to 3000 cycles (which should put us in 80386-CPU territory) is enough to maintain a consistent frame rate for the most part; some minor slowdowns happen when many blocks are moving, but it's not game-breaking.

After miss-clicking a couple of times, I wished there was an "undo" button. Additionally, some documentation would have been nice, and a proper menu to access high scores and enable or disable sound effects would have been a nice touch. But I'm really nitpicking at this point: everything the game sets out to do is done perfectly.

Finally, the game features a two-player mode via IPX networking but I was unable to test it. Davey Taylor (who also ported the 1991 Amiga game The Power) included his (very tidy) source code as well as a compiled executable.

In short, Davey Taylor's Bricko! is still worth your time some twenty years after its initial release: it is well-written, efficient, addicting, fun to play, and has a great replay value. If you're into Zen puzzle games, give this one a go, you won't be disappointed!