A few hours in
So that prediction I did, about slowly getting more powerful and more able to deal with Glitch Witch’s computer? More or less accurate.
I won’t claim that Beglitched has started making much more sense. I’m eight networks and five passwords in — not in the order or shape you’d expect — and while the story is picking up some shape, it’s been… weird, let’s keep it at that. I’ve fought digital bears, and spam kings, and snooping exploding hounds, and a variety of cats. In networks, but also forums. And did you know how much weirdery you can hide in a looping folder tree? I do, now. Or do I? Needless to say, I’ve put my time into Beglitched. Not enough to see it through to whatever the end is going to be; maybe not nearly enough, although just as likely I might be super close. Either way, I’ve seen enough to ramble out a decently-sized review. Let’s talk shop.
Beglitched is a game that’s hard to easily summarize. Aesthetically, you’ll immediately notice that it’s inviting, bright and colourful, and generally a joy to experience. Mechanically, it’s an interesting layered combination of puzzles, leaning heavily on a neat twist of expectations of the match-3 genre. And thematically, it’s just… itself. Beglitched is weird and confusing and unashamedly itself. That’s both good and bad: while its strong sense of identity jives with the mechanics and the aesthetic, it also leads to a game that’s a little inaccessible at first (which I think is intentional, either design-wise of theme-wise but still a thing). Worse, it’s also occasionally super frustrating, in ways that I’m pretty are not intentional.
Aesthetics first. At this point I’m sure you’ve seen that this game is a joy to behold. I understand that bright pastel colours aren’t necessarily everyone’s thing, but there’s no denying that Beglitched has a strong visual theme and identity that radiates positivity and happiness. It looks even better in motion, when everything is smoothly animated and bouncy. It’s almost something you’d expect on kids’ TV. The sounds helps reinforce this happy and active mood, too.
If I had to summarize this in two words, I’d say that Beglitched is aesthetically pleasing. Everything audiovisual has one goal, and that goal is to lull you into thinking that Beglitched is a cheery, casually simple game.
It, er, really isn’t.
Mechanically, I want to describe Beglitched as a three-tiered tree of layered puzzles. Moving between these layers and solving the interconnected puzzles they represent is Beglitched‘s ludic core.
In the top layer, the laptop layer (which is almost the ‘meta’) layer, you’re trying to solve the question of ‘what the hell am I doing’. That means poking around in Glitch Witch’s computer, visiting networks and forums, and finding the messages and programs Glitch Witch left behind for you. This is more of a narrative puzzle, discovery mechanics interwoven with the larger plot, that contextualizes and encourages exploratory gameplay. Such as unlocking the different networks and working your way through the Witch’s folder structures and passwords. This part of the game is… I want to say semi-linear. It guides you to some significant degree, but then, I’m pretty sure I’ve already found one thing in sort of a sequence-breaking way.
Moving into individual networks is the middle gameplay layer, where the question becomes ‘how do I get through this obstacle course’. This is mostly a gameplay puzzle of planning and daring. Each network ‘board’ is made up of interconnected PC nodes. If you skipped the entire first page of this review, the basic gist is: computers you unveil give you hints about the contents of the computers next to them, Minesweeper style, and you can choose to log into any computer if you want, revealing what’s actually inside it. One of them always contains (or will contain later) the exit. Other nodes might contain money, health, or items… or mines, or scramblers, or enemy hackers. It’s up to you to suss out where and where not to go.
Of course, it’d be real easy to solve this puzzle if all you had to do was walk around and reveal nodes. But networks are (as a rule) populated with hackers, that draw you into potentially dangerous battles. Likewise, it’d be easy to move around the network if all PCs were a straight shot from one another. But Beglitched has more creativity than that, and many boards mess with the rules one way or another. Like the spam board, or the dog board, or the warp board, or the rat board…
The lowest layer is combat, the hacker battles, where the question simply is ‘how do I get out of this with as little damage as possible’. The gameplay here is… it’s both match-3, and not. It uses the basic systems of the match-3 genre: you move items around a grid, and if you line them up, they disappear and Stuff Happens. But it’s not like Bejeweled, where matching gems is the goal. Beglitched is more like Puzzle Quest, or (I can’t believe I’m making this comparison) Hunie Pop, where matching is the means: matching different icons in different configurations has different effects on the play state. This is the case in Beglitched too; doubly so, since you don’t just match icons, but also activate them.
In Beglitched, the goal of a battle is almost always to find the invisible hacker, and detonate one or more bombs on their location. You click bombs to explode them, and match bombs to collapse three small bombs into one larger one (and then again). You use compasses and computer sectors to get an idea of where your target is (standing or moving). You match batteries for energy. And since every action you take costs ‘cycles’, you’ll want to match computers and large compasses to gain more of those. If you run out of cycles, the turn rolls over; on the plus side, you’ll get some free cycles back, but on the minus side, the hacker often Does Something Bad.
That’s the battle system on the surface. It gets more complicated as you go. Money sectors add a new consideration, as does spam. Some targets start moving, and some targets have more than one health point. You can gain items in your temporary inventory and play those to the field. Explosions can be chained. There are cat pictures, and even a form of digital alchemy. And probably more.
Moment-to-moment, this battle system comes off as simple and functional entertainment. It’s not the greatest match-3, but it’s cute and innovative and it works. Trace the hacker, match the icons, get the cascade, make the pretty explosions happen. If that’s all you get to see of Beglitched, you might conclude (as I once did) that the game is fairly casual and forgiving. But there’s a clever hidden stinger here, that only shows up after you mess up a few times.
Beglitched‘s lower (match-3 battle) and middle (network exploration) are linked in a few ways, the most immediate and important of which is a very limited health system. You get 6 hearts when you enter a network. Dig up a mine by logging into a wrong computer, and you lose one. Run out of cycles against most hackers, and you lose one. Accidentally ‘directly locate’ a hacker — which more often than not is unavoidable random chance, like hitting a Minesweeper mine on your first click — and you lose one. There are ways to gain health back, in some parts of some networks and depending on how diligent you are in exploring, but by and large the moral arc of this universe trends downward.
And what happens when you lose all of your hearts? Well…
Get kicked out of a network and you lose everything. This is Beglitched spiteful stinger: it is unforgiving. I call the network layer an ‘obstacle course’ because that’s friendlier than calling it a wartime minefield. Even though there are actual mines. And the bright and upbeat combat layer hides the reality that every mistake you make and every heart you lose is a significant injury, one that brings you a big step closer to defeat and disconnection.
I mean, it’s not all gloom. Earlier levels are more forgiving, both with the quantity of health restoration and with enemy difficulty — enemies stand still or move in simple, predictable patterns, they only take one damage before logging off, and they attack slowly. And Beglitched has a lot of room for player mastery to further improve the odds. Match-3 games are always subject to some randomness, obviously, but there are systems in place here to mitigate that. For one, you have a player inventory, which allows you to place items on the board. What’s more, within each network (from start to final log-off), your battle grid remains the same between battles. So if you leave your grid in a good spot after one battle, you’ll have an easier time with the next. This means you can use ‘easy’ fights to prep your grid, setting up wanted nodes and combos for upcoming harder (‘boss’) fights. The game explicitly suggests this in, and even trains you a little bit in how to apply it.
But all the same, it is hard. Randomness is always a factor, and I can remember dozens of times where I lost a heart because the randomly dropping icons weren’t what I needed. And Beglitched makes no affordances for this. If you lose, you lose; better luck next time, sucker.
I’m sure this is at least partially on me. How could it not be? It’s highly likely I’m doing something wrong, or I’m not doing something right that I ought to be doing. Beglitched doesn’t… explain a lot of things, very clearly. On the first page, for the sake of readability, I trimmed a few of the parts where I just clicked around computers aimlessly, hoping against hope to be told what to do. Beglitched is acutely aware of this, and actually includes a more overbearing ‘strict tutorial’ level as a joke later on. It wasn’t a deal breaker for me, but then I like exploratory gameplay. If you don’t, it’s not an incredibly accessibly game, and (like I said) it’s highly likely that you’ll have to fail-and-learn your way to success.
On the other hand, some part of this game are just outright frustrating. Like, I dig the battle randomness, and the weirdery of the Secrets Folder, and I thought it was clever that you have to work out how to access the Forum side-branches yourself. But the whole Cat Pictures network was just an exercise in frustration and tedious enemy-avoiding. And I still can’t beat the Rat network. It’s gambling! 100% gambling. I tried seventeen times, and no that is not a joke, but there’s no way to brute-force a luck-based confrontation. It’s at the Rat network I stopped playing for the moment; I know there are other networks I could check, but the knowledge that I’ll have to go back here eventually stops me. Plus, the longer I play, the more I find myself intolerant of ‘you have to start over because only money and batteries dropped and now you lost another heart’.
Still, for my grumbling, I do actually like Beglitched. It’s just so much… it. It exudes style, innovation, and theme. It’s weird and silly, difficult and hard-to-parse, bright and colourful and energetic and mean and gloomy and more than willing to kill you on a slight, and I just don’t know if there’s any other game quite like that.
Also there are puns.
Beglitched is a clever, unique, innovative game that makes me happy and angry in equal measure. Happy because it exists, and because it’s fun, and because it’s a good game to play in the background while you’re chatting or listening or watching something. And because I do want to see where the story goes. But also angry, because the gameplay is at best risky and unforgiving of mistakes, and at worst a massive overt time sink. Assuming I don’t just suck at it. Again: this is entirely an option.
Beglitched is also only ten bucks, so if you think it’s at least as much up your alley as it was mine — or even more! — it’s totally worth checking out. I’ve easily had ten bucks worth of fun from it. Also ten bucks worth of angry rage-quitting and exasperated sighing, but, you know. Every downside has its upside.
Jarenth enjoys any and all cool metaphorical representations of hacking, particularly if cute colours and icons are involved. But Uplink worked too. Suggest more hacking games on Twitter or hang out with him on Steam. And if you dig Indie Wonderland and Ninja Blues in general, why not consider supporting our Patreon campaign?