Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

It wiggles. It jiggles. And it knows your every move. There’s been an uptick in recent years of games that take advantage of player assumptions, and Jelly no Puzzle is a super-hard puzzle game that takes the idea to its logical conclusion. It may seem uncanny at times, but don’t worry; it works like a charm.

I learned about the game after hearing it was one of the few games that had Jonathan Blow's endorsement. Casually intrigued, it took little effort to find out the game was up for free download, and I finally got around to playing it several days later, partially because it looked like it would be worth at least a few short sessions, and mostly because it was free.

Well, I was impressed. I was also sleep-deprived, exhausted, very confused and thoroughly humiliated. Yeah, it's that kind of game.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

In Jelly no Puzzle, your objective is to move the jellies, a squishy, pastel-colored pack of blocks with cute faces, across the level to connect with other jelly blocks of the same color. You move the jellies one block left or right using the left and right mouse buttons respectively (a control choice that, while it probably sounded good on paper, isn't nearly as intuitive as you would expect.) Once all jellies have been properly connected, the level is finished. There are a few catches though:

  • 1. Jelly blocks that have been connected cannot be disconnected, meaning that you have to move them as a single unit, meaning that you're going to have a lot more trouble squeezing through tight spaces. If you get snagged, you fail.
  • 2. The is no way to move jellies upward. You can only move them left or right, or down by pushing them off a ledge. So if a jelly falls below the place you need it to be, there's no way around it. It only gets worse once pits are introduced. If you land in a pit, you also fail.
  • 3. Jellies of different colors can't pass through each other. They can only push and shove each other around, meaning you'll have to find ways to one around the other like some kind of gravity-bound, 3-directional slider puzzle. If you accidentally shove a jelly into the wrong place, like a pit or a snag, you also fail.
  • 4. If you move a jelly underneath another jelly, it will not take the jelly on top with it, and if there's nothing beneath the higher jelly once the lower jelly has shifted, the lower jelly will fall down. If you're careless and let a let a jelly above the one you're moving fall into a hazard (a pit or a snag,) you also fail.
  • 5. And on top of all that, they throw in a few curveballs, like jellies that are fixed to the walls and can't be moved, forcing you to formulate your plans around them, and blocks that, while movable, don't really do anything, are more likely to take up space and get in your way than do anything useful. If you find yourself irreversibly blocked by these useless blocks, or you can't connect your mobile jellies to a fixed jelly (likely because you've fallen into a pit or snag,) you also fail.

You fail a lot.

Fortunately, you have two lifelines: you can undo your last few moves at any time, and if you get stuck you can always skip a puzzle and come back to it later. The next level might be a little bit more your style. Out of a set of 17 puzzles, I finished almost all of them in an overnight session last week, save for levels 10 and 16, which I wrapped up in another 30-45 minute session early yesterday morning. No walkthroughs were used. (Don't get your hopes up, though; I was an exception to the rule.)

Now, look at the above images. They're harmless, aren't they? Nope, not in the least. Many players were disarmed by the game's bubbly aesthetic, only to discover that chibi and colorful was the face of Hell. And although I had my guard up from the moment I saw the words "This may be more difficult than it looks.", nothing could prepare me psychologically for the nightmare I was about to endure. And that brings us to our main point: Jelly no Puzzle's unique brand of self-aware design.

In most puzzle games, there's a clear right answer, an "Aha!" moment when you realize what that answer, often obvious in retrospect, turned out to be. But if in this game you find yourself stumbling upon a deceptively simple solution, make no mistake: you are being deceived. In Jelly no Puzzle, you're given a problem, and a golden path that seems so elegant you'd be certain it was put there on purpose, so that you'd try it out only to have the rug pulled out from under you at the last minute. And why not? They knew you were going to do that.

Although it probably isn't true, I like to imagine that each stage in the game was designed by drawing a simple puzzle with a simple solution, then adding in a twist that makes that solution impossible, then creating an alternative solution around it, then cutting that one off and so forth. Every move you will make has been carefully planned out and rebuked three steps in advance, and often you'll seem trapped between two or more mutually ineffective choices. The overall experience of playing can be summed up as "But if I do this, something bad will happen. But there isn't any other way to make this work, so this must be it, right?"

It's a difficult feeling to put into words, but let's see if it can be done. For instance, here's how a typical level plays out.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

What do we see here? Well, for starters, the blue jelly on the far right has no way of getting up and over that hump, so we have to bring the other blue jelly down. But if we move it, it will fall off and there will be no way to get it back to where it ought to be. What now?

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

Solution: Aha! I know what to do. You have to make some kind of bridge using stacked up jellies. And it makes perfect sense doesn't it? The green jellies are supposed to combine into a tall block tower. Ta-da! Instant bridge. Our golden path.

Move Trumped: But if the jellies get down, they're gonna land in the wrong place, and fill up the wrong gap. You won't even be able to move them anywhere since they'll be all cramped up in that hole. Try to escape, and they'll slip out from under you. In the end, it'll look like this:

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

The pulling of the proverbial rug. Nobody looks particularly pleased.

Solution: The game must've faked us out. In the end, we had to push the green jelly off the other side all along.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

Move Trumped: Only that doesn't work either, because there'd be no way for the other green jelly to land on top of you. Try to move the red jelly, and the green one would slip out from above. And without the second jelly, You'll only be two blocks tall, which isn't quite tall enough to bridge the gap. We're running out of options, but it's okay. Maybe we're just narrowing them down.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

Solution: Hey, wait a minute, let's go for that red jelly all the way on the left instead. The designer obviously thought we wouldn't notice.

Move Trumped: No, the designer did notice, and the red jelly would fall into the large depression below it. You could always try to stack yourself on top of it anyways, but a snag awaits if you do.

At this point it would seem like you've run out of possible moves, wouldn't it? Look up at that first picture again. Would you be able to find a solution to that puzzle? There are a series of paths laid out for you, but every one of those paths seems to be fundamentally flawed in some way. And that was just Level 6. It only goes downhill from there.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

Here's another stage. Can you figure out what makes this one so hard?

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

How about now? By the way, you absolutely cannot push the yellow jelly off the cliff without pushing the blue one off first. That would be too easy.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

Here's another one. At first, you'd think the goal was to arrange those blocks so that they make a perfect staircase. But you can't actually do that...

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

...And here's what happens if you try. Sure, they're the right size, but they're arranged so that they always fall in the wrong order.

Are these puzzles impossible? Not necessarily, but you can tell the solution isn't going to be anything obvious.

Should you solve a puzzle, the result is supposed to be that you feel like you have a high IQ for managing to succeed. I didn't feel that way. In fact, I felt like I had a particularly low IQ for not managing to finish them all faster. (And I was in for a cruel surprise once I reached the end of Level 17.) That said, my reaction was also an exception to the rule and rooted in one-in-a-million personal circumstances. You are definitely going to feel like a genius.

The game presents an interesting dialogue between the player and the designer, who seems to be both fully aware of and reacting to you. It even begins to seem unnatural if you let it get to you. How could they know I was going to move into that exact spot? Or decide this was the only way forward? These thoughts seem so intimate, so personal, but they're not. They're practically planted in your brain. This sort of design is possible only because the game has been split into tiles and has very limited movement, meaning the maximum number of moves in any given situation can be counted and recorded, and therefore controlled. But since you seem to occupy such a wide open space, it never occurs to you just how little freedom you do have. The spell remains unbroken.

And the strangest thing of all is that there actually is a solution, even to level 6, but it's not something something you'd easily see coming. I said that every one of the paths laid out for you would be rigged, and they are. But the solution is not on a path not laid out for you. It's hidden out of sight. And you find it anyway using logic rather than guesswork.

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

One's too obvious...

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

...The other isn't obvious enough.

This is a big deal. Most hidden elements in games are divided into two camps: Those that are signaled with cracked walls and exotic colors, easily called out from a mile away, and those that are thrown into the gameworld at random, with no indication that they even exist at all and nothing to guide you to them but tedious pixel-by-pixel searching if you somehow had the feeling that they did. Jelly no Puzzle evades either trap, instead relying on the shifting nature of its environment to obscure giveaway clues.

The more you mess around in a space, the more you notice oddities about how that space is arranged, and eventually you find ways to manipulate that space that weren't even hinted at when everything was in its proper place. To solve the puzzle, you can't just look at the layout of the level in the present. You have to take into account the ways the layout will change in the future, and what other elements that will, in turn, effect. It's a visual puzzle that makes you search through time.

Until you find the answer, though, there'll be lots of frustration, moments when you think the game is being unfair even though it's not, and that's another key feature: as hard as it gets, this game's no Kaizo Mario or I Wanna Be the Guy. No rules are broken. If you can't figure something out, it's all on you. (But hey, don't feel bad about it.)

The only safeguard against this frustration is the game's presentation, which favors patience and contemplation. Softly shaded, with bright candy colors, simple shapes and the adorable jellies, the look of Jelly no Puzzle is warm, nonthreatening and even soothing, and the music is an ear worm in the tradition of Japanese games like Mega Man 2 and Cave Story, only much mellower once you get past the first few levels. And speaking of Cave Story, the game uses a sound format, PxTone, created by Pixel, the guy who made that game. You can tell, but at the same time Jelly no Puzzle manages to get some comparatively vivid sounds out of its sound software.

All in all, Jelly no Puzzle is worth any amount of play time you're ready to put into it, even if it's just a few minutes. It only takes that long to understand what I mean when I say "The designer knows where you live."

The game is available for download on Windows here, and there's a browser version for all operating systems here.

And just because we're talking about almost impossible riddles, here's one:

Jelly no Puzzle is So Thoughtful it Borders on Creepy

See that case? There's a pole inside it, and you want to take it out. It's a steel case with a glass window, and the sides are bolted tightly together. All you have is a small, thin razor blade, and a 2 foot, 7 inch (78.74 cm) plastic jug of ice water because the room is at least 104 degrees Fahrenheit (40 degrees Celsius.) The case is a cube, and it has a volume of 64 cubic feet (approximately 2 cubic meters,) the pole is 3 feet, 10 inches (1.1684 m) tall, three inches (7.62) in diameter, and solid steel. The pole is resting on a set of 4 1 x 4 ft (approx. 30 x 122 cm) steel boards 2 inches (approx. 5 cm) above the bottom of the case and bolted to it, the bolts tunneling through a series of rather large but secure tapped holes. The window is in the center of the front face, has an area of 4 square feet (0.371612 m^2) and is made of black Polymethylmethacrylate. All of the bolts outside are made of steel, and all of the bolts inside are made of copper. How do you remove the pole? Try out your answer in the comments below.

NOTE: The case was not assembled at the temperature of the room.

(UPDATE: There was a hole in the riddle. It was found, and has been edited out. Enjoy!)

PS: I am not a professional riddle-maker. You'll probably find a hole in this one in no time.

This is also on my blog.

And you can find the rest of the "Radical Helmet Special" posts here.