The Tiny Bang Story looks like a painting — or many paintings, to be more precise. Its sense of visual detail is stunning; its design as a game not so much.
It’s a hidden object game crossed with a point-and-click puzzle title (not to be confused with a point-and-click graphic adventure), teeming with challenge. But it suffers from vague and overly ambiguous design and an inconsistent hint system, and the beauty sometimes detracts from the experience — especially on the small screen-sizes of Android devices (as compared to desktop computers, for which the game was designed).
Your ultimate goal is to complete the jigsaw puzzle on the main menu screen. To do that, you’ll need to collect puzzle pieces throughout the levels. It’s possible to complete the game without collecting every single piece, but you need to get close. Each level has a variety of puzzles to grapple with, including retro-styled action sequences, building machines, and several different kinds of visual logic problems.
You get minor assistance at the beginning of the game, then it’s direction-less hunting of hidden objects and solving puzzles. Get used to tapping on the screen a lot.
The brunt of the experience involves finding the hidden objects you need to unlock each puzzle form. This is easier said than done, with the lavishly detailed graphics making it extremely challenging to discern which items are the ones you want. On Android this is made worse by the small screen. You can zoom in on the image with the standard pinch gesture, but you’re still looking for a scaled down needle in a scaled down haystack. Don’t even bother trying if you have trouble reading small text on a phone or tablet, because it’s just like that.
This is zoomed in as close as you can go. Keep in mind that many hidden objects are smaller than the flies buzzing around, and routinely found in the busiest parts of the screen.
A hint system helps push you in the right direction, guiding you with glowing flies to check a particular section of a screen in a specific part of the level. You have to recharge the hint meter, though, by catching (read: tapping on) the flies that buzz around the screen. It takes a lot of flies to recharge the meter, which is good in the sense that it discourages reliance on hints but bad in that it just annoys people who are genuinely stuck.
I found the best strategy, after hours of searching for the last few items, is to tap rapidly all over the screen. It’s far less satisfying that way, but it’s also less frustrating — you’ll rarely get stuck yelling at your device that the remaining objects are invisible or otherwise missing, and you’ll sooner find out what object types you need to search for (this is not revealed until you tap on the machine that needs fixing, which can also be hard to recognize).
If you’re a big fan of hidden object games then your success rate will be much higher, since the game seems to adopt the same tricks as its competitors.
While the hidden object part of the game alternates between a fun easter egg hunt and an awful dragging inch-by-inch search, Tiny Bang Story’s puzzles offer genuine challenge. Unfortunately a big part of that challenge is determining what you’re actually trying to solve. The feedback offered is minimal at best, and at worst non-existent.
You can tap on the question mark in the top-right corner for a hint, which either means a solution or something that rather looks like a solution. It’s seldom clear whether you’re being shown what the puzzle looks like when complete or just getting told what parts are relevant.
Sometimes the goal is obvious, but this is seldom the case.
One puzzle, for instance, has water pipes, five valves, a dozen-or-so places for the valves, and three meters. The goal is to make the two meters on the right turn from blue to black. I’d been conditioned by the earlier puzzles — whether rightly or wrongly — to think that the hint showed the solution, and was meant as a fail-safe for people who get stuck. Not only did previous puzzles indicate this, but also the hints in the hidden object areas, which show you where to look next.
Visual metaphors break down from vague ambiguity.
When I couldn’t figure out the solution on my own, I pulled up the hint. It shows the valves distributed among the pipes, with question marks over four of them and the blue meters turned black. I wondered at the significance of the question marks, but my mind first turned to the idea that the valves go in those positions and I just needed to figure out which is which. This was not the case at all. Ambiguity led to frustration, which was even more telling in another puzzle for arranging objects in a drawer like Tetris pieces (I won’t give that one away, but the hint is a very sneaky kind of red herring).
Once you get past these grievances about signposting and misleadingly inconsistent hints, the puzzles are fantastic and challenging. Some players will find the ambiguity as part of the game’s appeal, while others will be annoyed until they know their goal and can work toward it. Most puzzles are satisfying to finally solve, regardless of play style.
Note that the app has some stability problems on the puzzles, touch-screen issues everywhere, and nasty game-ending bugs that may pop up along the way — although updates have ironed many of these out.
The Tiny Bang Story shines most in its presentation. It’s almost worth putting up with the vague design and checking walkthroughs when you get stuck just so that you can see the whole game. The visuals are composed of a series of lovingly-crafted paintings that jump right off the screen. Animations are minimal but well done. The sound design and atmospheric music are also excellent, although they’re not needed to enjoy the game.
Levels are all linked together, sometimes with a brief cutscene, and there’s some semblance of a story for you to fill in from the progression. The basic idea is that an asteroid broke the world into pieces, which you need to find while solving puzzles and fixing the machines that keep this steampunk world chugging along.
Don’t Believe the Hype
Tiny Bang Story — on Android at least — is not the brilliant game that it’s often made out to be. It isn’t bad — not by any means. But its five chapters are designed in such a way that players not already embedded in the world of hidden object style puzzle games will struggle to get anywhere on their own. It’s nice to be able to play at your own pace, but not to the extent where there’s no handholding whatsoever.
The line between mysterious ambiguity and frustrating vagueness is smaller than you’d think. Tiny Bang Story too often crosses to the wrong side. Don’t be fooled by a pretty face. Approach with caution, and make sure you know what you’re getting into.