The problem with most puzzle games is that they really have to rely on one or two mechanics to get you through the whole thing. Present too many options, and the puzzles become too easy or insignificant. Offer the player too few choices of how to proceed, and your levels become repetitive and frustrating. It’s a difficult balance to strike, but other than a handful of small frustrations here and there, Constant C manages to hit the sweet spot all puzzle games need to.
Constant C, from developer International Game Systems, is finally working its way to Steam and Xbox Live after impressing adventurous gamers on Desura. Constant C puts you in the shoes of an unnamed maintenance droid awoken onboard a ship seemingly frozen in time, and set to work fixing it by the ship’s oddly pleasant (and emoji-displaying) AI. Things get complicated, as they often do, and soon you find yourself in deeper temporal trouble than you expected.
Let’s talk about those aforementioned mechanics for a second. You have, at all times, a small field around you that restores the time-flow of anything you come in contact with. For example, let’s see you find some boxes suspended in mid-air. Getting one of those boxes within your field (and it’s only a small bubble surrounding you, so you have to get pretty close) will cause it to fall the same direction it was about to before all time was frozen. Moving platforms don’t begin moving until you touch them, deadly and inexplicably-placed sawblades don’t start spinning until you’re close enough for them to kill you anyway, and it seems like nothing can happen without your say-so.
That sort of ‘waiting game’ is where the true bulk of Constant C resides. Imagine a platformer where nothing moves without your permission. Jumping challenges that would be trivial in something like Mega Man are made that much more complicated by the need to plan your moves out ahead of time. If you jump off of this conveyor belt, it won’t move until you get back to it, so you need to leave it in a good place for you to easily return. You need a generous helping of foresight and patience, more so than even in something like Portal, and the game is constantly playing with your expectations of how jumping puzzles ought to work. The inclusion of additional mechanics like rotating gravity helps to break things up, but the majority of your time will be spent trying to figure out how to make boxes drop just far enough and in the correct order.
While it all sounds fun enough, and it is, there’s a few small frustrations that mar the experience. Your little robot is surprisingly fragile, and for a game with ostensibly no combat you’ll be surprised how often you die. Several doors will kill you as they open, and the hitboxes for just when you’ll get crushed by something are perhaps a bit larger and more generous than you’d think at first. Worse yet, you are easily killed by falls that even an old-school first-person-shooter hero would survive. It’s not quite as bad as Spelunker, but the short distance you can drop before it kills you will prove a constant (sorry) hindrance, and adds an artificial layer of difficulty to the challenges that await you.