Puzzle games can be somewhat hit-or-miss depending on how committed the developers are to making the player experience as unique as possible. Games like Portal 2 thrive on their inventiveness and unique gameplay concepts, allowing them to become timeless classics. Energy Cycle has the brain-busting gameplay that’ll keep the challenges coming as you go through the levels, but everything else about the game is minimal and far from memorable, leading to an overall experience that leaves far too much to be desired.
Aesthetically, the game isn’t very appealing. Each screenshot isn’t particularly flattering and each gameplay screen is designed to host a minimal of visual elements outside of the shiny multi-colored orbs that the player is supposed to match. The gameplay screens have moving aspect in the backgrounds, but it’s simply a spinning tornado-esque visual that looks less like a background detail and more like a buffering signal.
The menu screen is completely static and every mode’s backgrounds are very much the same as the main single-player mode. The backgrounds are also mostly black with little, additional swirls happening in each corner of the screen.
Overall, the visuals are uninspired and weren’t able to hold my interest on a big screen (the game feels more at home with a mobile setting).
The gameplay, much like the visuals, is unspectacular but at least provides a decent challenge (once you get past the beginner levels). The goal of each level is to turn each orb into the same color in the fewest moves possible. Each time you change a particular orb, every orb connected to it either horizontally or vertically will then change as well. Your strategy then proceeds to be something akin to a Rubik’s Cube.
It’s perfectly fine, somewhat challenging gameplay that’ll keep you hooked for at least a couple rounds. The gameplay is very much limited though to this strict play style across all three of its modes (Level editor mode isn’t in the Xbox One version I’m reviewing), so if the straightforward color switching gameplay isn’t your kind of thing, then this game will not be for you.
Due to the lack of variety, gameplay gets repetitive quickly. This is due to the simplistic nature of each game mode. Time Attack simply adds a time limit to the normal gameplay and Infinite Play just equates to doing levels one after another with no menu in between each level. Puzzle is the main mode with 28 total levels, and outside of the growing difficulty, they’re quick little levels that shouldn’t take you too long to complete.
Overall, the gameplay is simplistic (sometimes too much so) but enjoyable enough. The modes available lack variety and don’t really add anything new to the game as a whole, leading to a reduced play time for each prospective player.
Energy Cycle proved to be where much of the negatives came from, as the odd soundtrack choices and complete lack of sound effects leaves plenty to be desired on the audio side. There are plenty of soundtrack options that are enjoyable (some EDM here and there) but they’re simple songs that proceed to go on for too long. However, even when combining the enjoyable songs with the not-so-enjoyable songs, they seem very out-of-place with the game itself. The music very rarely fits what I’m doing and the fact that it’s such simple and/or off-putting music ended up removing a lot of my engagement with the game itself. The fact that one of the few options on the quickly available in-map pause screen is shutting off the music feels like even the developers recognized how ill-fitting the music was for the game. However, if you turn off the music, this leads to the cold, bitter silence that comes with EC‘s lack of any audio outside of the music.
The complete lack of sound in other aspects of the game is far too apparent and distracting. Level transitions have no sound and gameplay is completely silent without music. It feels like it was less about an inability to implement fitting sounds and more a decision to simply not bother putting in sound at all. This design choice completely baffles me and combines with the odd, ill-fitting soundtrack to bring down Energy Cycle in a major way.
The replay value available is also very low. This aspect is certainly a personal preference, but when a game feels like it’d be far more at-home on a tablet or phone, my expectations rise for it as I look for it to kind of “prove itself” when I play it on a console with many more complex puzzle games. Each level lacks that little bit of motivation necessary to keep players pushing forward through the modes, leading to a game that doesn’t warrant an extended amount of attention. It’s interesting to see how much you can reduce your total amount of moves after the initial playthrough, but that allure quickly moves away.
It must be noted that the game has a severely reduced price ($2.99) on consoles and an even lower price on Steam ($.99). This helps make the prospect of purchasing it not as risky, as it’s not priced at the usual 15-20 dollar range that indie games have. However, considering that the Xbox One version doesn’t have the Level Editor mode and the Steam version does (and is cheaper), it’s difficult to recommend the console version.