A puzzle – a game, toy or conundrum that tests a person’s ingenuity and brainpower. The word came into the English Language in the 16th Century where it was described as a “perplexing problem”. We all love a puzzle, whether it’s a jigsaw, spot the difference, or even the good old fashioned Rubik’s Cube. In the world of gaming we have embraced many a puzzle game, with the current generation of consoles having seen a number release in abundance – one of which was the original Active Neurons, a game that launched earlier in 2020. Now a sequel is here – Active Neurons 2 – perhaps holding a record as the quickest sequel launch in the history of gaming. But are we ready to solve more puzzles?
Active Neurons proved to be a fabulous little puzzle game that happily provided you some ingenious gaming for a good price. The sequel is hoping to do the same, but this time around there is a sort of story to enjoy. Your objective is to collect enough neurons to unlock 12 major inventions of mankind – like the Wheel or the Internet. When you open the achievement a short description of the event will be provided, along with a picture. It’s not Charles Dickens-worthy, but it does do a nice little job of giving the puzzle aspect a framework to hang off.
Gameplay and puzzle solving is the recipe of the day here and Active Neruons 2 doesn’t disappoint, with 120 levels spread over 12 chapters to complete and master, playing through them in order, unlocking stages as you go. How the game works is simple: you are presented with a 2D top-down world, you play the role of a white square and it’s your goal to get to the end of a maze, collecting enough energy to activate your neurons. Simple, yes?
Well, no. The problem you have is that when you move your little white square – up, down, left and right – it will keep moving until something stops it. Now, this could be a wall, or a block, or even a portal that will take you somewhere else. You need to look at the level and plan your moves; sometimes many moves in advance before you set off. If not, well, it’s easy to get stuck in a loop or destroyed by something.
These ‘somethings’ take the form of red blocks and barriers that are found to be blocking the direction you want to go, or moving blocks you have to avoid and dodge around to get to your goal. To get rid of the barriers and red blocks you can nudge a green block into the path of the evil red ones – kaboom. What happens after each chapter is that the game introduces something new and challenging to the mechanics of the game.
For instance, as you progress you will encounter yellow boxes that move in a square formation in stages. You will need to divert their path so that they can open barriers or destroy red boxes. But then you will also have portals that are introduced, letting you teleport from one to another or, if you’re feeling fancy, knock a green block through a portal if needed. That’s not all though and there are bomb blocks that when touched explode after five seconds, and treadmills that can move you or other blocks quickly in one direction, before seeing the direction swapped. My favourite though are certain blocks that come with different coloured keys; they have to be touched in a certain order – a certain order that will happily twist your brain, even more so when they introduce the idea of discovering number combinations which eventually open a locked barrier.
Visually and Active Neurons 2 has a certain charm and a lovely aesthetic. The menus are simply presented with high-grade use of fonts that are appealing to the eye, and I love the little icons you open for the inventions of mankind. It’s not going to win awards for graphical endeavors – after all, it’s fairly simple stuff – but it does a great job that is wholly appropriate to the size of the game.
The soundtrack helps too – setting a mood where you can feel like you’re relaxing in a bath while watching a fantastic laser light show on your ceiling. It sets a perfectly relaxing mood, one that works for any game that taxes your brain cells and, at times, patience.
I can’t fault what Active Neurons 2 has set out to do. It’s a delightfully addictive puzzler that does what it needs to do brilliantly, without breaking any boundaries or ever reinventing the wheel. There are plenty of levels to have fun with – all of which will test your brain – and it’s nice that when you find yourself totally stuck, you can play out the solution in front of you. The problem is that this helpful mechanic is far too tempting and maybe should be limited in its use and how many times you can watch it. But then, I’ve been ever thankful for it in the latter stages. If you are not entirely convinced about giving Active Neurons 2 on Xbox One a go, then the cheap asking price might just be enough to persuade you.