Brain teasers and mind training have fast become a part of the normal routine for most people. Whether it’s doing a crossword in the paper, a Sudoku on your phone, or working your way through a more complex console game like The Witness, all of these puzzle-solving activities have proven good for the mind and soul. In fact, studies have shown that it can delay dementia and Alzheimer’s, improve moods, and lower stress levels. Active Neurons hopes to give you another opportunity at releasing a better mood with its relaxing, but at times complex, puzzles on Xbox. Does it become your go-to brain-teaser? Or does it just do your head in?
Active Neurons is a simple puzzle game; a game that makes complete and utter sense when you start playing it, mostly as the instructions are all visual. That’s not to say I’ll have an easy time describing it here though. In very basic terms, Active Neurons is a maze-like game where your objective is to get from A to B without dying. You play the part of a neuron – represented by a white square – although that’s as far as the storytelling goes. In each level, you are presented with a maze map, with a goal at the end that you need to get to, and obstacles in your way to overcome. Are you with me so far?
The gameplay controls are once again as simple as apple pie – move the white square left, right, up, and down and you’ll find success. With one touch of the button, the little square will shoot in that direction, only stopping when it hits a wall or crashes into something else. There is no stopping mid-motion or changing direction suddenly, and so that is where the puzzle elements come into play as you have to carefully plan your moves out in advance, much like an army general or chess master.
The obstacles you might find in your little journey as a neuron will be the maze itself, seeing you stuck in a loop and not being able to progress further, and enemies – normally in the form of red squares – which are placed strategically around the maze. You will have to account for them in your level calculations. You may also discover moving enemies that you have to negotiate past, with your timing on when to move spot on. The great news though is that the levels are really short and when you die it’s not such a pain to restart. The same goes for when you get really stuck and see no way forward; a quick press of the restart button and hey presto, you’re back to the beginning of the level.
There are more than 100 levels to play with and after completing every ten stages a new gameplay mechanic will come into play. Some of these will introduce the use of teleportation devices into the mix, the ability to move other objects to make the most of direction changes, or the chance to kill enemies. These extra features keep the gameplay of Active Neurons fresh and innovative all the way to the end of the game.
If you feel you’re getting really stuck, testing your mind like never before, then you also have the option for the game to present the solution to you. Here Active Neurons will show where to move your white square through the level – all you have to do is memorise this and then copy. I don’t really know how I feel about this little cheat/help guide though, as even though it does prove useful in the later levels, with it being so readily available it is far too tempting a tool to use. Maybe it should have been limited a little, perhaps only allowing its use once or twice every ten levels or so?
The game visuals are lovely, clean, and crisp. It reminds me a little of the look and feel of the stunning Thomas Was Alone. The menus complement this too, and the whole way the game is represented visually is hugely appealing. It’s helped by a soundtrack that is a perfect accompaniment to the easy gameplay style and mood. You won’t ever remember the tracks that are playing over your puzzle-solving, but if you switched the music off you would certainly feel like there is something missing.
Active Neurons on Xbox One provides a pleasant and enchanting experience, with its few hours of running time near perfect for what it delivers. You can complete this game at your own pace, maybe a few levels a day, or purge it all in one afternoon. And that said, while some points are reasonably tricky, it is never soul-draining, instead creating a relaxing atmosphere that ensures you are never left frustrated or stressed. Two further bonuses of Active Neurons are that it’s cheap to purchase, and when you do make it to the end you will discover a relatively easy 1000 Gamerscore of achievement goodness.
Now breathe, relax, enjoy, solve – and don’t press the solution button too early.