Minesweeper is one of those game conceptions that has been around for decades, becoming a regular time-consumer for tons of people as it began to arrive as part of operating systems. I’ve dabbled in the standard version before and suffice to say, Minesweeper itself has never really drawn me in for long. There’s a new challenger rising up to hopefully provide a better brain teasing experience though, in the form of Minesweeper Genius on Xbox One. Could it be the incarnation to finally sweep me off my feet, or will I end up looking for a mine to make a swift exit?
For anyone unfamiliar, the basic principles in every game of this ilk see you carefully trying to identify which squares on a grid contain explosive mines, avoiding them all successfully. It’s as simple as that, with Minesweeper Genius just building upon it by first introducing a little old chap name Aristotle to be guided around each grid to its situated exit portal. He’s lost his memory, so this sweeping activity, across what appears to be circuit boards, may help to regain it apparently. There’s no need for a story though, because the puzzling does the job that’s required.
Instead of simply placing numbers onto a grid, signifying how many mines are connected to those squares, here it mainly displays them above each column and alongside each row. For example, in a 4×4 grid, if the first column has 0 mines, but the top row has 3 to find, they must be in the following columns. This brings in elements of the immensely popular Sudoku game, in which logic is a necessity to safely plot a course towards the exit. Fortunately you’re equipped with enough flags to stick down into the positions that are suspected to be dangerous and these are very easy to remove if you make an error in placement.
Speaking of making errors, you have three lives for each level and should you complete it with all of them intact, you’ll get awarded three stars – subsequently, if you lose one life then it’s downgraded to two stars and two lives depleted via the mines leads to one star earned. After every life lost, Aristotle is moved back to the position he began at, but if you lose all three lives then you’ll have to start the level again. What’s great though, especially for the overall replayability, is that should you fail or even just wish to retry a level, the layouts are different because of procedural generation. That adds a real freshness, whilst also ensuring you don’t simply try to fluke a solution by sussing out the mine locations through failure.
Freshness isn’t something that’s expected in a game that has 130 main campaign levels that are essentially very similar, however the aforementioned procedural generation, combined with the addition of certain mechanics to affect the grid and the well-balanced difficulty curve, makes every level provide just as much joy as the next one. Aside from the normal tiles, there are some power-up types that shift a whole row or column of tiles when stepped upon, and others that enable our sweeping genius to take a leap. Eventually, octagon shaped tiles are a staple of the level designs and these show how many mines are within touching distance. My only gripe is the fact that the power-up tiles are all a bit samey and more creativity could’ve been implemented here.
Throughout the core campaign levels, it does get increasingly more difficult, but never to the point where it becomes frustrating or you’re left scratching your head. That’s the job of the 55 additional advanced levels instead, which crank proceedings up massively by introducing far larger layouts with much less room for error – I’m talking 40+ mines on some occasions. Even though these can be a tad overwhelming, the sheer elation of solving such daunting minesweeper puzzles is totally worth it and truly puts your logical thinking to the test.
Apart from the campaign, the only other thing you can do is create and attempt to complete a custom level. After inputting the grid size, number of mines, and which special tiles to include, it’ll generate a puzzle for you. Personally though, I don’t see the point in a one-off that has no real purpose.
There is one other area of Minesweeper Genius that’s a little lacklustre, and that’s in regards the visuals, simply due to the differentiation between levels being bland. Once you’ve seen a level, nothing will really change for the next, except for possibly the size of the grid or the background colour if it’s in a different block of levels. At least the audio does an acceptable job of creating a mildly upbeat atmosphere, as despite being on a loop, it isn’t intrusive enough to irritate no matter how many times you’ve heard it.
Overall, if it’s a value for money puzzler you’re after then Minesweeper Genius on Xbox One ticks a hell of a lot of boxes. There are tons of levels that’ll see you racking your brain in the best possible way, it’s easy to grasp the concept, and greatly rewarding to solve all of the problems in your path. I think even those who don’t usually enjoy minesweeper may find this to be fun, thanks mainly to the Sudoku elements.
Does it get a little samey? Sure, in long spells it can do. But when you need a break from your big budget titles like Red Dead II or one of the many Assassin’s Creed instalments, Minesweeper Genius will be great to lean on and fill the void.