Sometimes it’s only possible to truly appreciate how hard it is to do something right when you witness how easy it is to get it wrong. The best puzzle games are so intuitive and effortless to pick up and comprehend that it’s all too easy to forget how many revisions and iterations the developers went through to mould a fledgling idea into an exemplar of design and aesthetics. Thank goodness for Fourtex Jugo, which stands in stark contrast as a textbook example of How Not To Do It.
The concept of sliding pieces around a four-by-four grid is a solid if familiar base for this manner of activity, but Fourtex Jugo takes this plain foundation and proceeds to dump a hodgepodge of unrelated contrasting mechanics with no unifying theme behind them, save adding needless complexity. See if they make sense to you: numbers can be combined only if they are the same value, in which case they increase by one, or they add up to fifteen, in which case they become a pie. Why a pie? Damned if I know. Pies come in three colours, which can be combined to form other things called noms, which themselves can be combined, but only if they’re opposite colours. Oh, and everything also has an associated shape which affects what pie you get when you merge them. Clear as mud.
All this is but a mere pretext heralding the titular Jugo, a clawed demon who lurks beneath the board and presumably gets off on completely bewildering all-comers with its confounded game. Once summoned from the depths by annihilating two opposite noms into a void of nothingness, it lies in wait for a number of turns before swiping one of your more valuable pieces with its gnarled talons. You can dispose of it early by deliberating sacrificing a piece to its insatiable appetite, but this comes with a significant penalty in points. Each of the levels bears an associated target total, and any hope of reaching it depends on dealing with several grasping withered hands simultaneously, which is about as fun as it sounds. Obtaining the maximum three stars for a level by not allowing a single piece to be sacrificed or stolen is almost Sisyphean in its impossibility. As if in anticipation of the frustration they knew they would cause, the developers have opted to unlock all forty levels by default.
The plain lines and pastel colours of the interface, board and pieces are suitable but unremarkable. The ambient beat pulsing in the background is not offensive, but the same cannot be said for the discordant, glassy sting which sounds whenever you make a match.As well as the main levels, the obligatory daily challenge, leaderboards and user levels are also included. The lengthy tutorial section adopts a friendly enough tone, but sadly not even an endearing but laughably dated ‘All Your Base’ reference can save it.
The best puzzle games, going all the way back to chess and Go, have a ruleset that is immediately intelligible by even younger players; the complexity and enjoyment come from the emergent systems which arise from the interactions of these simple rules. Fourtex Jugo by contrast turns this golden rule on its head and thinks that stringing a series of disjointed unrelated commands together makes for a challenging and entertaining experience. It’s so terminally disheartening that you start to wonder if it was ever playtested in the first place.