Sliding block puzzles have existed for a very long time. They have great value for young, developing minds as a spatial problem solving exercise. Eventually, though, people grow out of them, for the most part. Developers Ori Takemura and Dmitry Kurilchenko, however, have created a digital sliding block puzzle game which, through the introduction of special blocks with physics-based properties, adds more layers to the classic sliding block formula. That game is Shapist.

"We believe that it is time to introduce classical puzzles in all their beauty, educational features on composition, design, discovery... and yet make them relevant and modern. That is why we made Shapist," says Takemura. "We had a design idea: making a video game as a physical object, pure with nothing in between the player and the game. Thus, there are no words, numbers, [or] scores, no time limits, and no tutorials."

Although the game lacks an explicit tutorial, it's easy enough to figure out what's going on. Normal blocks are a plain, solid color and special blocks are all visually distinct. The first time a special block is introduced, the level starts out by showing you a bit of what it does and a little bit of experimentation coupled with good visual indicators lets you figure out the rest.

Shapist is a game which is good for most ages, something that anyone who is capable of operating a tablet can enjoy. All of the special blocks have realistic capabilities which, combined with how intuitive it is to slide the blocks around, makes for a very natural yet challenging experience. A little bit of scientific understanding can speed along the process of learning what each of the special blocks do, but a child will quickly learn through trial and error what they can and can't do with a given block type.

Shapist was an Indie Prize nominee at Casual Connect Amsterdam this year in the Best Mobile Game and Most Promising Game categories. There is a browser demo available (Unity web player), which is not just the first part of the game. The levels in the demo introduce rotating and compressable blocks, neither of which are the first special block introduced in the iPad version. The demo will give you a good feel for the game without spoiling the first part of it, and if you like what you see you can get the full game with over 50 levels for $2.99 on the app store.

[Shapist web site]