So, did you guys know that Minesweeper has an adventure mode?
I think I play Minesweeper the same way normal people play sudoku, although I still play sudoku from time to time. It’s a quick, mostly logic-based puzzle solver that requires next to no thought to play, especially once you know roughly what patterns to look for. After a while you can play with a kind of numbness, flying your way through the basics, hit the isolated corners, learn to spot quickly where you can fill out large clusters and then open up the cells that you’ve eliminated… I feel like this might all be gibberish, we’ve all played Minesweeper here, right?
You have a grid of cells. Each cell is either empty, or contains a mine, click on a mine and you die. Each empty cell gives you a number to tell you how many of the eight cells surrounding it are mines. If you click on one with no adjacent mines, a large empty space clears until you have a perimeter of numbers. To make life easier, the first space you click on is always empty so that you have plenty to work with. Click on all the empty spaces without hitting a single mine, and you win. Nice and easy concept, right? An average game you can finish in less than five minutes, expert might take ten, which means you can usually lose your entire afternoon and it feels like you’ve only been at it for maybe half an hour.
One inherent flaw to point out before I continue, the occasions when you have to guess, those instances where it is quite literally impossible to tell between two or three remaining cells which is dangerous, which is not, and you have to wing it and hope for the best. It’s unsatisfying, it’s horribly unsatisfying, and it will become more of an issue later.
Now… Adventure Mode.
Your grid is replaced by a long straight tunnel of varying widths and lengths, and our adventurer – a chibified facsimile of Indiana Jones – starts at one end, and must find as much treasure as he can on his way to the stairs on the far side. On his way he will have to dig his way through cube upon cube of loose rock, beneath which he will find either numbers or traps! Now, the traps here are not fatal, you have a finite number of lives to eat through. The path is not entirely linear, there are side-rooms, and divides in the corridor, and of course the process of sweeping for traps can take you off course.
You’ll encounter a few items along the way:
Keys open doors! Nice and easy, and most of the time you’ll encounter a key somewhere nearby. Doors often block the main way forward (although there are often other options), but sometimes mar the way to bigger stacks of treasure.
Pickaxes get you through bigger bits of rubble, which are almost always in the way of either large stacks of treasure, or small ones that have been revealed so you’re tempted to go dig further. They also clear away some of the grid, which might help reveal the odd trap or two if needs be.
Dynamite does what dynamite does in most games, it destroys everything, doors, traps, grid, solid obstacles that can’t be removed by any other means. This is often necessary.
Arrows kill monsters in the same way that keys open doors, but I’m almost entirely certain you could sacrifice health to get through them, we may never know, if there are monsters, there are always arrows.
Maps reveal what traps await you nearby. They don’t pop up frequently, but they are rather handy for those instances as mentioned above, where you have no other way of deducing what traps are in front of you.
Clover doubles the value of any gold you find for the rest of the level… which is nice.
And finally… the weird one. Hearts and Shields soak up damage. They take damage in an identical fashion. Why are their two separate items for this? Is there some hidden function of the shields as yet unaccounted for?
And now that I have started picking flaws, let’s get into it shall we?
I mentioned before how hard it can be at times to find where the traps are hidden. Oddly, in a confined and irregular space that gets so much harder to make logical deductions. You reach a chokepoint, in the chokepoint is the number “2”. On the other side are three squares. What now? This, I assume, is why they decided not to make the traps immediately fatal, a compromise against the flaw in the design.
Oh, and if you’re one of those people who plays Minesweeper fast, stop it. As it happens our little adventurer is large enough to completely obscure whatever number he’s stood on, so you move forward to collect your treasure, and then have to get out of the way so you can read the information you’ve just revealed! That happens… a lot.
Level design has to be fairly fixed by necessity, including trap dispersal, meaning that there’s a lot of predictability once you’ve played a few times… but it’s finite, and insufficient to fix the ambiguity problems.
But… I mean it’s different… it takes a different spin on an old idea, I respect that, and it takes a lot for a game that old and that simple to get reinvented after so many years of just being… itself. Oh sure, it’s the most simple games that are easiest to manipulate, alter, and add to, to create something new from, with, or using the core mechanics to create something new. And yeah, I still like the old Minesweeper. I just don’t like adventure mode so much.