[Review] The Guides – Enigma In Your Pocket

Do you ever get the feeling you are not as smart as you’d like to think you are? Right now, this is exactly the kind of state The Guides has put me in. Befuddled, perplexed, sheepish, I emanate steam from my head, I can feel it. A few minutes more and my internal hard drive will get overheated. I will unplug it until tomorrow, lay on the couch, and try to sweeten my sorrow with dark chocolate and fried walnuts, my favorite. Right now I feel my brain has burnt so many calories I need to replenish my reserve. My dog will give me that look full of understanding and compassion “sucks to be you, huh?”

If you fancy a serious puzzle, arm yourself with a pen and paper, access to Internet and google, patience and perseverance. You are in for a treat.

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The Guides is a box of chocolates, in Forrest Gump’s terms. It seems abstract and bizarre, but the deeper you dig the more you suspect there might be a cohesive story to it. The first thing that struck me is the absence of any tutorial whatsoever. Nada, zero, rien, nichts.

Instead, it casually throws you in the middle of a conundrum and leaves you staring. Some users complain and weep, and lower their ratings, cursing at the developer. Others, like me, shrug and try brute-forcing the puzzles by simply tapping everything and everywhere. If that does not help, I will sit and stare, looking for visual, audiovisual or any other kind of clues to solving the task at hand. In many cases, that helps.

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The Guides keeps you focused at all times. You can’t just solve a puzzle, move to the next one and forget about the previous solution. Nope. In many cases, the game either replicates the puzzle structure in the later levels, or gives you clues for the upcoming puzzles in the current ones. That is why you have the in-game camera that lets you take screenshots of the pages as you solve them – you will need them later.

In my case, I prefer the old-fashioned pen and sticky notes all over my desk – somehow, I find my whereabouts in this creative chaos. On some occasions, you might feel compelled to google for something, but the game is self-sufficient. There is an in-built decoder if you check out the menu that opens when you tap on one of the right-side icons hiding where the in-game keyboard resides. It’s not apparent you can use it in the later levels, but you actually can and need to. It’s just that the game does not instruct you on the tools you need per each level. Go figure.

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Sometimes you need to swipe left or scroll down the screen and discover there is a second screen to the pending puzzle. Other times, it’s just one page. Sometimes, the puzzles are dead simple, but on many occasions, I spend half an hour to an hour, or even let it go for a few days to “sleep on it.”

And it stays with you. It keeps nagging at the back of your head, which is a clear sign the game gets under your skin. It’s not just any puzzle; it’s unlike any other puzzle game, and I say it in the positive way.

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True, sometimes particularly devious mind tricks may get you annoyed and miserable. If that is your case, I would advise against buying the Guides. On the other hand, if you feel stuck you can browse for solutions – the Internet crowd has solved the mystery. Well, not quite all of it. In fact, if you feel the game is too hard for you, but you enjoy its style, I would recommend finding the solutions for a couple of levels – this will give you a better idea of the ways the authors’ fiendish brain worked when creating the puzzles. This might be just enough to set you on the right tracks to enjoying the process of cracking the rest of the levels.

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Cracking is the word. Morse, binary code, simple cryptography is not an extensive set of tools used in the Guides, and the best part is – you can crack the solution all by yourself. For example, there is this level that gives you 5 letters with 3 arrows pointing left above them. Try seeing which letter is three letters before the one you have in the alphabet, and replace it in the result. Then do the same with the rest and you might be surprised the outcome actually makes sense. You do not need to do this manually, however, if you exit into the main menu and find the decoder. It’s there. Its availability was not hailed by the church bells, but if you engage your curiosity and explore things, poke at everything, the game will reward you. Or, drive you nuts.

As a result, the gameplay is a mixture of persistent guesswork and utmost focus.

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The audiovisual presentation of the Guides is superb. The sharp minimalist levels are contrasting sometimes, but the overall style is consistent. Polaroid photos, weathered top secret files of WW II times, modern Matrix-like computer code, da Vinci style paintings, abstract shapes – an elegant eclectic aesthetics that stands out from anything you have seen in mobile gaming so far.

The music is a bliss in the Guides. Ambient and perfect for concentration, it also serves as a clue to solving the puzzles. Try interacting with it, and you will see how it reacts to your taps and swipes. I would recommend you play with the maximum volume or the headphones on. Besides providing the clues, the soundtrack is simply gorgeous.

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Replay Value

There are two chapters in the Guides as of now, with the third one being in the development. The two chapters contain 50 puzzles. Honestly, I have no idea how to estimate an approximate walkthrough time. I have been playing for about 5 days at a slow pace, and only solved half of the puzzles in the first chapter. Some are simple and fast, others take time. The future chapter will be available for free to the owners of the Guides app, no IAPs. Hopefully, the third chapter sheds some light onto the shady story behind the puzzles.

Overall, you are getting more value for your $2 than you expect.

There is also a companion app called the Guides Compendium ($0.99), which tells the story of the person behind the puzzles. They say the story complements the conundrums, and vice versa, so if you like the Guides, you might want to explore more of its story.

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The Good

  • Hard
  • Clever
  • Unique
  • Beautiful artwork, minimalist style
  • Atmospheric, gorgeous music
  • The 3rd chapter will be available for free for the owners of the app
  • 50 puzzles, decent play time, good replay value
  • No tutorials, you are your own Robert Langdon

The Bad

  • The only flaw with the Guides is that it is not for everyone. If you feel annoyed by the difficulty rather than intrigued by it, better walk on by

the guides iconThe Guides

Developer: Kevin Bradford, Luke Lisi
Genre: Puzzle
Price: $1.99
Buy from Google Play
Buy from iTunes
Buy from Amazon

The Verdict

Bizarre, fiendish, sadist at times, the Guides is a hard puzzle for the serious people. You can play it on the go because some puzzles are that simple, but at times it will nag you days on end with a single challenge. It is atmospheric, stylish and elegant, and offers more value for its price than you can anticipate. If you are into the clever puzzles that may require a pen and paper and an open mind, that do not offer any instructions and just let you be – the Guides is for you. If you get annoyed when you get stuck for too long, it might not be your cup of tea. I, for one, can’t help but feeling like Robert Langdon in The Da Vinci Code. Although, I do wish I was smarter.

Replay Value/Content