PUK takes some gambles. Its premise and presentation are so incredibly minimalistic that, done wrong, they could make for a hollow game that fails to hold the player’s attention. More than that, if the game sucked, developer Laser Dog would have set themselves up perfectly for me to title this review “PUKE” Well, clearly that hasn’t happened. PUK is a surprisingly addictive game.
PUK presents 1000 levels at random and in quick succession. Each time you start a new game, you play level after level until you lose one. In each, you’re given any number of circular pucks to launch at circular targets. All pucks and targets must be eliminated to win. On some levels, one puck will destroy one target. On others, it can take a few pucks to decrease a target’s size before obliterating it.
PUK is played with your device held vertically. The interactive area is limited to the bottom of the screen; a line divides it from the larger section wherein the targets reside. You use your finger to pull back and launch pucks. You cannot manipulate a puck directly once it’s past the line, but, if it bounces back to the bottom, you’ll be able to launch it again. Complicating things is that the timer is, in fact, the dividing line. It consists of two, white horizontal lines parallel to each other with a small, empty space in-between. When a level begins, this space begins to quickly fill with white from both sides. If it turns solid white (which only takes several seconds) with remaining pucks below it, you lose. However, you’re able to shake your Android three times and, if you’ve successfully launched all pucks into the upper area, a shake will nudge any left over. This last ditch effort is often the difference between success and failure, but shaking will only propel your puck in the direction it was already headed, so this isn’t always necessarily enough if you aimed particularly badly in the first place.
PUK takes pride in its minimalistic approach. The only instruction you’re given is a help section that gives you visual demonstrations of the game’s major mechanics. But you’ll never be formally taught that you can launch two pucks simultaneously using two fingers. Scoring isn’t explained either. You’re given two high score tallies: one, represented by a trophy, is the number of levels you beat consecutively on one playthrough. The second gauges how many medals you’ve earned. I had to Google how medals work. As it turns out, they’re based around the two notches on either side of the line. If you complete a level before the white passes these notches, you earn a medal.
In terms of presentation, PUK certainly picks a theme (minimalism) and sticks to it. All game objects are white on an orange background. Black and white has become an indie game standard but the simple difference of making orange the backing color makes PUK stand out. (It does briefly change to black and white on “milestone” levels, i.e. levels 20, 30, 40, etc.) Basic though the graphics are, the animation is slick. Targets flash and explode like 8-bit fireworks, sending off little particles. The purposely lo-fi sound effects follow suit, producing a satisfying popping and fizzling. On the whole, sounds are pleasantly plain and fitting. The music is similar. It works, but you probably won’t be humming these weird, bleepy-bloopy tunes. Plus, they can get a little repetitious. Happily, there’s an option to turn the music off.
PUK never gets any more complex than what I have already described and is immediately graspable once you get your hands on it. In fact, PUK is so extraordinarily basic that it’s difficult to articulate why it’s addictive. It almost seems wrong referring to the levels as “levels” as they barely feel designed. They’re differentiated simply by virtue of number of pucks, targets, and placement (with obstructive lines occasionally thrown in). It’s not as though you have to solve how to complete one; you just have to aim and shake quickly yet carefully. But it must be this simplicity of gameplay based around only two types of input that makes PUK so engrossing.
Considering levels come in random order, it seems difficult to evolve your skills, which might knock PUK out of the running for being a hardcore gamer’s game. But, then again, there are some pretty hardcore achievements. Earning medals always feels rewarding and there’s a daunting 1000 total. Even crazier is the ultimate challenge that PUK poses to the player of trying to complete all the levels in one sitting.
PUK is an odd little thing. The only real complaint I have is that it could explain itself just a bit more. Other than that, there’s this weird feeling to me like this is a casual game, more like something that comes free with Windows, like Minesweeper or that old Snake game. Still, despite my misgivings, I found myself trying to best PUK over and over again. Some combination of working against the clock, flinging things with your fingers, shaking your phone around, and earning medals makes PUK addictive enough that I’m not only unable to dismiss it, but feel I have to give it a pretty high score.