App of the Day: MacGuffin's Curse

Wolf? Where?

Is there a genre more resilient than the puzzler? Seriously, decades pass, fortunes wain, oceans rise and platformers give way to shooters, yet puzzle games are always just quietly getting on with things. Timeless to look at and effortless to pick up, whether you're shifting cubes, connecting lines or chaining colours, this kind of fun is never going to grow old. If it's true that every narrative is, on some level, a mystery story, perhaps every game is, from the right perspective, a puzzler. Maybe puzzles lurk at the very heart of gaming? Maybe I should have finished this paragraph much earlier, quitting while I was still, briefly, ahead? Who knows, eh? It's all so puzzling.

MacGuffin's Curse is very definitely a puzzle game, anyway, a block-puller and switch-flipper that will keep you plugging away for hours. It's a selection of one-screen challenges telling the story of a reluctant thief who's stolen an amulet that turns him into a werewolf whenever he steps into the moonlight.

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There's a lovely Robert Louis Stevenson feel to the landscapes.

In this hairy state, he can pull heavy crates and batteries around, break stuff, and engage in anything that generally requires a bit of oomf - but he can't interact with machinery, swim across water, or squeeze through gaps in walls. For that, he needs to revert to human form, and most of the game's puzzles emerge from reading the environment, and then working out when and where to pull off a transformation.

That's not all, of course. As a modern puzzle game, MacGuffin's Curse has thrown in a bit of narrative, as the plot weaves a jaunty path towards the conclusion. There's an overworld to explore, with a weird, perspective-skewing art style, too, and there are missions, sub-missions, fetch quests, and even dialogue trees. The game apparently won an award for its writing. There's certainly a whole lot of it.

All of which may explain why, clever as its spatial challenges can be, the thing I really like about MacGuffin's Curse is the atmosphere. The odd puzzle might cause me the occasional second of rampant delight when I solve it, but most of them tend not to twist my brain into strange new shapes or leave me baffled by the warped ingenuity of the designer.

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Two fingered swipes move blocks in werewolf form. Clever!

The game's world, though, is one I'm always very happy to get back to whenever I pick up the iPad. The cobbles, the wonky letterboxes, the low walls with handy gaps, and the fairy lights strung throughout the trees: I don't know where this is meant to be, but I love it here, and I'm always after new excuses to stick around.

Happily, those excuses come thick and fast, with more than enough NPCs to keep you chatting, and dozens and dozens of devious rooms to work through. The basic mechanics might not be overly exciting, then, and the writing, as the name suggests, is a little too knowing at times, but this is still a sweet-natured game with an enviable ambience. Dig it.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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