We’ll warn you right from the off: English Country Tune is a puzzler so wilfully obtuse, so deliberately counter-intuitive, that it will make some people very angry.
At the same time, it offers a challenge so fierce that some will find it impossible to resist. It’s the Dark Souls of puzzle games, where every victory is hard-fought, leaving you with a greater sense of relief than satisfaction at finishing a stage.
Sometimes, particularly in the early game, you’ll triumph by happy accident. It’s not for a while that you’ll be able to get your head around the game's idiosyncrasies, because it seems to contradict itself so frequently.
Yet its mechanics are all true to a consistent (if fuzzy) internal logic. The problem is, explaining it might make us sound a bit crazy. But here goes, anyway.
You control a ‘ship’, a flat square that must navigate a series of increasingly complicated block structures. It magnetically locks to the surface of the block against which it rests – whether in front, behind, to the side, or even underneath.
Not all surfaces are accessible, but you can move around any lighter-hued faces with swipes of your finger. At first, your objective is to guide ‘larva’ balls to a translucent goal. Whale trail
Then the ‘whales’ arrive, cubes of light with beams extending from each side. These are manoeuvred not by direct pushing but by flipping them into each beam. Afterwards, you’ll need to combine the two methods, pushing whales into larva to reach the goals.
That might sound simple, but consider this: touching the spherical larva not only pushes them forward a square, but changes their gravity so that they fall at right-angles to the current resting position of your ship.
But the gravity only kicks in after they’ve moved forward, so you’re essentially forced into thinking not only about the larva’s position, but that of your own tile once you’ve given it a nudge.
The whales further complicate the equation, not least because they vanish if they reach a point where their beams don’t collide with any surface. Later you’ll need to make sure they do disappear once they’ve fulfilled their role as larva pushers.
If all this sounds like more hassle than it’s worth, then English Country Tune is absolutely not for you. Its clinical looks and sparse soundscapes make it feel aloof, distant – this isn’t a game that wants to be loved. It demands that you respect it.
Persevere, and you may well get into its twisted mindset. Those who aren’t put off by its steep difficulty curve and obscure systems might just find it to be one of the best puzzlers of the year. Even then, it’s a hard game to fall for. Dogged determination will see a few manage to crawl over the finish line, but there’s little tangible reward for doing so, bar the knowledge that you’ve beaten one of 2011's toughest challenges.