Astroslugs, the first offering from indie developer Bit Barons, is a simple little spatial-reasoning puzzler. Despite its lack of complexity, this well-polished gem is perfect for those small chunks of time that just won't fit a meatier game or task.
There is a tiny bit of background to Astroslugs, with players taking on the role of a slightly evil race of alien gastropods, full of ambition but lacking the resources necessary for galactic domination. Fortunately, a vast power supply is available in the form of slugballs, artifacts that need to be slimed together in particular patterns before their power can be harnessed.
Gathering this slugball energy is the heart of the game. Each puzzle begins with a grid-like layout of slugballs and a specific series of shapes which must be drawn upon them. Using a simple drag-and-draw mechanic, each shape must be traced on the layout so that each slugball is incorporated into one (and only one) pattern, and only the correct combination of patterns are used. As each shape can be traced onto the board in any orientation, and more complex shapes can be interwoven with other shapes, Astroslugs quickly becomes a spatial brain-burner. However, as there is no time limit nor any penalty for wrong moves, Astroslugs never becomes a nail-biter.
With bright, quirky graphics and a clean interface, Astroslugs is a pleasure to play. The various boards are simple to navigate, and the short tutorial levels will have players solving puzzles in mere minutes. With only one basic command, tracing slugballs, players of all skill levels should have no problems jumping right into the action.
As much as I enjoyed Astroslugs, I found it was not a game I could play for long stretches at a time. I ended up treating it as I would a daily crossword or sudoku--I'd hop in for a puzzle or two, burn off a pleasant ten-or-so minutes, and then wander to something else. This is in no way a bad thing--there are many times in my day where I only have a few minutes to kill, and casual puzzlers such as Astroslugs fit that niche very well.
Some folks may have a problem with the lack of variety present in Astroslugs. But for varying degrees of complexity, there is no functional difference between the first puzzle and the last. There are no power-ups, no special abilities, and no game-altering conditional changes from puzzle to puzzle. I never found myself longing for these things, but other players may not get the same mileage.
Since the puzzles in Astroslugs are, essentially, just increasingly-difficult variations on a theme, players would do well to check out the demo at www.astroslugs.com before taking the monetary plunge into this charming brain-burner. As for me, I found Astroslugs to be a pleasant, low-pressure (although sometimes quite tricky) way to fill those odds-and-ends bit of free time throughout my day.