App O’ the Mornin’: Helsing’s Fire

This one took me completely by surprise. Expecting some kind of mindless action game or dungeon crawl, I instead found a remarkably clever and even innovative puzzle game with an appealing style and easy wit.

Helsing’s Fire pits Dr. Helsing (he’s lost his Van) and his Jeeves-like manservant Raffton against Dracula and his army of skeletons, werewolves, bats, robots (?), and other nasties. The visual style is so deliberately like the art of Hellboy creator Mike Mignola that it’s clearly meant as an homage, as is the dry wit and banter among Helsing, Raffton, Dracula, and the various minions they encounter. The narrative is just a linking device for levels, but it manages to be quite entertaining.

Gameplay is unlike anything you’ve played before. This isn’t an action game in which you dispatch foes with weapons and quick reflexes. It is, instead, a clever puzzle game that revolves around the correct placement of Helsing’s torch. Each level is see from the top-down, and consists of various solid obstacles, enemies, and bystanders. The torch throws a killing light across the entire map, except where obstacles create shadows. This light can also be modified by color potions. A colored torchlight will only kill an enemy with the same color. If it strikes an enemy with a different color, it raises a shield. If it strikes a bystander, you lose.

Since you have a very limited number of torches and potions (often one per level) the entire game is based upon finding just the right location to trigger the torchlight. It’s a remarkable, completely fresh puzzle mechanic. Torch placement and triggering is done with simple gestures, and each level can be defeated in as little as a few seconds. The trick is managing your resources and finding just the right placement.

Selling for $1, this gem from the publisher of Angry Birds and indie developer Ratloop easily earns its top-ten slot on the App Store

Direct link to the game. (Warning: this will open iTunes.)