Cogs, the first title from upstart indie studio Lazy 8, didn't exactly make waves when it hit Steam a couple months ago. Among the increasingly crowded market of indie puzzle games, it's pretty unassuming - there are no iconic characters, lofty musings on the human condition or physics-based head-scratchers to fumble through. Nonetheless, it's a shame that Cogs has largely been overlooked, because it's actually an innovative and polished puzzle game - albeit for the wrong platform.
Cogs is one part Pipe Dream, two parts slide puzzle and one part The Incredible Machine. You begin each level with an objective - typically one requiring you to assemble (or disassemble) some contraption with a mixture of pipes (for transporting fuel, steam and other gases) and gears (for imparting movement to nearby objects). This combination lends the game a steampunk aesthetic that extends to many aspects of its design, from its menu systems to its music box-like soundtrack.
You don't need any real mechanical aptitude to solve even Cogs most fiendishly difficult puzzles, just patience and a willingness to think before you click. That becomes immediately apparent once you've come within one tile of solving a puzzle, only to realize that you have to pretty much start from scratch to access the missing piece. It can be frustrating, but it never feels unfair - indeed, that frustration is part of what makes solving a puzzle in Cogs so satisfying.
The game's reward structure fleshes out the experience, providing some incentives to return to puzzles after you've solved them the first time. After you complete a puzzle, you're graded based on how much time and how many moves you used. Stay under a certain threshold and you earn medals that help you unlock later, more difficult puzzles.
It's not a stretch to say that Cogs is the best sliding puzzle game the genre has ever seen. The problem, at least for me, is that this kind of game doesn't really mesh with my usual PC gaming habits. The short-but-sweet puzzles, simple input mechanisms and minimal screen space and graphics requirements all point towards the iPhone as the platform of choice for this project. In fact, were Cogs released for the iPhone instead of sold on Steam, it would probably be one of the first must-have titles for that device. As it stands now, it's harder to justify the $10 investment when you're tethered to a mouse and keyboard each time you want to try your hand at a puzzle.
Bottom Line: Cogs offers a compelling new take on an old style of gameplay, but its short play sessions and simple visuals feel a bit insubstantial for a PC download.
Recommendation: If consider yourself a huge fan of slide puzzles, Cogs is easily worth $10. Otherwise, pick up the demo on Steam and cross your fingers for an iPhone port.