After finding the original Active Neurons a relaxing and enjoyable playing experience, the appeal of a second game was compelling and I was intrigued to discover how this 2D puzzle game had evolved.
It is not particularly necessary for puzzle games to rely heavily on a storyline or narrative as it is human nature to feel a sense of accomplishment when succeeding in any problem solving task. But with the addition of the level theming in Active Neurons 2, representing a historical timeline of discoveries and inventions, it does create a more meaningful experience and gives the player incentive to complete the game. Although the original Active Neurons lacked this, it still had enough content to enjoy overall but it certainly brings a new level of depth and appreciation to the second game. At first it came as a surprise to be faced with what appeared to be random facts at the beginning of a puzzle game and I was apprehensive about being forced to sit through an uninspiring history lesson. Thankfully, this was not the case at all as it was very in keeping with the smooth and flowing nature of the game, fading in and out between levels in a very nonintrusive manner.
Although many new obstacles are introduced in Active Neurons 2, it is still possible to enjoy it without having played the original as it also begins very simply. Despite this, a knowledge of the game mechanics is definitely advantageous as there is no tutorial or menu to refer to and a trial and error approach (which will inevitably result in level failure) might be off putting or frustrating for some.
There are 12 levels each with 10 progressively different puzzles to solve and as it is unlikely that anyone would feel compelled to complete these all in one sitting, it gives most players the opportunity to enjoy the game at a leisurely pace.
The only element that Active Neurons 2 really lacks is replay value. Unfortunately, despite enjoying it even more so than the original, it took much less time to complete and with no incentive to replay, it is somewhat disappointing to finish as it will probably now be forgotten.
Even after completing both games I am still ambivalent about the solution button being available on every level because the use of this could heavily impact the joyful feeling of success that is achieved by solving a difficult puzzle (or completing a challenging game) without cheating. On the other hand, it does open up the game to a generation of younger players who might prefer to be able to view the solution independently without having to ask an adult or maybe even for those who wouldn’t usually play puzzle games, and might prefer to see the answer rather than give up.
An alternative might be to offer a hint rather than a full preview of every move to complete the level. The only reason for suggesting this change this is that I clumsily tapped the solution button whilst trying to hit the restart button in one of the more complicated levels near the end, but this started the solution sequence playing which I did not want to see and couldn’t work out how to stop it whilst trying not to view the solution being played out in front of me! Although this is really not a huge issue (for most humans), it really disrupted the relaxing playing experience and was extremely frustrating waiting for it to play all the way through as if mocking my stupidity! Perhaps the solution could have been included as part of an optional easy mode because it doesn’t appear to be a necessary feature as there is no penalty for failing or restarting so a little forward thinking is all that is really needed to complete the game.
Navigating through different levels is somewhat mesmerising as the vibrant foreground colours contrast with the darkened background and tiny particles gently drift about, occasionally sparkling in the light. Even though these small design elements might go unnoticed, it is pleasing to see that time has been taken over the visual aesthetics as this is often overlooked in budget games.
The soundtrack has a more upbeat tempo than the original which creates a sense of momentum, motivating the player during levels but not disturbing the peaceful mood. This definitely adds to the overall gaming experience and might help it appeal to those who might not usually enjoy puzzle games.
All the creative elements of Active Neurons 2 seem to work together in harmony; the music, visuals and sound effects all blend together seamlessly making the puzzle solving a truly relaxing and enjoyable experience overall. Despite a couple of minor frustrations, overall the positive outweighs the negative, especially considering the number of puzzles for the low cost.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version. Game provided by the publisher.Want to keep up to date with the latest Xt reviews, Xt opinions and Xt content? Follow us on Facebook, Twitter, and YouTube.