It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
Delete, released back in January by developer Pony, is sort of like a three-dimensional Minesweeper. The goal is similar: click on tiles to reveal numbers which indicate how many adjacent tiles are mines. But in Delete, these tiles are arranged on three dimensional objects as opposed to a flat grid. The game also differentiates itself in a few other ways: not only does it ask you to reveal the spaces that aren’t mines, but indicate which ones are actually mines with a right-click. Also clicking on a mine, or right clicking on a tile that isn’t a mine, doesn’t instantly end that game. Instead you have three chances before the board resets.
Perhaps the most important difference is that none of the game’s 50 puzzles are random; each one is explicitly designed. This is extremely important because just as you get used to the puzzles, the game adds a new element. This can be simple; instead of a number tile indicating the number of tiles adjacent to it with a mine, it shows the number of tiles in a row or column with mines in them. It can also get complicated, like a button in the puzzle that causes the board to change shape revealing even more tiles. This setup takes the game from being the rote execution of your internalized heuristics for solving the puzzles, to an experience where each puzzle builds on what you’ve learned from the previous ones. You constantly have to come up with new strategies to solve them.
Delete does this without explicitly stating what these additions do. Instead, the game organically teaches you the basics of how a new mechanic works when it’s first introduced, with subsequent levels expanding on that understanding. This is why it reminds me of learning to play Minesweeper. My first experience with Minesweeper was in the Windows 3.x days, and it felt inscrutable. (Most likely because I didn’t read any instructions, although I’m not sure there were any.) Clicking on different squares in the nine-by-nine grid sometimes produced numbers, sometimes produced blank spaces, and other times produced mines that ended the game.
Eventually, after enough trial and error, it started to make sense. I started developing different strategies as I found different patterns in how the randomization produced the game boards. But at a certain point, getting better became less about improving strategies to solve the puzzles and more about learning to solve them faster. I found this fundamentally less interesting.
Initially, I wished Delete had randomly generated puzzles, but after finishing I’m glad there weren’t any. A good puzzle should have just the right amount of challenge — not too frustrating, but also not too simple — while a good puzzle game needs to keep hitting you with new ideas and challenges. Delete manages this while also building on your heuristics for solving each puzzle by expanding on your previous understanding. It doesn’t just reward you with the satisfaction of solving a brainteaser, but also with new knowledge that will let you tackle future puzzles.
Delete was created by Pony. You can get it on Steam for $1.99 (Windows and Mac OS.) It takes about three hours to finish.