I recently had the chance to sample a somewhat new puzzle toy. I had such a good time I thought I’d chime in here at GamerDad because it’s exactly the sort of thing a parent might want to foist off on their children (if they can convince themselves to put it down.) Patch Products recently shipped me two of their Perplexus line of puzzle games. They are all a 3D rolling marble puzzle contained in a clear plastic ball. Tilt the ball around to get the marble through the maze without it falling off. It makes for a nice little pastime that takes both some dexterity and a bit of thought.
There are currently four puzzles in the Perplexus line: Rookie, Original, Extra-crispy (just kidding), Epic, and Twist. I was sent a copy of the Rookie and Twist versions. To attempt the puzzle, one rolls the small steel marble around the plastic sphere until it is maneuvered onto the starting platform. One then proceeds to carefully tilt and rotate the sphere to get the marble to roll along the 3D maze of pathways. To help with the job, the paths are numbered, as sometimes when you need to go around a corner or drop through a small hole it isn’t clear where the next path is located.
This brings things to the puzzle aspect. While the entire goal is focused on one’s skill at slowly tilting and maneuvering that little ball, I found it a pleasant diversion when I would occasionally become stuck at a section, unsure which direction I needed to go. Rather than become frustrated, I found the experience to form a little challenge (aka “puzzle”) which was rewarding when “solved”. With time, I’m sure this puzzle aspect would wear off (once I “knew” the route) but it did add to my enjoyment of the toy. I do not know what the more “advanced” ones hold, but I suspect it would have a similar level of “puzzle” element and even more reliance on one’s tilting technique.
As a beginner, I found the Rookie version to be a nice diversion without much frustration. I was able to solve it after a half-dozen serious attempts (one spot in particular foiled me a couple times while I figured out the route – about 70 different paths long…) As 3D paths, the routes are reused by being paths on both sides. It was a fun experience as much later in the puzzle, I would be rolling along a stair step or other tricky place and think “hey, I remember this place” as a sort of fond remembrance. I would suspect that it will remain interesting for a dozen or more tries, but I’ll probably be wanting something more advanced if I kept with it.
In contrast, the special “Twist” model is quite challenging. This model is actually two separate hemispheres. The 3D maze on each side “rotates” so not only do you need to maneuver the maze, but every time you hop back and forth between the two sides, you have to line up the correct path by “twisting” it into the correct place. This upps the difficulty significantly from the simpler “rookie” version. While I haven’t dedicated the same amount of time to this version, I have yet to finish it. In this case, the numbered paths were extremely important as it is not always clear just which transition is the next in the sequence by appearance alone.
I call them puzzles, and there is a small puzzle aspect, but in truth they are simply more advanced versions of the old “ball through a tilting maze” type activities. Bringing the activity into 3D with Perplexus’s bright colors makes for a pretty decent experience for a wide range of abilities and ages. The Rookie is definitely a good fit for the younger set, although I’d wager one would want something more advanced for teenagers or above.
Kid Factor: I gave the Rookie version to my eldest (just shy of 1st grade) son and he did enjoy playing with it, but is not quite able to solve it yet. It did work pretty well as a car toy. On fairly pothole free roads, it makes a fine diversion. It wasn’t so good for my youngest (still preschool) as he mostly wanted to treat the toy as a fancy ball – not recommended I assume. My advice: pick one up for a nice, quiet road trip diversion!