Beglitched review impressions

The first three “levels” of Beglitched are extremely, deceptively easy.

But the fourth set hit me pretty hard. The next one took me numerous tries to complete. The next thing I knew, I was up until three in the morning battling rude elephant and duck hackers on a cotton-candy-pink, charmingly low-fi OS and vowing privately to make life hell for the next bear I saw in the real world. Screw bears! They’ve troubled me for far too long!! I hate them now.

Beglitched is a sort of tactical puzzle game set in a universe where hacking is whimsical and pink as hell, where hackers invariably choose to represent themselves as cute animals online, and where chatbots come to life under the impression that they are actually cats.

You play a random person who has somehow come into the possession of a laptop belonging to a “Glitch Witch,” a hacker who uses magic and technology to pursue her mysterious aims on the web. She contacts you through a series of cryptic messages, teaches you the tools of her trade, and then commands you to impersonate her online.

A Glitch Witch’s job involves disabling spam nets, ferrying parcels from server to server, monitoring the Deep Web, and defending her home forum’s turf from rival hackers and scammers. While trying to complete the Glitch Witch’s orders, you’ll spend most of your time engaging in sliding-tile puzzle-battles on her “Battle Grid.” This is Beglitched‘s core gameplay: a mixture of match-three mechanics, tactical ability-use, girded by currency management that gets quite difficult quite quickly.

Your goal: click on compass and computer tiles to triangulate the location of a hidden hacker somewhere on your grid, then slide a bomb tile on top of them and explode it. But the hackers move around. Bears, the bastards, wiggle up and down the screen on diagonal angles. Some hackers are immune to damage and must be defeated with special bombs summoned by magic spells — which cost energy — which you must constantly combine battery tiles to refill.

Other hackers break the rules. They steal your tiles, clutter your screen with useless blanks, or challenge you to bet money on bizarre battle outcomes. Others will chase some of your tiles around the grid, attacking you or destroying tiles when they reach them — which forces you to move your tiles in different ways and prepare for battles much more carefully.

You still largely control the terms of the battle, though: one of your currencies, cycles, determines how long it takes for your turn to end and the enemy to attack. You can actually manage this currency pretty easily if you put your mind to it, and there are some battles where you’ll be as focused on delaying the enemy’s turn order as you are on locating them and damaging them.

The battles are connected by a second layer of gameplay that comes with its own set of mechanics and challenges. You and the hackers explore the world of the web by hopping from computer to computer inside a series of self-contained “network” maps. Landing on the same computer as a hacker starts a battle. Some hackers sit still, but others will move around the map, or chase you, or back you into a corner. If you’re of average skill level, like me, you won’t have enough health points or items to successfully battle every single hacker in every single network, so you’ll need to take advantage of the twisted and irregular map paths to elude them and get to the exit.

But the exits are hidden on each map — each computer contains either the exit or a variety of hazards and rewards. Stepping onto a computer reveals what kinds of things — bombs, items, health packs, enemies, exits — are located in computers next to it. The result is a kind of tactical, Minesweeper-adjacent gameplay where players must move around to expose hidden secrets, deduce the locations of their objectives, and avoid enemies all at once.

A series of network-level “program” abilities allow the player to freeze adjacent enemies, leap between unconnected computers, expose more clues about items’ locations, reset and scramble the locations of items on a network, and more. But you can’t bring all programs with you at all times — so you’ll often have to explore a network, find the best loadout for navigating it, flee, and try again with the correct programs equipped. Some spells cost a lot of money, so you’ll sometimes have to track down a lot of low-level enemies to farm them for cash before tackling the more-difficult parts of the zone.

It’s honestly a joy to watch this game start from really basic, simple premises, and then explore many different permutations of the core battle and network-exploration systems. Some of my favorite indie games are the ones which take a core mechanic and fully explode it, squirreling down every possible combination and variation of the rules to find the places where they really sing in combination with one another. Beglitched absolutely does this.

It’s harder than I thought it would be. When I began playing Beglitched, I found the battles pretty easy, and I guess I expected this; the game is whimsical and pink and overtly girly, and my experience with the girls’ games of the 90s hasn’t really prepared me to expect tricky and uncompromising mechanics from a game with cotton-candy sparkles all over it.

But Beglitched is a challenging, inventive game — not so hard you could ever get completely stuck, I think, but definitely hard enough to make you think, and hard enough that I benefitted from taking time away to approach some problems with a fresh mind. Many of the zones are very long, and there are no save points within zones — so a late-zone failure can actually represent a significant loss of time, particularly if you do a lot of exploring. But once you figure out a strategy that works against a zone, executing on it isn’t so hard, and the troubles that bothered you before seem to whip by. Beglitched is definitely a game that rewards clever thinking.

The cotton-candy sparkles are great, actually. In a creative industry where everyone sometimes seems to be busily creative in the exact same way, it brings us a unique mood and voice — breath-of-fresh-air stuff, absolutely. I’m not personally aching for this particular style (I go for historical games, even and especially the grimdark ones) but I am also aching for stuff that feels different, goddamn it, and Beglitched feels different as hell. It’s not side-splittingly funny, but it has a cheerful, wisecracking, genuine attitude, and it’s a joy to explore. The Witch’s computer is filled with tons of tiny text files containing weird little aphorisms or bits of advice or recollections of her past, and it won’t take long for you to feel as if you’ve met this unusual person, somehow.

So: more sparkly, sharp-toothed games like this one, please. Beglitched is fresh and unusual and it’s full of weird little secrets. It stumped me, but not unfairly. It has a bunch of bastard bears who have poisoned me forever against all of bear-kind. And it’s worth your playing, absolutely. There’s a lot in here to like.