This is the seventy-ninth entry in the Scratching That Itch series, wherein I randomly select and write about one of the 1741 games and game-related things included in the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality. The Bundle raised $8,149,829.66 split evenly between the NAACP Legal Defense and Education Fund and Community Bail Fund, but don’t worry if you missed it. There are plenty of ways you can help support the vital cause of racial justice; try here for a start. Lastly, as always, you may click on images to view larger versions.

What’s this? Why, it’s another random selection from the Bundle for Racial Justice and Equality! This time we have Micron, by Apparition Games. Its tagline in the bundle reads:

A fusion of puzzle and rhythm gameplay.

It’s time to solve puzzles to the beat.

A micron is, as we all know, a shortened term for a micrometer, a unit of length that is one millionth of a meter. Or, perhaps more usefully, one thousandth of a millimeter. It is the length scale at which the living cells that make up plants and animals exist and operate, and is therefore important in biology. The game Micron has nothing to do with this whatsoever.

Micron (the game) is a puzzle game about redirecting bullets of energy that fire from predetermined locations, each shot synchronized to the music. Players are able to place a limited number of mirrors and other elements that redirect the bullets in order to hit switches, open doors, and ultimately reach the exit. Each puzzle is laid out on a square grid, and since the bullets move at a constant speed, the grid acts as a music sequencer of sorts. There’s a characteristic sound when bullets hit mirrors, switches, walls, or other things, and the grid ensures that each of these matches the beat. What may begin as a simple bass thump, accompanying the periodic firing of a pair of bullets, slowly becomes a pleasing melody of chimes and bloops as players build up a puzzle solution, creating a musical theme. Puzzles are pleasing to look at as well, with glowing pulses every time a bullet hits something, and easily distinguishable components set against colorful backgrounds.

In fact, different colors correspond to different musical motifs. Some colors of puzzle build synthesized sounds over a throbbing electronic beat, others layer more naturalistic percussion until there’s a full drum circle going. In some, bullets come at a steady tempo, others are syncopated. I enjoyed the palette cleansing effect of the grey levels, which forgo music in favor of blustery breeze on an overcast day. For these puzzles, the “bullets” are like raindrops, entering in semi-random patterns and making satisfying droplet sounds as they bounce around. Many of these puzzle flavors tend to highlight specific puzzle elements too, like different colored bullets that interact with puzzle elements in different ways, or portals, which work exactly as you’d expect. Eventually, however, all of these elements are combined in the toughest puzzles.

The difficulty curve in Micron is very gentle. For a long while, I was convinced that the design was too simple to support really difficult puzzles, but in the last quarter I found myself facing a stiffer challenge. In fact, I was stumped by the game’s penultimate puzzle (number 50 out of 51) and had to look up the solution. I also had to look up the solution to one of the twelve bonus levels that were revealed upon finishing the game proper. The rest I was able to work out myself, and was quite pleased with myself for doing so. But even before these tricky puzzles, when I was cruising along through the earlier stages, I was having a great time. It’s just so satisfying to plonk down a few mirrors and listen to the music form as the bullets bounce around the screen. In fact, I wished the music continued for a little bit after solving a puzzle. As is, the melody unceremoniously cuts out with a final hi hat the moment a single bullet reaches the exit. This is nice for getting to the next puzzle quickly, but I found I wanted a bit more musical reward for each solution.

Micron isn’t very long, easily completed in just one or two sessions, but it’s definitely worth checking out. It’s one of those games that looks much better in motion than in screenshots, and is as much an auditory treat as a visual one. The description of “rhythm gameplay” is a little misleading, since there’s no frantic clicking or keeping careful time here; the closest Micron gets is asking players to plonk down a mirror just after that bullet passes by, but before the next one comes along. Instead, the more sedate puzzle solving also happens to create a piece of music, and even failed attempts at a puzzle can sound pretty cool.

Micron is a slick production that I very much enjoyed. If you missed it in the bundle, it’s sold for a minimum price of $1.

That’s 79 down, and only 1662 to go!