released on Oct 22, 2018


released on Oct 22, 2018

The year is 1997. You used to be a hacker, but now you have the phage. You made a deal: one hack, one dose. There’s nothing left to lose… except your life.

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Played basically every Zachtronics game; this was my favourite. The storytelling and difficulty progression were really good and it felt like I could beat the game without having a PhD

Aesthetically, mentally, and musically rich. Exapunks delivers on challenging, creative, and narratively interesting hacker puzzles (even if some of them take a bit to long to write and test for). These puzzles are held up by a foundation of amazing world and environment choices. Tutorializing through hand-delivered zines is what puts the 'punk' in Exapunks, beyond being fun souvenirs. You genuinely have to rely on anarchist, independent publishing for photoscans of documentation. Turning that grass-roots knowledge into independent action, both for real personal and community benefit and just to screw with people because you can, empowers the player to hack by and for themselves. Having access to a chatroom of room-temperature IQ nerds for exposition is another great touch. It makes the world, already supported by NPC interaction, puzzles, and the zines, feel that bit more real.

I feel like the art and voices are drawn and performed very cleanly, a bit too cleanly, for this kind of game. I'm fine with saying that the art is overly clean/safe to give a visual comparison to the player's world of exas and the actual material world they live in, but not the voice work. It's done well by the actors, but it's presented in a very sanitized way. It's like every character is a GPS voice. Real people don't sound that 'mastered' in real life, you know?

After 35 hours of gameplay scattered across 5 months, I've taken down another Zachtronics game.

It's been a long journey, and my thoughts are not neatly collected anywhere, so I'll just be writing down the major impressions that stuck with me from March till today. These is more of a thought-dump than a review...

First of all, there are no branching paths. You either beat every level in the story or you don't complete the game. Which is pretty brutal, but if memory serves me right, somewhat typical for Zachtronics. It's not always my favorite aspect of their games, but it does force you to try a level again and again until you figure it out. It surprised me how often I would hit what felt like an unscalable wall only to climb it once I came back with a fresh mind.

I think the level descriptions that laid out the task you had to complete were generally kinda bad. On many different occasions, I wouldn't understand what I had to do to beat the level until I had already spent an hour or so making some design that has one crucial flaw, because I misunderstood the task at hand. It wasn't until the literal last level that I found out you could hold down the "Show Goal" button and scroll to the bottom of your command list to see the exact output needed to beat a level, and I'm not sure if that's entirely on me or not.

I had both of the zines for this game printed out and both were useful, but the most useful 4 pages were the instructions list. It's not really necessary to print out the rest, especially if you have a second monitor, but if you prefer physical books to digital copies, it's a really nice option to consider.

Also I never used SWIZ and I still have no idea what it is useful for even though its like the 3rd instruction listed lol. I hope I didn't miss some amazing trick that would've helped me beat some of the harder levels.

Anyway this game is fun if you like coding challenges, and I'm hungry and going to go eat some chips and salsa

Another excellent programming puzzle game from Zachtronics. I'm a sucker for touches like tucking away the documentation inside printable zines with extra worldbuilding, and I really enjoyed trying to work around the kinds of very limited constraints that Exapunks revels in. (My kingdom for just one more register!)

Besides the main programming puzzles, there's also the obligatory solitaire variant (which I always enjoy), an arcade puzzle game (I'm no better at it than I was at the expanded version in Last Call BBS, that whole genre isn't really my thing but I'm sure other people will have fun with it), a level editor, a multiplayer hacker battle mode (I didn't try it myself but the hacker battle levels in the main campaign were neat), and wildly, a sandbox for making your own video games for a virtual handheld console, using the same assembly language that you solve the game's levels with. The thought of trying to make a video game within Exapunks' constraints is staggering to me, but then again people have made playable games in everything from Minecraft to Baba Is You, so I'm sure some ambitious programmers out there have actually made use of it.

Anyways, I thought the final level was gonna be the death of me, but I did conquer it in the end and it was immensely satisfying. Probably gonna give Exapunks a rest for now and save the post-game bonus levels for later since I'm currently feeling kinda at my limit with the game, but overall I had a great time with it.

Up there with the best Zachtronics has to offer. Although superficially similar to TIS-100 or Shenzhen I/O, I’m impressed with how different its constraint challenges are, and the unique and colorful ways it reframes classic programming problems.

Separate from the great puzzle design, this game really reinforces that it’s the writing/music/sound from Matthew S. Burns and the Art/Graphic Design from Kyle Steed that elevates Zachtronics games over similar releases that focus more purely on their logic/puzzle design.

All the subtle world-building and the diegetic ways it’s strewn across this game make me smile so much. I bought a print-on-demand copy of the two zines well before playing this, and they really add so much flavor; I loved seeing a letter I hacked in an earlier level show up in the second issue, and it took me a minute to realize the other letters had all been present in the level too. I also love the numerous small ways the home screen updates to reflect campaign progress (I didn’t notice a few of them until I compared to an older screenshot from the beginning of the game). The chatroom filled with other hackers is also a delight, and pleasantly recalled the similarly characterful email threads from Shenzhen I/O.

It’s worth noting that the last level or so in the normal campaign (and pretty much every level in the bonus campaign) passed my personal limit for “this is meticulous but fun” into “this is painstaking and feels like I should be getting paid” territory. I’m glad they’re there for the most diligently hardcore to bang their head against, but it’s still an odd experience to see official levels that feel like they’re asking the equivalent of zero hit Dark Souls runs.