Game: Mystic Pillars: A Story-Based Puzzle Game
System: Nintendo Switch (also on Steam, iOS, and Android)
Developer|Publisher: Holy Cow Productions
Age Rating: EU 3+ | US Everyone
Price: US $6.99 | UK £5.00 | EU € 5,69
Release Date: June 3rd, 2021
Review code used, with many thanks to Holy Cow Productions!
One of the first board games I played was mancala, known as congkak where I grew up. How cool, then, to discover a title inspired by that ancient game.
Lovingly crafted by a studio based in Bangalore, Mystic Pillars is a beautiful and clever puzzle game. I was surprised by the effort this developer put into the art, sound, and even story. Yes, there’s a story behind it and not a throwaway one either. The tale explains why you’re travelling from village to village in the fallen kingdom of Zampi, removing mysterious pillars that block the flow of River Tungabhadra.
In each of the 100 puzzles, the objective is to rearrange the number of gems socketed in pillars. Oh, and you have a limited number of moves to use—that’s the catch.
While keeping your eye on a map of what the final configuration should be, you move gems between pillars. The number of gems that can be moved depends on the distance, i.e. how many pillars away you’re aiming for. For example, if you want to move gems two pillars away, then you transfer exactly two gems. It’s simple, but it gets tough.
About 4 hours in, I’m halfway through the game. So far one new mechanic has been introduced: some pathways between pillars are now only one-way, instead of the usual two-way direction.
Most puzzles so far have been fairly easy for me, but there are a small handful of hair-tearing ones. I had to look up a walkthrough for number 47, and soon after, I struggled for an hour with number 56. Currently, I’m stuck on puzzles 53 and 59. To my dismay, the video walkthroughs posted online by some kind souls did not apply, as the Switch version contains 25 revised puzzles and isn’t identical to the other platforms.
So I do wish Mystic Pillars had a hint system. Otherwise, I’ll have to put it away for a few days before trying again—or retire the game, if I can’t progress without hammering away at the pillars of my sanity. You know how one can obsess over a good puzzle! At times the task seems impossible, but it isn’t. Usually, the solution is elegantly simple.
A Polished Gem
The fact that I’m currently stuck and can’t progress in the game hasn’t changed my view of it. Mystic Pillars is fun and the controls feel really good. Playing on the touchscreen is smooth and precise.
Transitioning from one village to another provides natural pauses. The background music and visual design of pillars also changes, which is a nice touch. For a game that could easily become monotonous, it’s not. The pillars are pretty to look at. The well-composed soundtracks are relaxing, and it’s satisfying to see greenery life restored to the villages of Zampi when I release the River Tungabhadra into drought-ridden lands.
Inspired by and set in Hampi (now a UNESCO World Heritage site), the game has cutscenes narrated in Kannada or English. Not a masterpiece of storytelling, but the cutscenes do provide a sense of reward for completing each village. It’s refreshing to play a game set in ancient southwest India and to hear a language that isn’t a major lingua franca. Kudos to the developer for introducing a bit of their local language and culture to us!
If you’re up for a numbers-based puzzle game, I highly recommend Mystic Pillars. Adding a hint system would make it perfect, but it’s still a good game without one. Not only is the gameplay solid, but the visuals and sound show that Holy Cow Productions went the extra mile to present a polished game.
Final Verdict: I Like It A Lot