Blek is a thing of elegant, intuitive beauty: an iPad game which, like its host device, implores you to pick it up and play with it. When you do, it delights. It’s a puzzle game whose solutions require both careful forethought and raw experimentation. Swipe your finger across the iPad’s display and you create a snake-like line which then lives on, as Blek records and then redraws your fingerstroke, repeating that pattern to send it winding around the field of play. You’re left to observe your creation, helpless, as it loops about the screen or, with enough careful rehearsal, hit its intended targets.
To complete each of Blek’s stages, you must train that thin black line to hit the coloured dots on screen while avoiding the black ones. It’s what Snake might look like today were it allowed onto iPad having been given a modernist, freeform touchscreen makeover. But where Snake’s simplistic thrill lay in its test of player reflexes and mounting tension, Blek is a quiet, calm game. Its minimal tone and aesthetic recalls that other dotty iPad puzzler, Hundreds.
And like that game, there’s a special kind of purity at play in Blek. There’s no prompting or cues of any kind: Blek simply asks you to press your finger to the screen and see where it takes you. To begin with, your digits play on open, white canvasses – in Blek’s opening moments you might even solve its simpler puzzles by accident.
The stages quickly get busier. Soon you watch your fingerstrokes snake in and out of complex, beautiful patterns in grids which span the screen. Later, coloured circles split and fire out other dots when touched, causing chain reactions which must be considered as carefully as each swipe of the screen.
Though Blek’s field of play is a picture of order and patterned perfection, the solutions to its challenges are anything but tidy. Playful improvisation is rewarded, and sometimes you can just muddle through a stage without really knowing how. On other occasions, having persevered for too long with one tactic, it dawns on you that you’ll never hit each and every dot that way; as you begin to swipe at the screen just to see where the line might go, you stumble upon an unexpected new approach. You soon learn that puzzles which appear maddening and impossible yield their answer naturally, with a little experimentation.
Closing in on the perfect fingerstroke that’ll hit each of your intended targets, you find yourself retracing that same line, honing the same movements so that your messy, wayward first attempts become dutiful, precise lines and perfect circles. It’s trial and error at times, admittedly, but that description needn’t be pejorative; it’s a delight to stumble upon a potential solution based on instinct and a little blind luck.
Playing Blek is pure intuition, not a puzzler so much as an act of freeform creation. That’s quite a feat within a genre which can feel so stiff and prescribed. Blek understands that reaching a puzzle’s solution isn’t the only joy – that the journey to a Eureka moment is entertainment in and of itself.
Blek is out now on iPad for £1.99