Puzzler ZHED seems fairly straightforward at first glance — all you have to do is push numbered blocks around a grid to reach a fixed goal.
This basic concept is simple enough to grasp, however the challenges put forward quickly evolve into ones that will have you pausing with contemplation as you consider how to progress.
ZHED works like this: You’re presented with a grid on which numbered blocks appear. These blocks can move in one of four directions, but can only move a set number of times — as determined by the values shown on each square (be that 1, 2, 3, etc). With each move a path is created, with which other blocks can pass through. Once a route to victory has been established, you can then move to the glowing goal, solving the puzzle, and moving on to the next test.
This makes up the core experience and is generally what you can expect across the 100 levels on offer. The abilities and moves you have in level 1 are the very same with which you end in level 100. There is no tutorial here, and that’s generally fine as it’s a simple enough puzzler to grasp, and the best way to get started is to give it a go, experiment, and make a few mistakes until it all clicks for you.
A lack of any real variety in how you approach the numerous levels is by no means a marked negative, as although ZHED successfully presents something that's very uncomplicated, it ultimately sets you on your way to solving a series of increasingly difficult puzzles, all whilst testing your logic and spacial understanding.
One thing that quickly became apparent during my time with ZHED was its mobile roots. The game was first available back in 2017 on both iOS and Android, and the presentation here on Switch doesn’t do a great deal to move away from those mobile origins. The game grid is centered in the screen, which would fill the available space on a mobile, but leaves plenty of blank screen real-estate either side of the puzzle grid when playing on the Nintendo Switch — it would have been nice to see a few new puzzles take advantage of the extra room here.
A welcome holdover from the mobile version is touchscreen support. It’s a nice thing to have, but I found playing with buttons far easier and enjoyable.
Another thing that could have no doubt done with some tweaking over the mobile original is the hint system. ZHED offers up a way to get a peek at what move you should be making next if you get stuck (which you will), and for each level you complete you earn a hint. Now, the game is free-to-play on mobile, and if you run out of hints you can make an in-app purchase and pay for more.
However on Switch there is no such option — this makes sense of course, but it seems how the game hands out free hints could have been tweaked, to make the experience a little more charitable in the later levels. Another minor gripe with the hint system is how it uses up a hint credit again to repeat showing you the same clues if you decide to reset a level.
ZHED’s puzzle challenge seems pretty well balanced on the whole. You start on a solid footing, quickly getting to grips with things, and at around the halfway point things start to get noticeably trickier. For example, I had to pause, revisit, and mull over level 48 for quite some time before it eventually clicked. The funny thing I found is that you’ll often end up kicking yourself when you finally solve a puzzle that you’ve been staring at for ten minutes. It will suddenly seem obvious, and you’ll question: “had I not tried that already!?”.
Overall ZHED is a simple mobile-port, with a chill soundtrack, a unadorned utilitarian look, and a budget-friendly price tag to match. It presents a decent puzzle challenge, with plenty of head-scratching moments in the later levels — and it will only set you back a couple of dollars.
All in all, developer Ground Control Studios have a nice uncomplicated puzzler that starts as a casual distraction and evolves into a series of tricky numerical conundrums.