The “travel” grid of Beglitched, which is supposed to look like an IP network. I think. If I knew more about hacking I would tell you.

Beglitched is a period piece by virtue of its mechanics alone. All framed on a pink laptop entrusted to the protagonist by a gifted and storied hacker, nom de plume “Glitch Witch”, the player is not given the decade it takes place in, or rather, after. It conveys time by mixing match-3 and minesweeper with audio cues like the “dial-up” connection tone. Since Bejeweled and Minesweeper passed time in earlier days of the computer, they become metaphors for the networking and programming the hacker did. It has a sneaky way of letting the player visit the pre- to early 2000s not only to wax nostalgic, but also to reconcile the personal aberrations of the benefactor.

On the “battle” interface, the match 3 puzzler, you have to destroy a hidden avi. To do this, you must deduce their location from activating computer blocks, which signal the number of spaces away they are, and compasses, which point the general direction. Once you’ve deducted the location, you push a bomb block over it and click it to explode. Matched blocks break into something more potent, or restore resources. Even though the game uses match 3 grid, it uses different reasoning skills to manage your health, money, and energy. Plus, you don’t get to kill the hell out of your enemies in most match 3’s. As a metaphor, this isn’t entirely explained, but since “battles” are a staple of video games, and to signify a battle of wills, or craft in this case, it doesn’t need to be.

The battle grid in Beglitched.

There are a dozen or so variations on the basic formula, which keeps the game from getting stale. In one level, there are “spam” blocks that serve to disrupt, and safeguard the enemy. Mechanics get progressively more complicated and inventive, regrettably spiking the difficulty at an early point. One later stage gives you scrolls that copy, explained as dead space “ghost files,” where you must allocate them to make the most of your most fragile resource between the battles it goads you with. True to her name, Glitch Witch can even use “spells,” or powers that can be carried between battles, which always addle her rivals. It’s left ambiguous whether actual magic is involved, or if they’re high concept programming spells.

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Each of the new gimmicks are explained in journal entries, which can be viewed on browsing screen. Glitch Witch comes across as a precocious teenager in some of them, where she reflects on real life events from grade school, at driver’s ed, or as a child, often with poetic insights. Every one of them is relevant to decoding the symbolism behind the battles, and to understanding her relationship with the residents of her forums that you jump around in.

Everyone in her community believes at first that you, the player, are Glitch Witch, so this leads to a lot of humorous encounters in an already sassy game. In one section, you meet her questionable yet enterprising friends she used to cavort with, and was practically a savior to in another life. Unfortunately, to those early 4chan types, nostalgia to them is just the present. Either not serious enough — trolls, or too loose with copyright laws, or greedy, they are our familiar ghoulies. Beglitched suggests that we put our powers to use for more productive ends, rather than indulge in the past, though the nature of what she’s doing isn’t clarified too much, unless gifting her laptop to a close friend gives her karma.

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It’s unfortunate that the game doesn’t develop an idea longer, but within the ~20 minute levels (given you don’t fail them), you practically witness a game in itself. Some of the more unique levels in the game don’t even use the battle grid, but are puzzles to be solved entirely on the networking grid. These are refreshing changes to the expectation, and set the stage for the mind bending stages at the end, where the UIs normally taken for granted become integral to solving them.

Still, like a great short story, it keeps buzzing around in my head. The predictably tricky ending leaves me dissatisfied and wondering if I missed something, so I will chew that meat until I digest it. I would have liked to see a more moving or interesting drama, but the satire, colorful pixelated graphics and charm worked for me. Not many games use environment and metaphor in such a playful way as Beglitched, so it’s easy to look over the flaws, and to proselytize it whenever I can.