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Flash developer ttursas has already made a couple of games inspired by Super Stacker and 99 Bricks (which are, in turn, very similar to ngmoco's iPhone game Topple). While the physics engine ttursas has been using seems very solid and reliable, with none of the bounciness of similar games, they were still just regular old free-form stacking challenges without much personality. That changes with Perfect Balance, a game so confident in its influence, it constantly reminds you to breathe.

"RELAX," Perfect Balance says, as your fragile tower yields to the chasm. "TAKE A DEEP BREATH," it says, as you foolishly balance a circle on a triangle, hoping that the law of gravity will be distracted by pretty lights for five seconds and let you get away with it. "HEY, MAYBE THAT ISN'T AS STUPID AS IT LOOKS. OH, DANG, I GUESS IT WAS. TRY AGAIN, MORON." Okay, it doesn't say that last one.

But you know that's what it's thinking.

Perfect Balance is an 80-level puzzle game that asks you to… wait for it… balance a collection of shapes… wait for it… perfectly on a tiny jutting spire, or maybe a slanted line, or a sprinkle of floating cubes. It never looks easy, although some of the really hellish-looking levels turn out to be rather straightforward, and some of the relatively simple-looking ones are fronting for explosive migraines.

To place a block, just pick it up with a click of the mouse, then click somewhere else to drop it. Rotate a block you're holding with [A] and [D]. You don't get to replace a block once it's chosen, or move it once you've put it into play, so no touchies unless you mean it. This is a thoughtful game. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. RELAX. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. RELAX.

Analysis: What really sets Perfect Balance apart is the atmosphere, which has sort of a heavy-handed salvation/damnation theme. The first half of the game, "Harmony," comes with a random microscope-assisted picture of some skin cells (correct me if I'm wrong) in the background, spacey music, and tinkly zen sound effects that are supposed to be calming but start to sound like mockery after you've watched a few doomed triangles tumble serenely off into nothingness.

Once you defeat the first 40 levels, you get to try them in "Inferno" mode. That means the blocks are more numerous and difficult (not to mention blood-stained), the music turns into a surreal industrial caterwauling, and the background becomes an equally random red-tinted hotel room. Inspired by Sartre's Huis Clos, I hope. It looks pretty comfortable, for an inferno.

I enjoy how the puzzles ask you to understand different properties of physics, including friction and inertia. It was while stacking eight isosceles triangles on a 45 degree slope that I realized most physics games would never ask such a thing of me, and I felt the broadening vistas of transcendence that come with performing a seemingly-impossible feat without violating any natural laws. Like juggling. Or playing a minor chord. Or flirting. And then it's all RELAX. TAKE A DEEP BREATH. TINKLE TINKLE ZEN ZEN ZEN and I realized I was just playing a game. But it was a magical moment.

Rating: 5.0/10 (32 votes cast)

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