Ending: Simple, Utter Brilliance

Ending is one of those rare and wonderful games that manages to be both simple and complex, building its depth out of elegant rulesets and engaging you from the very first instant. It’s easy to learn — requiring no tutorial — but hard to master, and often throws surprises your way.

It’s one of the best Android games around, balancing distinct, attractive visuals with challenging level design and pick-up-and-play mechanics.

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Minimalist Delights

You control an @ symbol on a black and gray grid. Your goal on each of the 60 levels is to reach an E encircled in white. In the midst of all this, magic happens. Ending’s potency comes part and parcel with its slippery interpretation of established genres. It is a roguelike without the items, wherein each room is self-contained and the levels aren’t randomized (although there is a second mode where they are), which is to say that it’s not really a roguelike at all — it just looks and feels like one.

It's just me against the world.

It’s just me against the world.

A roguelike, for those who don’t know, is a game that takes after a very old ASCII dungeon crawler called Rogue — the descendants of which mostly share randomized, turn-based, tile-based, permanent death in a brutally difficult package that players spend years mastering. Ending takes much of what makes these roguelikes compelling and vomits out something different — yet familiar — and brilliant.

You guide your @ around the level, one tile at a time — always moving vertically or horizontally. You can’t stand still for a turn, nor move diagonally, so you have to watch out that you don’t get cornered. Enemies follow simple rules of engagement; they move toward you, crushing you into a pixel paste — complete with a savage *crunch* — at the earliest convenience.

Some only move in one dimension, back and forth along a line, while others must waste a turn on rotating 90 degrees when changing direction. Watch for the ones that look like + signs; they’ll grind you down before you know what hit you. Most enemies can be destroyed if you ram them from an adjacent tile, but some are protected by a kind of shield that is only penetrated by explosions.

Pulverized. Note that you also sometimes have decoys that move in tandem with you.

Pulverized. Note that you also sometimes have decoys that move in tandem with you.

Just as well, then, that there are bombs attached to some tiles and enemies, which leaves you ample opportunity to cause a bit of carnage.

Think Before You Act

You have to think and plan ahead because you can easily condemn yourself to defeat several turns in advance, and because you have only a limited number of moves. A counter in the top left alerts you at all times to the number of moves remaining. This is replenished each level, and also partially refills every time you destroy an enemy.

You’re unlikely to run out of moves unless you play both recklessly and indecisively, but this is enough to give a weight to your actions that makes for some tense moments.

Nowhere to run.

Nowhere to run.

Everything fits so neatly together — the level design, the mechanics, the minimalist aesthetics — that you’ll likely be disappointed when Ending finally does end. It is close to being the perfect mobile game: smart, simple, elegant, and challenging in bite-sized chunks. From a simple ruleset emerges infinite possibilities and a set of puzzles that each has no one right solution — just many solutions and far many more fail states.

The current release includes 60 main levels, gradually increasing in difficulty, with more hopefully on the way further down the line, along with a second mode with endless randomly-generated levels. You can also create your own in the robust level editor, which allows you to modify any of the built-in levels — including 10 extras that are hidden from the main game — or to start from a clean slate.

Roll your own.

Roll your own.

Brilliant

Ending is, as its Play Store description states, a rumination on movement and death. You can read what you like into its abstract message, but it manifests in very simple ways. You have a goal to reach, and a limited number of steps with which to do so, and you engage in a graceful dance of cat and mouse with the obstacles along your way — clinging always to the notion that you can (and will) escape them and destroy them.


Summary

A roguelike puzzle game with stylish minimalist graphics and sound, coupled with brilliant level design.

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