Synthesizing propofol in MOLEK-SYNTEZ, a Zachtronics game like Opus Magnum.

MOLEK-SYNTEZ is a puzzle game by Zachtronics, known for SpaceChem, SHENZHEN I/O, and TIS-100. It’s a cousin to Opus Magnum, but with chemistry instead of alchemy.

It’s 2092, and you’re a chemist living in a cold Romanian apartment. Your task is to program a molecular synthesizer—your MOLEK-SYNTEZ—by breaking and building bonds in ordinary industrial chemicals to synthesize new pharmacological molecules.

A gif of the synthesis of Dapsone, an antibiotic, in MOLEK SYNTEZ.

These walls don’t do a damn thing to keep the cold out.

Synthesize the good stuff

You're filling the shoes of a 2090s era chemist who's fiddling around with hydrogen bonds. Brief glimpses of this chemist's life fill out cutscenes between puzzles. "The walls don't do a damn thing to keep the cold out", he thinks.

As with most Zachtronics games, the subject matter drives the rules and mechanics of the puzzles. Chemistry knowledge isn't essential here—the mechanics and rules are something you can pick up on the fly, and it's only as complicated as counting bonds between atoms.

It's a pretty textbook "Zachlike" game—you know what to expect if you've played Zachtronics games before. Completing and optimizing puzzles is the journey. This time, though, you’re bonding benzene and carbamide to make Asprin. Or methanol and hydrochloric acid to make chloroform.

In each puzzle, in order to build your target molecule, you program six emitters that add, remove, or shunt hydrogen atoms to and from your target, as well as various operating controls like shifting your emitters, moving or rotating your targets. You program these options on a timeline on the left side of the screen, manipulating and emitting until you finally output your target product. Initially, you’ll seek just to build the molecule altogether. But as you gain experience with reaching solutions, you can more actively devise methods to optimize your programs, like completing target molecules in the fewest number of operation cycles, or with the fewest number of modules or symbols.

A screenshot of the programming of Dapsone, a few steps into producing the target.

Build and optimize your programs

The real game the rewarding feedback loop from optimizing. Once you solve a puzzle you've been chewing on for a bit, MOLEK-SYNTEZ shows you a histogram of solutions, which serves the purpose of setting a newer, harder benchmark for you just a bit out of reach. It's an effective trick in getting you to dive back in and iterate further.

I’m captivated by the irresistible need to optimize my solutions in these games. There’s an unspoken gentleman’s agreement between my friends and me: we’re just going to continue to over-optimize and usurp each other’s leaderboard positions until we get bored of the game. (But we’re here to help each other if someone gets stuck or misses a trick). Naturally, there's also a subreddit where people have been sharing gifs of their solutions.

If you don't have many Steam friends who have picked up this game, you can turn on percentile measures as benchmarks for you to compete against. I try to target my solutions to be in the tenth percentile of whatever category I'm shooting for—the first percentile is too daunting, and I still like to progress onto later puzzles too.

A gif of the synthesis of Mescaline, a hallucinogen, in MOLEK SYNTEZ.

Someone who believes the world is logical is bound for disappointment.

The minimal graphics shouldn’t distract you—even though it’s got cold computer-like looks like TIS-100, the difficulty and accessibility are quite similar to Opus Magnum.

As is tradition, it also includes a new variant of solitaire. It’s a vanilla solitaire variant, but rather than storing cards in the upper foundations, you “cheat” cards onto the top of any pile of your choice. If it sounds precarious, it is—it gets out of hand quickly.

The game’s soundtrack is a 90-minute atmospheric ambient experience, composed by Matthew Seji Burns, who is the composer and writer behind Zachtronics games, and also the director of their visual novel, Eliza. (Which too many people have sold short, and deserves another shout because it’s one of my favorites this year.)

A gif of the synthesis of Aspirin, an analgesic, in MOLEK SYNTEZ.

They all resemble each other, don’t they?
One might get you high as fuck, the other will kill you.

I’ve completed just over half of MOLEK-SYNTEZ’s levels so far. This game may not have the flourish and polish of Opus Magnum or SHENZHEN I/O, but it’s cut from the same cloth—if you’ve enjoyed those, you’ll enjoy this one.

Even though this was a surprise drop with minimal fanfare from Zachtronics on a random Monday, it’s not one to miss. MOLEK-SYNTEZ is available on Steam in early access and will be available on other platforms after the early access period.

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Level 3 in Pagefault

Pagefault is a puzzle platformer, by tehpilot, built during the GMC Jam 33. You've lost some files, and you need to spelunk through the inner depths of your computer to find it again. 

This game takes place in a windows-inspired "desktop simulator," and you open and interact with different programs to play the game. In chat, you have an administrator who is walking you through locating different files on your system. They're the guiding hand as you platform through the file viewer, where you're actually platforming around, WASD-style. 

Later, the admin grants you access to a memory viewer program, which is an exciting twist. It shows the same level you're interacting within the file viewer, but the memory viewer can see things the file viewer can't. You even interact with the world differently—as mouse cursor on rails, traveling through walls and floors. While you're going through the levels, you also find and interact with different binary puzzles, and solve the binary puzzles that unlock doors to advance through the level. (Of course, the game provides an effective Instructions program that can sort your binary conversion troubles out, but it's not that hard to learn!)

Level 6 in Pagefault,showing the memory viewer

Pagefault was a totally unexpected find for me. As with many game jam games with clever mechanics like these, I wanted at least double the levels. I think there's more design space here for the developer to continue to add more content and challenge the player.

A screenshot of level 3-3 in Ghosts Took My Camera, a platformer.

Ghosts Took My Camera is a puzzle platformer made by Vimlark, during the 8 Bits to Infinity Puzzle Jam.

You’re a ghost hunter, chasing three ghosts that keep stealing your camera. Complete platforming puzzles to catch up to the ghosts, get your camera back, and capture pictures of these ghosts.

The platforming puzzles use a combination of crates, springs, keys, locks and fans to create varied levels which slowly ramp in difficulty.

A ghost you capture a photo of.

Ghosts Took My Camera is fairly well polished for a jam game. It took me about 30 minutes to play through all 12 levels. A solution video is available on the itch.io page if you get stuck. It’s available on itch.io for web and windows.

A level in High Entropy, featuring fire, a lift, and turrets.

I smash a window to alert a bot to my presence—it notices me and plots a path to my location, a dingy storage closet. The only available path I’ve given it is through flames. You see, it’s not exactly a smart bot, it’s just heeding its programming to attempt to neutralize me, the intruder. One pass through the flames isn’t enough to do it in, so I dodge it, give it a few additional thwacks with my wrench, and tease it through the fire again. The scorched bot falls to the ground, its systems permanently damaged.

The game checks off a puzzle objective: neutralize an enemy using fire.

This is High Entropy, a puzzle game by binarynonsense.

Level 0 of High Entropy, before you sit in the chair

Take the elevator, please

High Entropy takes inspiration from many games, borrowing mechanics but using them in its own way to form a cohesive puzzle system.

The game takes place in a “test chamber” structure, like the seminal puzzle game, Portal. You enter a puzzle from one elevator, complete a list of objectives, and make your way to the elevator at the end of the level. You pick up keycards, master keys, and other similar knickknacks to make progress.

The game’s Fallout-style lockpicking mechanic takes the challenge and advances it another degree. You have to find bobby pins scattered throughout the level, and as a consumable resource, you only get a few attempts to access doors for different paths or items—occasionally forcing a restart if you want to 100% the level.

The PC terminal interface in High Entropy.

The game also doesn’t shy away from being inspired by immersive sims, like Deus Ex. The very first passcode to unlock a door is 0451—as is tradition. PC terminals are used to read emails and notes for the puzzles. There’s also the occasional spam email to ignore, naturally.

DOS-style command lines also form another part of the puzzle. The industrial office spaces here often have access controlled doors, security cameras, or laser trip beams securing these test chambers, and you use the PC to control them. You usually have some sort of note or tip nearby if you forget the syntax, but one-shotting a netmap followed by a telnet to disable a security system leaves you feeling like a bonafide pentester.

This game rewards exploration and discovery in the form of origami cranes. To 100% a level, you need to seek out all the hidden rooms and puzzle elements. Because there are several possible solutions to later levels, the origami cranes ensure you’ve seen what you need to see to prove you can solve all the routes—but still leaves you the ability to pick your own path forward.

The Orange Box?

The level design of High Entropy basically amounts to polished yet pragmatic minimalism. In the version I played, the aesthetic is really just polished greybox1, but it is used skillfully in a manner that makes the design feel intentional, not unpolished.

It owns the format, and it’s used in a way that evokes a rough industrial office building format, giving the nod to the gridded concrete walls you see in Portal. It works—I had too many good looking screenshots to pick from.

Level thirteen of High Entropy, looking down on bots walking in circles around the floor.

Puzzle Quality and Mechanics

The last levels of High Entropy are more significant in scope and amp up the duration. You’re expected to use every mechanic you’ve learned in the earlier levels, and getting 100% doesn’t just mean finding every path, but also following the right routes at the right time. Some hit a level of difficulty where it feels better to quit out and revisit it again in a few hours. Of course, it does feel rewarding to eventually finish a level you’ve been stuck on, once you’ve figured out just what you’ve missed.

Around level thirteen, I realized the game is also being optimized for speedrunning2. Restarting a few times to sequence my route in just the right order, I realized that the walking bots are timed so you can flow through some rooms in just one-cycle of the bots.

A more dense level of high entropy, introduing lasers, turrets, and an unpowered elevator.

It’s excellent work for a one-person game. Sure, a few puzzles could make better use of player hinting. I got very stuck in a 100% attempt of level seven—an area I was trying to access was pitch black, and there was nothing to hint to me to look there. Scratches, wear patterns, or a telltale light would have helped me to discover the new route to take. After about twenty minutes of searching, I found that I needed to hop on top of a vending machine. The game is typically successful with this, though. It also offers interactive outlines for things you can interact with, but often the outlines don’t appear until you’re already close enough to the object you need to interact with, so they don’t actually help with discovering things you’re missing.

I played High Entropy version 0.3.1. My play time was just over three hours. It is available on itch.io for windows, but a full release will be available on Steam. The game is a test build, but don’t let that deter you from playing—a story mode is coming soon for the Steam release, which will probably add an overarching narrative for the existing puzzles.


  1. Greyboxing is a game development practice where levels are wholly brushed out using literal “grey boxes,” rather than starting from minute one at a high level of polish. This enables quick iteration and testing and reduces losses from changing or reworking a level.  

  2. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Speedrun 

Screenshot of Bird of Passage, which depicts the ghost standing, preparing to enter a taxi, on a Tokyo street.

Bird of Passage, by SpaceBackyard, is an atmospheric narrative puzzle, set in taxi cabs traveling the streets of Tokyo.

You play as a low-poly ghost-bird-eye-thing (a technical term, of course), and you travel at night in taxis, recounting your stories to the drivers who take you around. It turns out that the ghost you embody died in the 1923 Great Kantō Earthquake, and is seeking answers as they continue along their path.

The atmosphere and vibrancy of the deconstructed Tokyo are lovely. The game boils down its vision of Tokyo to just the bare essentials to deliver its view of Tokyo—a taxi cab, various taxi stops, bright lights, and road markings all serve to give you the feel of a big city without actually rendering a big city.

Screenshot showing the dialogue options in Bird of Passage, while traveling in a taxi.

This is a perfect game for a pensive dark rainy day. It’s not quite the same, but I found myself getting lost in thoughts in this game—like when you’re a passenger in a long car ride and your mind starts to drift.

Gameplay Tip:

It’s not necessarily easy to intuit the best choices to progress the story. For the best route to the end of the game, and to avoid repetition, keep track of your dialogue choices. One of the taxis you enter will give you a hint for what you’re looking for—once you heed their tip, the route to get to the end of the game will be clear enough with a little bit more trial and error.

My playtime of Bird of Passage was about 30 minutes—but yours can be a bit shorter with the non-spoiler gameplay tip above. It is available on itch.io for macOS and Windows.

There's more to be seen!