The set contains 6 levels. As the name suggests, the levelset features very large, sprawling levels where exploration is as much a part of the gameplay as the puzzle solving.
The full video of my playthrough can be found at the following link:
Overall, I have mixed feelings about this levelset.
1) I absolutely love the idea of focusing on exploration. When I think about what it was like as a kid to play the MS version, I remember more than anything the excitement of discovering new rooms and exploring new passageways. That's one area where I think the official CC2 levelset could have used a lot of improvement, with its focus on small puzzles (often 20x20 or smaller). This levelset does a good job in general of capturing that feel.
2) The puzzle design is top quality. The author consistently puts together puzzles that are interesting, fun, and challenging.
3) The epic reach of the levelset is in some ways its own undoing. Levels 3, 5, and 6 all stand out in my memory as being incredibly frustrating. The problem (of course) is that whenever a level is very long, any late mistake results in the player having to replay the entire level. The challenge for the designer is to find a way to mitigate that. Difficulty by itself is okay, and campaign-length levels by themselves are okay, but when you factor both together you run the risk of player frustration. In my case it took me over 4 hours to beat 6 levels, with the majority of that time spent on the last 2. Granted, I'm not the best CC player, and my dumb mistakes may have contributed to that, but the fact is if this hadn't been a Let's Play, I would have given up. Now, I really do appreciate the attempt to create an exploration-themed set, and I did enjoy my playthrough, although I felt it involved a lot of unnecessary frustration. I personally really liked the first two levels. They both did a great job with the exploration element, and they each had ONE central puzzle. My feeling is that this levelset could be a great success if each level centers around 1, 2, or maybe 3 puzzles at maximum.
So, to the author, thank you for uploading! I hope you continue exploring (pun intended) this concept. My personal feel is that large levels should be mostly casual play experiences, and therefore I'd like to see the difficulty dialed down a notch or two.
01 ABANDONED MINESHAFT
As described, a great intro to the set, love the deco walls/gravel combo. The 'mineshaft' feel was evident with all the broken railroad sections. I loved all the inaccessible areas with extra chips and all the random monsters. The central puzzle with the three blocks was interesting, I didn't know the first time I played it that you could push a dirt block with a directional block. But I liked how there was really nothing else to try. The maze at upper left added a lot to the feel as well.
02 FIERY CAVES
A beautiful exploration level with a straightforward concept. My favorite exploration experience of the set. Again, some really cool areas along the sides of the map that you can't quite reach, but they look so cool!
03 SUBTERRANEAN ADVENTURE
The first level where the problems inherent with large levels begin to show up. All of the individual puzzles are lovely. I particularly love the opening with the ghost and the great hint. Together, though, the combination just begins to cross the line of frustration. I do like how each puzzle is fully visible before committing, but still, I think the average player will have trouble thinking ahead through the recessed wall and railroad switch portions, and it's a lot of level to replay when you cook it.
04 POWDER MONKEY
If FIERY CAVES was my favorite exploration experience, then this is my favorite puzzle experience of the set. All three block puzzles were ingenious and very fun to solve. The difficulty overall was about medium, which is just perfect in my book. I may have busted the west room, since I never opened the red door in the corner. My only critique is that this didn't feel much like an exploration level, and therefore felt out of place in this set. Excellent level however.
I think I may have made my peace with this level, despite the frustration exhibited on the Let's Play.
One issue that's debatable is:
The block slap required to get the dirt block across the fire.
My personal feel is that certain gameplay mechanics are 'bonus' behavior and shouldn't be relied on to solve a level unless help is given either in the form of a hint or else careful level design. Obviously these are up for discussion, but things like monster order, ultra-precise monster timing, block-slapping, or covering up wires are examples of things that are somewhat 'unfair' in my opinion and should be used with caution.
This level absolutely tested the limits of my patience, but in retrospect I do think it was kind of cool. It would make a good level towards the end of a difficulty curve, especially if the set containing it already has examples of the previously mentioned gameplay mechanic. The beginning was delightful. The 'exploration' aspect significantly added to the difficulty, as the inaccessible areas with extra keys made it more confusing. But once explored, it was absolutely a memorable puzzle, with quite a lot of 'how is this even possible' moments and a great, if slightly unfair 'crux'.
06 SMALL OBSTACLES
This level, coming after SCATTERED, gave me the most grief of all. Like SUBTERRANEAN ADVENTURE, it's definitely got the exploration theme going for it. And like that level, it has a collection of individually wonderful puzzles which together are just... frustrating. It's a great feeling to solve another section, but when you cook it instead and have to replay everything, it gets old really fast.
Additionally, a couple extra factors made this not so fun to play:
It's really hard to know in advance what you're going to need further on in the level. Remembering to drop the fire boots on the fire at middle left, or remembering to leave the upper middle swivel door in the right position, or remembering to leave the ice block at upper left just above the swivel door... all of these are very hard to know in advance! It also turns out I needed only one of the two blue keys, and neither of the bribes, but it was stressful wondering if I'd screwed the level.
Also, the later puzzles are HARD. I'm not a particularly good CC player, but I'm pretty sure almost anyone who plays this will mess up the yellow teleport section multiple times and have to replay pretty much the entire level on each go. This adds a lot to the frustration, and makes it more likely the player will make stupid mistakes earlier in the level (a few of which you don't realize until much later). Finally, the last puzzle on bottom left relies on
your ability to recognize that a bowling ball that destructs on a pop-up wall will not activate the wall,
a gameplay mechanic that most people probably haven't tested. In a short level this wouldn't be a deal-breaker, but coming at the end of what was for me a 2+ hour ordeal, it felt pretty unfair to try out something new that might require yet another replay.
So, I didn't like this level at all, despite it consisting of some great puzzles. I'd recommend splitting it up into either 2 hard puzzles or, even better, 3 medium puzzles.