Tuesday, February 7, 2012

iOS Revisited

I am a mobile gaming naysayer. I have been given too few reasons to believe my iPhone is somehow the messiah of the medium. The games on the app store lean towards brevity and shallow storytelling in general and consistently leave me feeling unsatisfied or even manipulated. However, I will begrudgingly admit to playing an excessive amount of a few iOS games of late that I believe deserve your attention.

Super Crate Box

Initially a PC release, this frantically paced shooter/platformer recreates the enthralling masochism of Super Meat Boy in a tiny package. In one room, with just a few platforms to navigate, enemies of various size, speed, and deadliness stream from the ceiling while you snatch up randomly spawned crates. Each crate cycles out your existing weapon for another, sometimes giving you an advantage and other times cursing you with a pea shooter when all you really wanted was a rocket launcher. Death comes frequently and inevitably, but another try at beating your crate box high score comes just as quickly. While the game relies just a tad too much on luck for my taste, and the touch-screen controls still make me cringe, Super Crate Box delivers  bite-sized portions of frenzied play.

Where's My Water

Disney built a surprisingly rich physics-based puzzler with Where's My Water. The game wraps a silly story about a bathing crocodile around seven themes stages. Like Angry Birds and numerous games like it, each stage adds a particular spin to the gameplay and unlocks an additional stage upon completion. Using the touch pad, your goal is to carve a path through dirt such that water falls into a drain pipe. Even with the addition of contaminating purple sewage, rampant mold growth, explosions, and acidic goop, delivering clean water to its destination is seldom difficult. However, capturing every rubber ducky along the way without losing a critical mass of water can demand some quick fingers and smart thinking. With too few competitors in the physics-based puzzling genre, Where's My Water easily floats to the top.

The above games are great, but Puzzlejuice is the real star on the iOS for me. The game is a wonderful combination of Tetris, a match-3 game, and Boggle. It might sound strange, but when playing Puzzlejuice its  simplicity beautifully locks everything into place. Like Tetris, your goal is to strategically place assorted blocks and make them disappear before they fill your entire screen. However, instead of vanishing, lines of block only turn into letters. The blocks are all variably colored, and by clicking on three or more contiguous pieces of a color, these too turn into letters. Only by tracing your finger across letters to spell a word can you clear the board. The skills for one aspect of Puzzlejuice do not fluidly transfer to another, so you will find yourself constantly shifting between ways of thinking, trying to suss out the logic of a match-3 game while scanning a wall of letters for a big word, absolutely twisting your brain into knots. The game aptly states it will "punch your brain in the face." After getting my own mind thoroughly beaten, I can only imagine the great combinations of genres that might surpass even Puzzlejuice's commendable efforts. Physics-based, platforming, crossword puzzle anyone?

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