In conjunction with developer Chillingo, Taplay recently released a neat graveyard defense game called Monster Mayhem. Before that, however, they published a small puzzle game called Virus Laboratory that, like so many other good App Store games, flew completely under the radar. I have to admit that the first couple of times I played it I thought it was okay, but it really didn’t strike a chord with me. This time around, however, I realize that a little bit of genius went into this game’s design. At first glance it may seem like another Jawbreaker clone, but the reality is this is the kind of evolution that style of game play needed to remain fresh in today’s gaming market.
This is one of those games where rows of objects – in this case, viruses – head towards the top of the screen, and it’s your job to stop them. You click on groups of three or more viruses (2 in puzzle mode) to make them disappear. Surrounding viruses will shift over, tumble down, or whatever they need to in order to fill in the gaps left behind. So where’s the genius? It lies in how two of the three game modes – Arcade and Puzzle – work together. But we’ll get to that in a second. First we’ll go over what normally for me is the “boring” mode. That’s the one that developers called Endless most times. I don’t really care for this mode because there doesn’t seem to be a point to it, and Virus Laboratory is no exception in that department. Basically you play until you can’t play any more, with no levels, nothing to earn, blah, blah, blah. Now onto the good stuff.
First there is Puzzle mode. In this mode there are a series of levels you must play sequentially. Each level has a set number of viruses on it, and you have a certain number of moves to clear all the viruses away. In this mode you can unlock new viruses and new medicines. This is the mode for smart people, so while I like get new stuff to play with, I prefer Arcade mode just because I’m better at it. Arcade mode is really the crux of this game anyway. At the beginning of each game in arcade mode you can select 4 different viruses and 3 different medicines to use. You’ll note that the viruses and medicines each have a number next to them, denoting how many of them you have. How do you earn viruses? You just have to play Arcade mode! Each successful match adds the corresponding number of that color virus to your stash. As for the medicines, you get more of them by combining different viruses in the Store Room screen. Basically, as you unlock new medicines you decide which ones you like the best, and then play with the necessary viruses to make those medicines. Now do you see why this particular variant of such an overworked concept is so cool?
So what do these medicines do? Well, so far the ones I’ve unlocked are mostly used to remove groups of viruses, such as rows or columns. However, one of them actually completely rearranges the placement of all the viruses currently on screen. They’re pretty easy to use as well. You just drag them from the bar at the top of the screen and place them where you want to use them. Of course the rearrangement medicine will affect the whole screen no matter where you place it. It’s a good idea before you start a round of Arcade mode to check the Store Room and see what your medicine levels are, because you only get what you take in at the beginning of the game, and you can’t make more medicine until the next game.
The graphics in Virus Laboratory have a nice cartoon like quality, which seems to be the modus operandi for Taplay – and I’m perfectly okay with that. The viruses look like cousins of the Fairly Oddparents, and I’m pretty sure the scientists were extras from the movie Monsters Inc. The background has a nifty blood stream type vibe to it, and there’s plenty of action from the viruses, whether it’s a column shaking that’s too close to the top, viruses bouncing as they fall to fill in gaps, or the leftovers exploding when a level is complete. The one thing I would have liked to have seen was some random animation in the faces of the viruses. They’re cute but awfully static. The sound effects are okay, comprised mostly of popping viruses and a buzzer when you click a group of viruses that can’t be removed. The music, on the other hand, needs to seriously be reworked. It sounds like it’s about 10 notes in a loop, and it’s really annoying.
This is one of those games where I entered a contest to get a promo code simply because I wanted another free game. In the end, though, it turned out that I got a game that’s quite enjoyable, even though I’m not really a fan of the particular style of game play it employs. The game looks great, and there’s plenty to do between OpenFeint achievements, 3 different game play modes, and attempting to unlock all the viruses and medicines. If you like Jawbreaker style games there’s no question this should be in your collection, but even if you don’t I suggest giving it a try, because I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised.