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Comprehensive Reviews

Random Selections: The “No Cute Mascots” Puzzle Edition

Rating 4.00 out of 5
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Many of the puzzle games that are making headlines these days are (often somewhat loosely) physics based puzzlers with cute characters.  There’s nothing wrong with that, as I myself have gotten sucked into the likes of Angry Birds, Moonsters and Cut The Rope.  However, there are a plethora of puzzle games on the App Store that: don’t have cute characters, aren’t physics based, or contain neither of these characteristics.  I’d like to share a couple of those with you in this edition of Random Selections.  One harkens back to the days of pre-bachelor’s geometry, while the other is a free roaming match 3 game that stands out from the pack.  Both are fun, and neither need cute characters to make their point.

Slice It

Some concepts sound great on paper, but when you see the finished product you say to yourself “what was I thinking?”  On the other hand, there are ideas that seem silly when you read them, but when you actually experience them you wonder why no one had done it before.  The later case is how I’d describe Slice It.  When you read the description it sounds like a homework assignment, but when you sit down to play it, the game turns out to be rather fun, and also quite challenging.  Maybe you should start paying attention in school after all.

Pizza And A Soda?

Pizza And A Soda?

In Slice It you are presented with a series of objects.  You are told how many slices you can make, and how many pieces the object must be in when you are done.  A slice goes from one edge of the object to another edge of the object, so you can’t start anywhere in the middle.  To perform a slice you can drag your finger across the object, which gives you the ability to manipulate the end point of the line.  My preferred method is to use two fingers, so that you can move both the start and end points.  It’s much easier to fine tune a line’s position that way.

There is no time limit, so take as long as you want to think.  The one caveat, however, is that all of the pieces must be roughly the same size.  Oh, and later on they through in obstacles like dead zones, which are areas inside of the objects where you can’t draw lines.  Still sound easy?  Thankfully you can always undo your last move, even once you’ve “solved” the puzzle and see the final percentage on all of your splits.  Still, you’re going to have to work pretty hard on some of these levels to earn 5 stars, or even more importantly a perfect (all pieces are exactly the same size).

The graphics are fairly simple, but then they don’t really need to be anything grand for this type of game.  I do like the fact that a pencil actually draws out the object at the beginning of the level and also writes out the word “clear” and the stars at the end of the level (or the black smudge that covers the object if you fail).  The sound effects that accompany the pencil’s scratching are also well done.  The voice that says things like “great” and “perfect” when you finish a level sounds just right, and the music perfectly compliments the light hearted nature of the game.

Replayability is somewhat limited because there are no achievements to earn or leader boards to compete on, but striving to get a perfect on every board will keep you busy for quite some time.  There are 100 levels to the game currently, with more levels potentially in the works.  Even if those extra sets never surface, the game is great fun for the money and should easily find its way into your puzzle collection.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

Ponk

I downloaded Ponk on an occasion when the developer was kind enough to reduce the price to free, which meant that it basically got relegated to the list of “I might play this some day”.  Recently a PR friend of mine started pushing the game, however, so I finally broke down and gave it a shot.  I’m pretty sure this is the match 3 game I’ve been longing for all my life.  Okay, that might be a bit of a stretch, but there’s no question that Ponk stands out above the rest.  It is proof positive that with the right vision you don’t need to mash genres to make a fresh match 3 game.  You just need to go back to the root of the game and put a unique spin on it.

Assuming you play on Novice mode, which is where I always like to begin, you’ll start a given game with one line of blobs on the bottom of the screen (the exception being Kaboom mode, where you start with two).  You’ll then have blobs raining down from the top of the board, and you need to drag them to the column you want them in.  The object is, of course, to match 3 or more of the same color blobs to make them disappear.  You also, want to make sure the blobs don’t reach the top of the screen, which is accelerated by the fact that every so often a new row of blobs appears at the bottom of the pile.  That pretty much sums up Klassik mode, but to make matters worse, in Kaboom mode there are certain blobs you have to get rid of that can only be destroyed with bombs, and in Time Attack mode you must keep making matches so that your timer doesn’t run out.

Klassik Mode

Klassik Mode

As time progresses the number of colors you have to work with increases (making matches somewhat harder), and some blobs can’t be dragged around the screen.  On the plus side you’ll get bombs that can destroy rows, columns, a small area around the blob, or all blobs of a certain color.  Then there’s the Freeze meter.  In Klassik and Time Attack mode, as you make matches you’ll fill the meter.  When it’s full (it can be filled up to 5x per use) you can institute the freeze, and then you get a certain amount of time to literally rearrange everything on the screen.  When time starts up again all the matches that you’ve arranged will clear up the board for you.  In Kaboom mode when the meter is full you get a bomb, which is obviously necessary to get rid of the special blobs.

The only real control is dragging the blobs around the screen.  Unfortunately, when the screen gets full it seems like sometimes it doesn’t register that you grabbed a particular blob.  Worse yet, freeze mode seems particularly sensitive about where you are trying to drop the blobs.  Still, these are minor frustrations for such a cool interpretation of the match 3 genre (though I wouldn’t complain if they tried to tweak the sensitivity a bit).  As for the difficulty levels, my first run on Novice for Klassik mode netted a pretty decent score.  My first run on Extreme lasted about 15 seconds.  That means for the average player there will be plenty to master.  Plonk also supports Game Center, though I don’t know what all is available there since I’m still running a pre-Game Center OS.

Ponk is visually appealing.  There’s nothing overly splashy about the graphics – they just look good.  The particle trails that follow the blobs as they fall are a nice touch.  Even the user interface looks pretty sharp.  There’s a Halloween theme as well, though I’m not sure how much I really like that.  The sound effects are fairly decent, and thankfully don’t get overwhelming like they tend to in some puzzle games.  The music has a 70’s disco styling to it, which for some reason seems to be a popular choice for puzzle games.  It’s okay, but actually manages to get repetitive rather quickly.

Thankfully, Ponk is part of the evolution of match 3 games, and not just another pretty iteration of what we’ve played before.  It’s a bit more action oriented than your typical match 3 game, and really does a great job of breaking the genre out of the mold that games like Bejeweled created.  Here’s hoping more developers start thinking outside the tile.

Final Verdict: Recommended
App Store Link

So there you have it.  Two puzzle games that are quite engaging without the use of cute aliens or disgruntled fowl.  Not that there’s anything wrong with said mascots, mind you, but it’s nice to know that it’s not a requirement in order for developers to make a good puzzle game.  As always I’m not 100% sure what the next Random Selections has to hold, but I wouldn’t be surprised if it has something to do with side scrolling shooters and Nazi invasions.  Until next time…

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