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January 25, 2010

First-Person Tetris
Creator: David Kraftsow
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Alexey Pajitnov’s Tetris isn’t just a game anymore—it’s the Mitochondrial Eve for an entire genre. There are more than 40 different commercially released Tetris variants and sequels, and those are just the ones Wikipedia knows about. The number of non-commercial Tetris variants out in the wild is unknowable. (To count them up, you’d first have to know how many different calculators Texas Instruments has sold since 1984.) First-Person Tetris distinguishes itself from these many mutations and imitations by being the Tetris most likely to give you motion sickness. After firing it up, you’re presented with a vintage Tetris experience: a CRT television playing Nintendo’s 1989 NES version of the game, its sound and sights perfectly emulated. The twist here is that the puzzle piece you’re controlling stays fixed, while everything else, even the television, revolves around it. For the most fun experience, twirl around in your office chair for 30 seconds, then see how long you can play without throwing up… B-

Battle Blasters

Creator: Little Guy Games
Platform: iPhone/iPod Touch
Price: $2.99
This nifty Mortal Kombat-meets-Wii Tennis diversion offers simultaneous multiplayer on one device, which is especially challenging given the relatively microscopic size of the iPhone screen. It’s mostly a successful game, in large part thanks to its instantly addictive nature. Players choose from a half-dozen or so characters, then hurl energy balls and laser shots across the screen at each other. You dodge enemy fire by running to the side, deflecting shots Link-vs.-Ganon style, or firing your own shots as interception. Thus matches are a frenetic combination of offense and defense, spiced with each character’s special abilities. (The Mortal Kombat portion of the game comes in Campaign mode, where you battle everyone once in a best-of-three match, unlocking other characters at the end.) The multiplayer mode assigns each player half the screen, so fingers rarely touch. The problem, then, becomes sight—a common iPhone concern—because you’re rarely able to catch a glimpse of your opponent’s character and the indicators as to what kind of shot is headed your way. But Battle Blasters is still a hell of a lot of fun… B+


Creator: Elias Holmlid, Dmitri Kurteanu, Guy Lima Jr., and Stefan Mikaelsson
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
A mix of n+ and a devious logic puzzle, with minimal Swedish design and a tinkling score that recalls Danny Elfman’s quieter work for Tim Burton, Continuity combines familiar ingredients, but gets unusual results. At its base, Continuity is the simplest sort of puzzle-platformer. Find the stark red key standing out from the gray and black of the game’s backgrounds, then get to the door. This becomes more difficult as the game goes on, of course, but it’s tricky from the start, since Continuity’s levels are broken into multiple windows. These windows can be rearranged at any time, creating a new path to the goal for your tiny stick figure. The team of four Swedes behind Continuity have proven that it’s still possible to make creative minimalist platformers… A

Bit.Trip Void

Creator: Gaijin Games
Platform: Nintendo Wii (WiiWare)
Price: $6 (600 Nintendo points)
Bit.Trip Void is essentially Pac-Man meeting Ikagura at a warehouse rave, while still adhering to the WiiWare series’ defiant devotion to Atari 2600-style graphics and game simplicity. Playing as the void, you must absorb an increasingly frustrating barrage of black dots while avoiding the white ones. The more black dots you collect, the bigger the void grows—but touch a single white one, and you’re knocked back down to your original size. Collide with too many white dots or let too many black ones slide off the screen uncollected, and all the color drains from the vibrant background as you’re given one last chance to shape up. The game isn’t terribly deep, nor is it long, at only three levels, but it’s an enjoyable experience marred only a couple design flaws—for instance, sometimes the background goes black, making the game virtually impossible… B-


Creator: Ian Lilley
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
Pictogrid is like one of those metal-ring puzzles that misguided aunts and uncles like to give as birthday gifts. You twist and turn those damn rings for a couple minutes, curse, come to terms with your merely average spatial IQ, and go play with some fun toys. That same tactile frustration pervades Pictogrid, yet this game is harder to dismiss. It always seems like the answer is a couple clicks away. You navigate pegs around a small arena with the goal of arranging them in a specific pattern. The fundamental hitch is that you have to move entire rows and columns of pegs at a time, so you’re always applying indirect force when you just wish you could grab the pegs and put them in line. Random desperate clicking won’t work past the first handful of levels, so the key to enjoying this game is stepping back to intuit the solution. Then comes the gratifying sensation that your IQ isn’t so bad after all… B+

Abandoned Mine

Creator: Unduloid Games
Platform: Android
Price: Free
The sad state of gaming on the Android Platform (phones like the Droid and Google’s new Nexus One) is only exacerbated by games like Abandoned Mine, which promises puzzling in the vein of Lode Runner, but blows even the basics. The first, glaring, and most frustrating problem with Abandoned Mine is that it can’t tell which way is up. The game clumsily blends top-down and side views of the action, making it impossible to predict the difference between a pit and a hallway. Once the quirks of the game’s questionable communication skills are digested, the puzzles seem beside the point… D-

Shape Intuition

Creator: HZStudio
Platform: Android
Price: Free
The nice thing about owning one of the expensive new phones is that you can keep dozens of useful software tools at your fingertips. Tip calculators and GPS navigation are ultra-useful. But what if you need to gauge how good you are at estimating the size of different shapes? Luckily, Shape Intuition covers this base thoroughly, putting phone owners through the paces of recreating circles, squares, and ovals. Trouble is that the touch screen—on the Droid model, at least—is too janky for any kind of precision. Even if you know exactly where the center of a particular parallelogram should be, fat fingers won’t convince the game… C+


Creator: Nickolay Ananiev
Platform: Android, iPhone/iPod Touch
Price: Android: Free; iPhone: $0.99
Here’s why Android gamers suffer from iPhone envy: The easiest-to-recommend Android game is a match-and-drop puzzler. Bebbled, luckily, gets a lot right. Firstly, it isn’t a straight-up Tetris or Bejeweled clone. Yes, there are colored gems, or in this case, interconnected bubbles. And yes, you’re forming groups of them to eliminate them. But Bebbled gets genuinely interesting when you’re aiming for a specific score—this means you have to cascade your gems smartly to get the bonuses from eliminating big groups. There’s nothing revolutionary about Bebbled, but we’ll take what we can get—even if it’s the iPhone’s sloppy seconds… B-

Civilizations Wars

Creator: Cave of Wonders
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
One way to make wholesale slaughter more palatable is to put a friendly face on it. The little warriors in Civilization Wars bobble along the battlefield and speak in adorable chipmunk voices, giving you plenty of laffs as you wipe rival races from the face of the earth. The click-and-drag-to-attack premise will be familiar to anyone who has played twitchy strategy games like Galcon, and it’s hindered here only by an occasionally jerky Flash interface. The enemy A.I. operates on a stimulus-response level, but that doesn’t obviate the need for careful strategy on your end. The first half-dozen battles or so are pretty straightforward, but the promise of giant monster tortoises should be enough to justify powering through to the interesting stuff… B+

Paradox Embrace

Creators: Steve Castro, Jay Ziebarth, and Caulder Bradford
Platform: Browser
Price: Free
The introduction to Paradox Embrace promises a story that never actually materializes, though it presumably ties into the near-nonsensical bits of story text between levels. That aside, it’s an enjoyable enough puzzle game. Players wander through levels either in technological, magical, or natural mode; each mode has particular enemies and barriers that transform or disappear when you find a “Changer” and switch modes. Essentially, each level is a cleverly designed one-track maze that requires you to navigate modes as though they were extra dimensions. The game isn’t particularly difficult, but the bright art (by Jay Ziebarth, of Several Journeys Of Remus fame) and gaudy design are entertaining, and it makes exploration of this triple-faceted world surprising as well as goal-oriented. And while later levels get more complicated, the whole thing takes less than an hour, so it’s short and sweet. B+