Monday, April 27, 2009

Amoebas. ($0.99, version 1.0)

iTunes Link.

Amoebas is a color-matching game. Two things make it unique - its different shapes and a rotating screen. lf you end up buying this game and it doesn't grab you right away, give it a couple of days. When l first started playing it I didn't really get the game and wasn't enjoying it very much, but by the third sitting something clicked and now it's a very solid 5-minute game that has survived a few iDevice purgings.

When you first start the game you get a colorful screen with a few options. You can start a new game, resume a saved game, view the high scores, view very detailed instructions with game screenshots, change some settings, and submit your highest score to the online scoreboard. This last option lets you enter your name, country you're from, and a comment. Settings include turning sound on or off and turning the accelerometer on or off. The touch controls work whether you have the accelerometer on or not. There are four different sensitivity options if you want to turn it on.

The main game board resembles a beehive. You have two pentagons sharing an open side, forming kind of an hourglass shape. You have pieces that consist of little balls, from one ball up to three balls (but the balls can be stretched out and take the space of five balls). The balls are arranged into different shapes and sizes.  In order to make the amoebas disappear, you have to match at least seven of the same color. You drop them into each of the pentagons and they stick to the three sides of the wall that look like they have glue stuck to them. You lose when an amoeba reaches a cutoff line on each of the pentagons, which is about 30% from the edge to the center. Each pentagon has a grid of circles that help you figure out how an amoeba will end up. lf you shoot an amoeba into a non-sticky wall, it just bounces onto a sticky wall.

The screen includes an X that takes you directly back to the main menu, your current score, your high score, a button to shoot off the amoeba from the center into the pentagons, a button to flip the board 180 degrees, a button to rotate the amoeba (it only goes left), and buttons to rotate the board left or right. There's a sight line that helps you figure out where an amoeba will land. The accelerometer only controls the rotation of the board. You can also rotate the board by touching the screen with your finger and swiping left or right to rotate. This works pretty much anywhere on the screen that doesn't have other icons. Something very nice is that when you lose, it asks you whether you want to start a new game right away, so there's barely any down time.

If you don't shoot off the amoeba into the pentagons the game will do it for you eventually. It gives you a generous amount of time at the beginning which gets shorter and shorter as the game goes on. I really only have two main suggestions to improve the game. One of them is to change the way the pause works. Instead of going back to the main menu I would prefer if there was a pop-up that allowed you to return to the game or go back to the main menu. The other suggestion is to have a timer somewhere on the screen that would give you an idea of how much more time you have left before the amoeba auto-shoots. It could be in the shape of an hourglass or a bar or just numbers counting down. A little nitpick is to maybe add an arrow that rotates the amoeba to the right also.

The real challenge lies in knowing how to squeeze the amoebas close together so that you don't run out of room. The single-celled amoebas are specially a challenge because it's hard to stack seven of each different color and still have room for the bigger amoebas. Something really nice is that if you have amoebas on top of other amoebas, getting rid of the amoebas closest to the wall will make the amoebas on top of those disappear also, as long as those are not touching a wall in any way. A good strategy is to try to place as many single-celled amoebas on top of larger ones so that you can get rid of them when you match seven of the other.

Sounds are minimal but pleasing. Menu items make a metallic noise when selected and the amoebas make satisfying squishing noises when being shot (more so when making a match).

As a dollar game, this is a bargain. It has inventive and colorful graphics and gameplay that is a bit different than your regular run-of-the-mill match three, and having to match seven makes it a bigger challenge. There are no glaring flaws and it takes a familiar concept and adds a few twists that refreshes the gameplay. And who doesn't like amoebas? Definitely recommended.

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