Wednesday, April 15, 2009

Squares! ($0.99, version 1.1)

iTunes Link.

Squares is a strategy game. I personally don't consider games like Squares! as a pure strategy game because there's chance involved. It all depends on what kind of board you get. Where you win or lose is not wholly dependent on how good you play. High dependent, yes. Wholly dependent, no. The goal is to turn all the tiles on the board to either green smiling faces or yellow scared faces (you get a better score for green than yellow). The game ends if you turn any tile into a red "dead" face. When the game first starts, the board has no faces in it and instead is a 5X5 board consisting of tiles with arrows in them. Each time you successfully turn all squares to green or yellow faces, you advance a level. You keep going through levels until you have no choice but to turn a yellow face into a red face (and it will happen sooner or later in every game).

There are four icons at the bottom. The left circular arrow starts a new game (and puts you back at level one). The rightmost icon provides you with some help on the gameplay and game elements, and the icon that looks like a checklist shows you the high scores and gives you the option to erase all of them. The second icon from the right is the "shake" icon. During the game, if you run into a situation in which your next move would mean game over, you can either shake the iDevice or tap this button to bring up a menu with two options. You can undo your last move or you can "shake the board. If you shake the board, the arrow tiles are reshuffled. You have five shakes per game (and not per level, as I sadly learned). You cannot undo more than one move at a time and it uses up one of your shakes. Thankfully you can do a shake by either shaking your iDevice OR pressing the shake button and then Shake. I hate shaking the iDevice in fears of damaging it and really appreciate the alternate button.

On the upper right hand corner there's an "i" that gives you a brief description of the game, allows you to turn the sound on or off, and gives you come copyright information. I found this "i" to be one of the most unresponsive iDevice game buttons I have found so far and it always took me multiple taps to activate it. Maybe the sensitivity can be looked at.

The game saves your progress whenever you exit the app, which is great. No need for long play sessions.

Let' walk through a few steps in order to illustrate the gameplay. Here's a fresh board:

We are going to tap the upper right hand corner tile. Notice what happens.

The arrow is now pointing up and the tile that was being pointed at by the tapped tile turned green. Let's see what happens if we tap the tile below the green tile which is an arrow pointing up, towards the green tile.

The tile being pointed at by the arrow turned yellow AND the tile we tapped on turned into a green tile instead of staying as an arrow and changing direction. If you tap on an arrow pointing at a green tile this will always happen - the green tile turns yellow and the arrow tile turns green.

Now look at the green tile. There's two arrows pointing to it. If we tap the tile below, the green tile turns yellow and the arrow tile turns into a green tile.

If we now tap into the tile to the left of the lower yellow tile, the arrow tile turns into a yellow tile and the yellow tile turns into a red dead tile and the game ends.

As it stands right now I view this game as a casual strategy.chance game, in the same vein as Yahtzee. Luck and skill. It's only a buck and it's nice for quick games, especially since it saves your progress. I have an idea that I think could turn this game into a deeper and truer strategy game. "Levels" could be made that have a fixed ending configuration and are not random. There is one or more ways to go from the beginning board to the end board without having any yellow faces. If you solve it, you go to the next level. There's an undo button that takes away from your score but you can press it an unlimited number of times, and there's no shake button. This would turn it into a puzzle/strategy game and would add tons of replayability to it, especially with a lot of levels. It could be even better if someone could design and build a program that creates board with a pre-determined solution without having to turn any tiles yellow.

Graphics are simple and cutesy and serve the gameplay well. There's no music and the only special effects are swooshing sounds when the tiles turn and a sharp game ending sound when you turn a tile red.

Bottom line? It's a twist on the "lights off" games where you have to turn the whole board into a different color. Different, but not really earth-shattering. It's a good deal for the price and it's entertaining for the train ride. A true puzzle/strategy mode would make this into a highly recommended game, would add replayability, and would elevate it from casual entertainment/just another app into gaming gold. And would it a stead even at a slightly higher price.

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