‘Stickets’ is a gem
The phenomenon of mobile gaming is surely one of the great triumphs of the Digital Age. When stranded in a place with bleak entertainment prospects – airports, car trips, certain family gatherings – that smart phone or tablet can be a real life saver.
Some varieties of mobile games have become astoundingly complex in recent years. Heavy-duty RPG and strategy sims aren’t just relegated to the big-budget console and PC titles anymore. In fact, statistically, gamers spend more time on mobile games than console and PC combined. TVs and displays aren’t strictly necessary as we grow more comfortable with gaming on the (really) small screen.
That said, it’s been my experience that phones and tablets are best for the slower, simpler rhythms of puzzle games. Word games, too. Some of the industry’s most sophisticated design can be found in these deceptively simple endeavors.
Case in point: the bright and unassuming “Stickets” (iOS, $2.99; rated 4+), billed as “An Elegantly Brutal Game for iPhone.”
A real minimalist gem, Stickets is a spatial puzzler with simple rules. At the bottom of the screen, you’re given four L-shaped figures, each made of three colored blocks, and each rotated one-quarter turn from the next. The three blocks that make up each L-shaped figure are different colors – either red, yellow or blue.
Your job is to place the L shapes onto the board above in combinations which align three blocks of the same color. When you do, those blocks disappear. You earn points by using up as many L shapes as possible before filling the board.
It’s an interesting twist on the match-three-style puzzler of “Bejeweled” and similar games. It’s also an uncommonly pretty way to kill time. As you proceed, new color themes are unlocked and you move away from the primary red/blue/yellow scheme into cool retro and pastel themes. You can also unlock new gameplay modes that introduce timer elements and other challenges.
Like all good puzzlers, “Stickets” is addictive, delightful and maddening all at the same time.
For reasons I’m sure some endeavoring mathematics students could tell me, the L-shape geometries of the game present a seemingly endlessly variety of conundrums. It pays to plan your moves ahead with Stickets, but the deeper into the game you get, the more the puzzle solving becomes intuitive. You want to think a little, but not too much.
I’ve found only a handful of other games that produce this effect. The weird and woozy “Dream of Pixels” (iOS; $2.99; rated 4+) is similar, and works like a kind of Tetris in reverse. Instead of rotating little puzzle pieces into a block at the bottom, you disassemble a giant block as it descends from the top of the screen. The game’s superior ambient electronic soundtrack adds to the dreamlike atmosphere.
But for my money, nothing can beat the hypnotic and beautiful “Osmos” (Android, iOS; $2.99 or 4.99; rated 4+), which you can play on phone or tablet, though the tablet version provides a much better experience.
You enter the game as a tiny galactic “mote,” a sort of cosmic single-cell organism. As the mellow ambient score plays (headphones are a must), you float through an existentially ambiguous existence – outer space, the primordial soup, who knows? Try to survive by absorbing smaller motes and avoiding bigger ones.
Subtle sound and color cues guide your strategy as new challenges are introduced, like orbital physics and AI predators.
New This Week: The inevitable movie tie-in title “Disney Planes” (PC, Wii, WiiU, DS); the online adventure “Dragon’s Crown” (PS3, Vita); and the gravitationally challenged co-op game “Ibb and Obb” (PS3).