I’ve had the opportunity to review a lot of games since I started writing. Most have been from smaller, independent creators and publishers looking for help getting the word out about their app. Idie games have been a mixed bag for me; while I love the ideal of a small (sometimes just a single person) company earning fame and fortune via a brilliantly made game, it’s just as often what was likely an intriguing idea that either wasn’t completely fleshed out or the creators lack the skill and experience to fully bring their vision to life. There are plenty of opportunities for stumbles: coding errors that cause your game to unexpectedly crash, poorly implemented concepts, bad graphics and animation, poor gameplay, the list goes on.
But when someone gets it right, REALLY gets it right, it makes all the time I’ve spent testing apps worthwhile. My friends at independent games agency Bandello have forwarded me just such a game: Linkies. Creators VisualDreams aren’t completely new to development, having already had a measure of success with Slam Dunk Basketball (currently free via the iTunes App Store). Their latest offering isn’t ground breaking or wholly unique, but it truly excels.
The concept behind Linkies is a familiar one- an old, decrepit robot has awakened and is spewing out waste in the form of various colored containers. It’s up to you to save the Linkie’s world by connecting three or more matching containers by swiping through them with your finger, thereby destroying them. From the outset the animation Linkies stood out from the crowd; the cut scene showing the giant robot disgorging his toxic innards is very well done (and happily you can skip it by holding a touch point for a couple seconds- even the best animation gets tedious after the tenth viewing) and the artwork is top notch. You’re given the option or a normal game or ‘blitz’ mode offering endless waves instead of levels and chapters. The game breaks up the tutorial into the first few levels of gameplay, but the learning curve is very small. The match-three-or-more-colored-things puzzler has been around for a very long time (I can remember seeing games based on this idea in arcades decades ago!) but Linkies does the best job of bringing this theme to life that I’ve ever seen.
The reason Linkies was such a pleasure was twofold. First, the overall gameplay is superb; top notch graphics, smooth animation, and simple but clever controls that make perfect use of the touchscreen controls that iOS affords. You trace your finger to connect the matching objects, but your finger’s path can’t be blocked by other toxic blocks or barriers (nor can it double back). At least three objects must be connected to remove them, but the more connected the higher your score. Connect enough and one becomes a bomb, capable of destroying everything within a radius when matched up again. Mystery blocks appear later in the game, randomly benefitting you or releasing a cache of unmatchable grey blocks that can only be destroyed by a bomb. To complicate matters the deluge of new toxic waste blocks continues to rain down, while the game ups the ante by quietly timing you- should you be taking too long to clear the field it will urge you to pick up the pace, lest you fail and have to start over. Connecting blocks isn’t your only tool, however; various power ups can be purchased as you progress.
Secondly, Linkies goes beyond any other game in this genre by adding a surprisingly fluid physics engine into the mix. Unlike casual gaming icon Bejeweled, the multicolored toxic blocks aren’t static- they tumble and move freely when jostled. As you remove blocks from the bottom of the pile, the remaining ones tumble realistically. As you progress in the game barriers make connecting the various colors exponentially harder by pushing, lifting, and mixing the blocks. This added aspect of game play hooked me on my first test run- the added complexity along with the overall quality of the game made for one of the most enjoyable evaluations I’ve had to date.
Since the iTunes App Store has gone live, there have been several hugely popular apps that seemed to have come from nowhere. Doodle Jump, Infinity Blade, Where’s My Water, Jetpack Joyride; the list goes on. Angry Birds has seemed to have spawned an entire industry, with even a rumored animated series being considered. While it may not reach the level of fame that the aforementioned apps have, Linkies is every bit as worthy and enjoyable. If you enjoy casual games, do yourself a favor and pick it up via the iTunes App Store- it’s available now for just 99 cents.