I have fond memories of playing a Tetris knockoff which presented the player with a series of levels with different challenges, and offered verbal abuse throughout. While the core idea of Tetris was pretty good, it surprises me that it was clear in 1993 that people would play longer and enjoy the game more if there were some variety to the challenge, yet this lesson is not universally applied 20 years later.
Firestarter Games’ Globulous has a similarly solid core concept: match three Tetris-like pieces on a sphere to eliminate them and dig toward the center before the timer runs out. The player has some ability to move pieces around to set up big combos for more points and bonus eliminations on the next match. The design is simple, with brightly colored pieces smoothly scrolling around on a sphere (a neat effect) and lots of music of which they seem proud, but which didn’t interest me enough to keep it on most of the time.
It’s a good core, but it doesn’t get much better than that. Some puzzle games offer various challenges on different levels which require different approaches, others use their levels rather like exercises in a textbook, slowly introducing players to the true gameplay depths which emerge from their simple rules, yet others have a variety of challenges built into their achievement systems. Globulous deploys none of these to more than a cursory extent.
The game is also somewhat lacking in polish, though only in relatively minor ways. The progress indicator rarely moves, one of the achievements didn’t trigger, and there’s a brief visual artifact at the beginning of some levels. Though progress is nicely synchronized between devices, the game does not truly multi-task, so switching away from the app discards progress on the current level (particularly frustrating in later, longer levels). Even the tutorial includes a misleading statement: it says that drops which don’t result in a match will deduct some time from the timer, and that five such result in failure on the level. However, any bad drop when the timer is less than half full causes immediate failure; this goes unmentioned.
There is actually something wonderful about the way the game handles its disdain for offering players extra motivation beyond compelling core gameplay. After each level, the player is told he or she has earned a prize. These prizes challenge the very notion of in-game rewards by providing no benefit and having themes of such wildly divergent desirability as to force the player to consider their meaninglessness. This reflects a purism which I respect, but which the basic gameplay isn’t quite fascinating enough to justify.
Globulous isn’t bad. It’s a decent value. I had an okay time with it. But you can do better than “not bad,” “decent” and “okay” on a platform as vibrant as iOS.
Review copy of game provided by publisher.