Commuting Cognition: Tumblestone, Spin Addict

What is this?

I’ve never been a big mobile game player, but I ended up working in a mobile games company (opinions are my own etc), so I’ve been trying to expose myself to more games in this market and attempt to gain an ever-better understanding of them. One of the ways I’ve been doing that is in trying out new games, seeing what they do wrong and right, and try to draw conclusions from them that I can use in the future to make our games better. One of the resources I’ve been using for this is TouchArcade (not sponsored), and their columns listing the new iOS games of the week.

This resulted in me playing a lot more new games during my daily bus rides, but I also feel the need to discuss them somewhere and keep a log of my thoughts instead of just internalising them. So, Commuting Cognition. These will be brief, bus-ride-long thoughts on these games, and should be seen less as reviews and more as first-impression brain dumps. They also may not be daily, depending on how full the bus is that day.

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Tumblestone

Tumblestone is a match-three game with a few extra mechanics and a few more odd design decisions.

It nonchalantly opens on the level selection, with an intro playing once you enter the first level; why not do it the other way around? The intro only starts after a long loading screen though, and one with nothing on it, just a black screen. More than once i wondered if the game had frozen; there’s a reason why loading screens normally have moving bits in it. To be fair, though, the intro is pretty cute.

The gameplay itself is a little odd. You’re supposed to shoot at three blocks of the same colour in succession. All the tutorial tells you is to tap the screen to shoot at the block, but it doesn’t call your attention to the top HUD, where you can see the block being captured. So as far as i knew, all you had to do was destroy blocks. This went on for a little bit until i tried to shoot a block when there weren’t two other visible blocks of the same colour, at which point the game just forbade me from doing so and pointed to three other blocks. It doesn’t tell you why, mind, so you can just brute-force it and shoot whatever blocks are suggested without actually learning anything.

I thought this was just tutorial hand-holding, but on the second level the same thing happened, and on the third. I was feeling very confused until on the fourth level i ran out of valid moves after destroying blocks willy-nilly, so there *is* challenge involved. This is an incredibly odd way to approach their intended result. There are always better ways to avoid players from making invalid moves that don’t involve taking control away from them; something like the shot bouncing off the block, and the uncovered blocks shining to show that there aren’t three blocks available, would have the exact same effect while still allowing the player to make their action.

The shooting mechanic itself seems like a bizarrely odd choice for the mechanic, and feels like flavour over function. Essentially, what you want to do is destroy three uncovered blocks. You could’ve achieved that by literally tapping on the three blocks. Swap the level upside down, darken covered blocks a little bit, it instantly becomes clear that you can only tap on uncovered blocks. Tapping to shoot to destroy the block is an extra step that adds nothing to the game, it just costs the player more time.

The game markets itself as “completely reinventing the matching genre”, a very bold claim that i strongly disagree with, if my brief bus-ride experience was anything to go by. What i saw was essentially three-tile Mahjong, with unnecessary tacked-on mechanics.

 
Spin Addict

Spin Addict is an endless runner masquerading as something more sophisticated.

You control a spinning top thing, and the game ends if your rotation dies out. To avoid this you must pass through special platforms that rev you up; I never once died from this though, so it might as well not have been there for me. Without that it’s a standard runner where most of what you’ll be doing is tapping to jump over obstacles. You can also swipe to flip the tube you’re running on, which can move obstacles out of your way or revving platforms onto your path. Technically a more unique mechanic, but not so significant as to stand out in the genre.

The game is fun enough, though, and it looks great, but the aesthetic is the main thing carrying it. At the end of the day, it’s just another runner game.

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