Friday, November 22, 2013

Review: Strand for iPhone and iPad

I was surprised to see Strand mentioned in yesterday's "What's out today" article on TouchArcade, for a couple fo reasons. First, because it is not the kind of game you often see covered by TouchArcade. Second, because it was actually released three weeks ago, and I had it in my list of games to review since then.
In a market flooded by clones of Flow (something that I will have to talk about sooner or later), Strand is a refreshingly new take on the "connect the dots" genre.

Actually, Flow is a bad example. Among the well known logic puzzle, Strand is probably more akin to Hashi; but again, it's only a surface similarity. Strand is just an original game that stands on its own.

The goal is to connect dots. But this is not done by painting lines of arbitrary shape, like in Flow; what you do is pull rubber bands from one dot to another. The striking thing when you start to play the game is how tactile it is: the rubber bands deform as you make them longer, you can almost feel them. This is what touch screens are made for.

Dots can be connected multiple times: each dot contains a number, telling how many times you must use it. The important rule is that the rubber bands cannot cross (or overlap) each other.
Also, there can be black walls that prevent making a straight connection between certain dots.
The solution to the above puzzle would be this one:
Straight lines aren't the only way to connect dots. Puzzles can contain pegs, which are used to bend the rubber bands.
Note that thanks to the pegs you can connect the same two dots multiple times, simply by making the rubber bands follow different routes.
You cannot, however, connect a dot to itself, not even using pegs.

The other important gameplay element is colors. Generally, the dots in a puzzle will have multiple colors, and you can only connect dots of the same color. However, a dot doen't necessarily have a single color. In the example below, two of the dots have two colors. This means that they can be connected to dots of both colors.
Another mandatory element is teleports.
Puzzles can have multiple teleports; an odd quirk is that they all look the same. You cannot know which ones are connected until you actually pull a rubber abnd into them.

The puzzles are varied because they mix geometric constraints and visual intuition with more abstract graph connectivity problems. For example this puzzle has no walls or pegs, so it's all about the dot colors and how to connect the right ones using only straight lines.
It's also one of the puzzles where you can use logic to form a chain of deductions and reach a unique solution. This doesn't always happen: many puzzles have multiple solutions, and you don't even need to use all the elements provided, like I did in this case:
The game includes 50 free puzzles, and three additional packs, all priced $1.99: an easy pack with 30 puzzles, a medium one with 25 puzzles, and a hard one with 20 puzzles. Compared with other games on the App Store, I think the price of a pack is a bit high for the number of puzzles included.
There's even one in-app purchase just to customise the colors, which frankly I find excessive. You can also buy solutions–but of course we don't need them, do we?

The free puzzles are mostly aimed at casual players, and I found them to be easily solved just by experimenting, without much thought.
The ones in the hard pack are more challenging; to give you an idea, here is the first one:
This is definitely a game to try; it's just fun to play due to the tactile mechanics. It's not too hard, so it's good for some relaxed playing. What lets it down is the pricing of the additional packs: I think they should either cost less, or include significantly more puzzles.


Summary

Nontrivialness★★☆☆☆
Logical Reasoning★★☆☆☆
User Interface★★★★☆
Presentation★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★★★
Saves Partial Progress
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©2013 Nicola Salmoria. Unauthorized use and/or duplication without express and written permission is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Nicola Salmoria and nontrivialgames.blogspot.com with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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