Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Review: Watercolors for iPhone and iPad

I'm glad to host another review by Roberto Canogar. Hopefully more will follow!

Watercolors, developed by ADONIS SOFTWARE from Romania, is a Free game that was released a couple of months ago. It reached the #1 position in the Education category in 77 countries, and in the Puzzle category in 13 countries (including big countries like USA, UK and Canada to name a few).

At the moment the number of players in Game Center is close to one million. So, we can say it has been a successful game. But, is it a good puzzle game? What are the reasons behind its success? Lets try to answer these questions.

Watercolors is a game about mixing colors and also about drawing. I think that games that let you draw with colors have an immediate gratification. All of us secretly would love to know how to paint.

This game lets you mix colors effortlessly and with a clear objective, something that in real life is much more smudgy. Also, this theme seems to be a good match for the Education category as the numbers above suggest. Other puzzles inspired by these ideas come to mind: Flow Free and especially Puzzle Restorer.

Well, now let's talk about the game mechanics of Watercolors. This game is about mixing three elementary colors: blue, red and yellow. So first we have to get very familiar on how they mix.
Bellow we see a detail of Level 1 and Level 2. The first one (on the left) shows us that we have to drag colors from filled circles to glowing and hollow circles of the same color by following a path of connected white circles.

The second level (on the right) tells us that we can combine colors by dragging a color on top of another one. So we can make a first stroke from the yellow filled circle to the empty spot indicated by the arrow, and then we can make a second stroke from the blue filled circle all the way to the bottom because as we pass the yellow circle the stroke changes to green (Blue+Yellow=Green).

But level 2 can be drawn with one stroke! We start it from the yellow filled circle and we go to the blue filled circle which will change color to green (see left). Then without lifting the finger we go all the way to the hollow green circle (see right).

By solving levels with the minimum number of strokes we gain 3 stars, and for suboptimal solutions we receive 2, 1 or even 0 stars. I enjoy finding the minimum number of moves.

It is quite rewarding to do all the steps that are involved in the resolution of a puzzle. First we have to look at the picture, recognizing the elementary colors and the compound colors and their relative positions. Second we plan our strokes, and third we execute them. Many times the strokes are long and go back and forth the screen, and change several times of color as they pass through different solid circles. Like the next one, that can be solved with one long stroke.
But then, the next level is essentially the same, even the same colors. OK, instead of Snakes (look at the title of the levels) we have to draw a Fancy Glass, but that's it.

The next one, level 10, is almost the same again. This happens often. Level 5 and 6 are equally similar. Then level 11 and 12 are also the same. I often think "OK, I've got it... don't bore me, please!". But this repetition is done purposely, and it probably makes more good than harm. I don't like repeating puzzles, but there must be a lot of people who prefer it this way.

Apart from the tiresome learning curve I would say that the level design is dull. One is rarely surprised by a cleverly designed level. Sporadically, one gets a very tough one (e.g. level 17 of the Three-Colors pack). There is a Pro-Pack which is challenging, but the levels look messy and chaotic. The result is that the levels are not enticing at all.

To add more variety there is a time mode, where we have to solve as many levels as possible in a specific amount of time. But the selection of levels presented in the time mode seems like a random selection of levels from the standard mode. So we may start with a trivial level, followed by a very complex one. There is so much luck involved in the random selection that I don't enjoy it, frankly.

Anyway, I have to give a thumbs up for the presentation of the game. It is mostly white, very clean, nothing groundbreaking but simple and effective. The omnipresent white is a perfect backdrop for all the colorful strokes that you do. Then the user interface is quite good in general, but there are two things I dislike. First, the undo button doesn't discount the number of strokes, so if one wants to get three stars it is useless.

The second problem is that the figures that you paint resemble objects (Snakes, Fancy Glass), so they tend to have many connected circles very close together, much more than otherwise required. So it is very easy to paint a wrong circle, which often implies starting over. This is more of a problem on the iPhone, and it is a big problem when you are under time pressure. In this sense the Grid-Pack worked better for me, because in this pack the connections are made through a grid so it very easy to follow a path.

So, in summary, this is mostly an easy game, and thus very approachable. And even after all my criticism, playing it is an enjoyable experience. Probably these are two of the reasons of its success. But as a puzzle game it could have been better.


Logical Reasoning★★☆☆☆
User Interface★★★☆☆
Loading Time★★★☆☆
Saves Partial Progress
Status Bar

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Mayor para el fĂștbol-7 said...

Don't you think the game changes radically when the 3rd color appears? From that point on, it's not just about how to get the correct color mixes, but about clearing circles for letting color flows pass unchanged too.

Red plus yellow plus blue should be black, but it produces "color removal" instead, an interesting Watercolors design decision.

Roberto Canogar said...

Thanks for the comment!

Indeed, the second pack (which is free) is called Three-Colors and it introduces a new game mechanic. As you note red+yellow+blue=white as the last line of the color chart indicates.
But in reality you can't mix three color at the same time, so to be more precise, the chart should add the following rows:

orange+blue = white
purple+yellow = white
green+red = white

and in some cases you have to mix two compound colors, so it should also add:

orange+purple = white
orange+green = white
purple+green = white.

Now the table is really complete! One could protest by saying that Red+Yellow+Blue=White summarizes the 6 rows above, but since this is game about color patterns you *need* to memorize the above information. Otherwise you have to decompose compound colors into elementary colors ALL the time (annoying). So this rule adds a lot complexity to the pattern recognition, but eventually you get used to it.

You also note the inconsistency of three colors giving white, which I hadn't thought about it! White light is decomposed in the rainbow colors, but with pigments it is the other way around: white is the lack of color, and black is the sum of all the colors. This is a game about painting with watercolors, so there is a big inconsistency.

Finally, when you get white, the stroke is interrupted and you can not continue. For me it would be more natural that the stroke becomes white as if it was an eraser. I found THAT a strange design decision.

But I have to admit that this game mechanic introduces new and interesting effects. I wouldn't say that the game changes radically, but you have to think in different ways and it adds spice.

The level design of this Three-Color pack is better than the first pack (Two-Color). For example, the first levels are not repetitive at all. But then strange things happen:
1) Level 5 can be solved with 4 strokes (the minimum) without getting white. Actually it is the natural solution for me.
2) Levels 9 and 10 are super easy. Putting them as levels 4 and 5 would make more sense. Its nice to have a break after a tough one, but this ones are a piece of cake.
3) Levels 17 and 18 are super tough.

Anyway, the level design of this pack is better, but it still has some issues.

I would urge the developers to put more thought on level design, they have a lot to learn in my humble opinion (I emphasize "humble", because they've got 1 million users so they've surely done a few things right!). A gameaboutsquares.com (the review before this one) has such an outstanding level design, that the defects on this one shine even more.

Mayor para el fĂștbol-7 said...

Hahaha, I agree with the developers: Red+Yellow+Blue=Empty should suffice... ;)

Roberto Canogar said...

Hi again,

I think that I didn't make my self clear...
I absolutely agree that Blue+Yellow+Red=empty in enough and the color chart is perfect as it it.
What I meant by "to be more precise the chart should also add the following rows" is that in your head you need those 3 additional rules (or even 6) somehow. The rule "Blue+Yellow+Red=empty" is a very good shorthand, and it implicitly implies the other ones.
You get used to it, but it adds quite a lot of complexity.

One could argue that getting used to this new level of complexity is rewarding, you have to train your brain to recognize more color patterns. The brain tends to process pattern recognition in one part of the brain (right side) and logical reasoning in another (left side). So it seems that playing Watercolors makes use of more parts of your brain than the average puzzle game. This should be pleasurable.

Note: the lateralization of brain functions is tricky, and is much less clear cut than what popular psychology makes us think. But still some specialization seems to exits, and it is known that logical reasoning and pattern recognition are two very different mental processes.