Tuesday, October 7, 2014

Review: RGB Express for iPhone and iPad

RGB Express is captivating from the beginning. It has cute graphics and animations, an everyday theme that can be related with, and it just feels light and joyful.
The Finnish-German developer Bad Crane has clearly been targeting the young and casual audience with this game, and I think they've been quite successful. The mechanics are deeper than a simple casual game would require, but expert puzzlers will need a lot of perseverance before getting to the interesting parts.

You control some trucks on a city map. Your objective is to collect some colored boxes and bring them to their destination. You do that by drawing the paths that each truck should follow; when you are satisfied with the paths, you tap the Play button to check if the solution works or not.
The paths can cross, or touch in a corner, but you cannot pass through the same straight section of road more than once. This limitation implies that you cannot pass in front of a house without carrying a box addressed to it: the game immediately stops in that case, because it would not be possible to pass in front of the house a second time to deliver the package. Actually, as Federico Prat Villar showed me, this isn't entirely true, because when the house is in front of a 3-way junction you would be able to pass in front of it twice. But the game doesn't allow you anyway.

Also, there is a timing element because the trucks can crash into one another, so you have to be careful to not make two paths cross at the wrong moment.
The trucks can pick up more than one box at the same time, but no more than three. That's an important limitation in a few cases, where you might like to pick up four or five boxes at the same time and deliver them later.

The colored trucks can only deliver boxes to houses of their color, but they can pick up boxes of any color. There are also white trucks which can deliver boxes of any color. In that case, your load acts as a stack, so the last box picked up is the first to be delivered. You cannot pick a red and a green box and then pass in front of the red house: you need to deliver the green first.
Another element is movable bridges. When they are open, the trucks cannot pass over them. They are operated by buttons of the same color, found in other parts of the puzzle; sometimes there are two buttons, one to open and one to close.
The most interesting element is drop points at intersections. You can activate them while designing the solution. When they are active, the first truck that passes over them drops its top box, and the second truck picks it up again (of course, the game rules imply that no more than two trucks can pass through the same intersection). This allows you to exchange boxes of different colors.
The game sports 240 levels, but my main criticism is that most of the first half of them are nothing short of trivial, really too simple to be interesting.

There's nothing wrong in being easy, but even then, there should be some challenge, something that makes the player feel smart for finding the solution. When there is no perception of challenge, there is also no satisfaction for solving a puzzle. I didn't feel challenged at the beginning, because in many cases I could literally draw the first paths that I could think of and they would just work. It felt more like grinding than thinking. I kept playing, confident that eventually the puzzles would become more stimulating, but I would have preferred if the game contained half the levels but of higher average quality and with a better difficulty curve.

The first impact with the game has been carefully polished; I was impressed by details like the way how the clouds move in the city selection screen. I think some corners have been cut with the in-game animations, in particular when the trucks take a turn, which feels a bit jarring. I think there's also a bug in the animation of the bridges opening or closing. It doesn't look right.

The user interface is good, but it's intrinsically complicated because of the many paths that you might have to draw. It requires some precision so I found it a bit too difficult to control on a small screen. On iPad Mini it's a lot better. It still doesn't feel completely intuitive, and correcting paths often seems to require more taps than should be needed.

A very nice touch is that while you draw the path for one truck, the game shows how the other trucks will be moving along the paths you have already drawn. This makes it a lot easier to check that the timing is right and avoid crashes.

Overall, this game is entertainment for the whole family so it's an easy recommendation. Be warned that it might require some patience before it becomes really rewarding.


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