Game Center Match-3 Mania!

Game Center games are starting to pour in, and today I stumbled onto the (true**) first Match-3 game I’d seen, (although I don’t think it was the first one on there), called GeoBlocks. I’m going to talk about that, and then I’ll also talk about the second match-3 game I played with Game Center integration, Squaree, and I will actually go so far as to say that Squaree is my new favorite Match-3 game! As of this writing, both GeoBlocks and Squaree are FREE in the app store, so get ’em while they’re hot.

I played GeoBlocks for quite a while, trying to get the next achievement. It’s a pretty standard match-3, with level progression based on the number of matches you’ve gotten in all the colors. In fact, that’s one of the only really interesting aspects of the game… to score really big, you actually want to try NOT to progress, so you can rack up points before the timer (white line at the bottom of the screen) gets going so fast that you don’t have time to think before you match.

I made a note to myself to add GeoBlocks to my spreadsheet listing Match-3 games for the iPhone, and I actually went one step further than that, and added a column indicating whether the game has Game Center integration. I suppose now that I’ve done that, I should really add another column for OpenFeint. Maybe I’ll do that some other time and actually go through all the games listed to see which have which features.

So then I went looking to see if there were other Match-3 games with Game Center, and I found Jewel Craft in the featured list. I wasn’t about to shell out $3 for another Match-3 game though, (especially when I just played a perfectly decent one for free). That got me thinking about what other free Game Center games there might be out there, so I searched App Shopper for “game center”, and sorted by price. That was when I found Squaree.

Squaree doesn’t really look like much, and (as is common when I go app shopping) at first I didn’t even play it, just downloaded it to check out later. But I soon grew tired of scanning through all the crap in that AppShopper search, and Squaree was either the first or second app I opened up to check out.

It’s match-3, definitely, but the way you get your squares is pretty unique. There is a board with a whole bunch of grayed out pieces. Tapping a piece causes un-gray, and for it to fall all the way to the bottom of the board (or until it hits another solid piece). Get three of the same color to match, and two of them disappear, but the third turns into a “locked” piece. Match four pieces and you get a X2 piece remaining, and if you match 5, you get a piece that, when matched, removes all solid pieces of that color from the gameboard.

This is pretty much all you need to know to get started playing Squaree. It’s simple, yes, but I had a lot of fun with it, and I’ll definitely be playing more of it in the next few days. There are two game modes, but only the “Challenge” mode has a high score list. That list is extremely short right now, and I’m hoping to make it to the top with some practice in the next few days. My only disappointment was finding out that there aren’t any Achievements. I wish I could add yet to the end of that statement. :)

**Note that both Azkend and Dice Match had Game Center the day after its launch. They are both solidly in the Match-3 category, but neither has the swap-to-remove mechanic. Both are the kind where the matches already exist and you have to choose which one to remove. (Think Same Game rather than Bejeweled, but you have to touch all the pieces you want to remove.) It would be interesting to write another post comparing and contrasting those two games, but I’m pretty much done for the evening.

New header and tagline

Today marks the re-launch of I had a bit of a revelation in the car the other day, and realized that both the video games I’ve designed and actually completed are hybrid video games mashed-up with board games. This is a mixture that I wholeheartedly endorse and enjoy, and it’s one that I realized that the name “Chesstris” could also be imagined to embody. Anyway, it’s what I will now endeavor to spend more time examining here.

Chesstris, where board games and video games collide.

To kick off this new era for the site, I thought I’d start with a review of one of the most worthy board games I’ve seen converted to a video game for the iPhone, Carcassonne.

Sure, the Carcassonne app, for iOS has only been around since the beginning of June, but we’ve actually been playing Carcassonne the board game for years in my house. Literally, I’ve been playing Carcassonne longer than I’ve known my wife Florence, which, while it hasn’t actually been that long, feels like pretty much forever. (Not in a bad way, I swear!) I have a bunch of the expansions, and I keep them all together in the special edition wooden box that came with Carcassonne, The City. (The City is actually a stand-alone game, with pieces that are incompatible with the original game. This is the number one reason it is relegated to the closet while we keep the standard game and all its compatible expansions in the living room with the “often played” games.) Anyway, I bought Carcassonne for the iPhone as soon as I heard it was out, and straight away convinced Florence and our friend Angela to play a game with me on the iPad.

Right away I was pretty impressed about how the game didn’t look pixel doubled on the iPad in 2X mode. I was also impressed by what I didn’t experience — frustration with the UI. The User Experience on Carcassonne is pretty darn close to perfect. When you sit down to start listing out the features of this great app, you actually start to get a little overwhelmed with how great it is. It’s no wonder it took a year to make, really. (Incidentally, if you’re a fan of the game, that podcast is well worth a listen, especially if you’re an iOS developer.)
1) They implemented pretty much every kind of multiplayer possible. Pass-and-play on the same device, multi-device on Wifi or bluetooth local networks, internet play with no time limit, and internet play with 60 seconds per turn. There is an invitation system for playing against friends who also have the app, or you can play against random opponents.
2) They built in 6 or 8 different kinds of AI (I forget which), for playing local games on the device.
3) You have a persistent ELO stored, both on your device for local/solo games, and another two — one on the server against friends, and another for playing against those random opponents. Keep in mind, AFAIK, there was no concept of ELO for Carcassonne before this app. (Not to say it didn’t exist, but I didn’t know about it.)
4) Push notifications let you know when it’s your turn to play. This has since become a feature requirement if I make a turn-based iPhone app in the future.
5) This feature, while it may not sound like much, is one of those little details that makes a game feel incredibly highly polished. They could easily have left this out, but I feel certain this was one of those features that someone really felt they had to get in there, and it really adds a lot, in my opinion: On the screen that lists your in-progress games, there is a thumbnail representing the shape of the tiles for that game. This basically “personalizes” each game, and makes the list of games you’re playing feel that much more unique.
6) Can’t forget, there is an entirely new game mode invented for the iPhone app that allows you to play solo against the game, while simultaneously giving you a score at the end that you can compare to everyone else’s score for that particular solo game. (There is one unique set of tiles released each week, or you can play a random set.)

I’m sure there are more features I’m forgetting, but it’s worth mentioning that the game play screen itself is just an amazing piece of touch-based software engineering. It’s got all the standard pinch-and-zoom stuff, and for all the information it’s cramming onto the screen, doesn’t feel cluttered or busy at all.

With no limit that I’ve seen on the number of games you can play, we’ve got about six friends and every permutation of games going. I have a game with Florence and Angela, along with a game with just Angela, and one with just Florence. Then there’s a game with Florence and Angela and Mike, along with a game with just Mike, and of course a game with Mike, Angela, and me, and Mike, Florence and me. You get the idea. I’ll spare you my spelling-out how this scales to include Nate, Roo and Sebastian.

Overall, I have gotten so much more than $5 worth of pleasure out of this app that it’s not even funny. I play Carcassonne on my iPhone as much as, and sometimes more than, I use the Mail app (which I do daily, btw). Carcassonne is not really a hybrid board game / video game, but it’s such a great conversion of one to the other that it’s definitely worth reviewing here. We really enjoy it a lot, and hope you do too!

Master of Tetris

Here is a screenshot of an intriguing new tetris-variant in the app store, Master of Blocks, by Tuomas Pelkonen. I’ve had a chance to try it out, and you don’t get complete cart blanch to drop any old blocks willy-nilly, you basically have to pick from the blocks available, and once you’ve chosen one, you can’t pick that one again until all the others have been chosen. There is also a button to delete a single square that has already been placed.

Probably the most interesting feature of this game is that it supports bluetooth multiplayer, so you can play a head-to-head mode where you choose the blocks for your opponent while they play Tetris, and then they choose the blocks for you. I was confused at first because I didn’t know it was going to switch, and we both had the same score. It might have been hard to balance, but I could have imagined you both getting points for different things while you play that mode, so you didn’t have to play two rounds to figure out who won. My wife and I actually played cooperatively for a while, which was more fun than it probably sounds like it would be. Again, because you can’t give them just whatever pieces you feel like, there is some strategy involved, and furthermore, using the delete-a-square button for good rather than evil was almost as satisfying.

I imagine the game to have been inspired by the College Humor video The Tetris God (which if you haven’t seen it is well worth the watch), in which a merciless god controls the falling of Tetris blocks.

Random tetris linkdump:

  • There was a 4-story tall Tetris game set up at burning man back in 2008. I wish I’d been there to see it, and wonder where it ended up after the event.
  • This screenshot someone took of a tiny tetris called Tetoris (via offworld) is pretty enough that if it were larger I would consider making it my desktop. The game itself reminds me a bit of the slow pace of Sequoia Touch, which has given me renewed pleasure in 2x mode on my iPad.
  • It’s over a year old, but this Tetris bento box looks quite tasty.


Hatetris is a Tetris variant that chooses the worst piece possible and makes you play it. (Via jttiki, but ultimately via BoingBoing.)

I have a lot of respect for the author, Sam Hughes, as he claims he wrote Hatetris in JavaScript because he feared and/or despised it. I also despise JavaScript, but not so much that I want to write Tetris in it. (And anyways, I already wrote Tetris in ActionScript, which sucks as bad or worse than JavaScript. Hughes’ code is much prettier than mine, I looked.)

Philosophical statements aside, Hateris actually succeeds as a game for several reasons. One is that, because the game is not random, getting even one more line than on a previous attempt requires you to try a different tactic, or approach the game with a different strategy. It’s clear that Hughes knows he’s onto something there, because he’s implemented the ability to replay previous games. It’s quite fascinating to watch the current record (22 lines), and analyze the tactics used.

Following various comment threads on Hatetris, I also discovered that there was previously a similar variant called Bastet (bastard tetris–desktop only), and also that there is not just one, but two playable versions of Randall Munroe’s vision of hell.

Update: One of the playable versions of hell links was broken, so it was removed on May 5th, 2017. Thanks to a reader for pointing that out!

More Juggling iPhone apps

Just downloaded a few juggling related iPhone apps.

Kevin Bertman pointed out his recently released iJuggling application in the comments on my last juggling related post. It’s available in the app store now, and I checked it out. My first complaint is that there are no instructions whatsoever. I started playing the game by selecting the “challenge” menu item (the menu was also confusing, but cool once I played with it a bit–all the menu items are placed on one face of a ball with four faces, so you have to rotate it to see all the menu items). Once in the game, 3 balls fell from the top of the screen into two hands awaiting below. Underneath the hands are a couple of circles that I intuitively (and correctly) assumed were to control the hands.

Then I played around for a while, and accidentally threw a ball or two, but I really had no idea what I was doing. The act of throwing a ball seemed so simple, just flick the hand upwards, right? But that’s not how you do it. I went back to the menu thinking maybe if I rotated the ball enough there would be an “instructions” menu item (but there’s not). The closest is a “Setup” that took me to a confusing screen with the same hands as before, but also with some bars above them and Xes that I could move around. I’ll spare you another description of my frustration here, but eventually I figured out that the Xes are a “target area” where you drag the hands in order to throw a ball. The throwing motion is automatic. You just have to take your finger (or thumb) off the target area and the hand will automatically throw. I spent a good ten minutes figuring this out. (Note that the target area isn’t indicated at all on the playing screen, just the setup screen.)

Once I’d established more or less how to throw a ball, getting three of them in the air at once was fairly easy. Catching them and keeping them aloft was a bit more difficult, but I still got the hang of it pretty quick. When I made enough throws, an arrow indicating I could move on to the next level became available. I had A LOT more difficulty with the second level, and now I think I know why. Remember those bars above the hands on the setup screen? They indicate how high the balls will get thrown. On the second level, the bars are much lower, making the throws faster with less time between them. How do I know this? Only because I finally navigated to the “Stats” menu item, which shows you your high scores for each level you’ve played. The level itself is indicated by a small graphic representing the setup screen for that level. The bars are lower on the second level than the first. The third level was 5 balls. Definitely a lot harder than the first or second, but I’ll admit that I only played with it for a few minutes before putting it down to write this review.

iJuggling looks very slick. The graphics aren’t amazing, but they’re good, and there are some nice touches that indicate to me that there was a lot of thought put into them. The hand grab points fade out once you touch them, for example, and the arrow pointing to the next level fills up as you get close to achieving the next level. There is some sound, indicating when a throw and/or catch has been made. It’s simple, but again, doesn’t detract from the experience. The most frustrating thing was in figuring out how to play, and after that the difficulty. I like a good challenge though, and I will definitely play with this again.

One additional note/downer: In iTunes, and on its website iJuggling is billed as the first realistic juggling simulator on the iPhone. While it’s fun, and definitely a juggling game, (a unique one, at that, I think), it definitely wasn’t the first. I thought about also debating whether it’s a simulator, but that’s… well, debatable.

After playing with iJuggling, I searched the app store for juggle, as I indicated in that last post I was going to eventually do. I’ll mention the highlights of what I found here:

JuggleFit Tracker is a free utility that allows you to track your progress (a number and a date) associated with a juggling pattern. You can then allow it to tweet your progress if you like. There are quite a few arbitrary limitations (it only stores 5 progress rows for each pattern–it would have been much cooler to store them all, and maybe graph them over time, for example). But if you’re interested in tracking your juggling, this might be a good place to start. Another nice feature are the “tips” for beginning jugglers. I imagine those are quite useful. And hell, it’s free, so this is probably worth checking out if you’re a regular juggler.

Cat Juggling, while the name and idea are enticing, is not so much a juggling game at all. It’s more one of those games where you have to bounce things in the air. You have two hands to bounce with. So it’s juggling themed. The graphics are really “cute” (I’m sure that’s what they were going for), and I was surprisingly “into” the silly (and repetitive) music track. Also, you get 9 lives, which is funny. There’s not a lot of depth, though it does save some high scores. Probably worth getting for the idea alone, but if you’re not into that, don’t bother.

iCircus – the Juggler actually uses a control scheme the closest (of all these apps) to the juggling game I originally intended to create. The unfortunate thing is that it’s way too hard to control. Like iJuggling, the “catch point” is represented by a hand and offset from the “touch point”, or point your finger touches to control the hand. Unlike iJuggling, the touch point is not shown, and this is a much smaller hand, (the graphic also includes an arm, but it’s not clear how much of the arm can be used to catch, so that’s a hindrance rather than useful).

iCircus – the Juggler also adds breakout-style “stars” that you are trying to throw your balls into while “juggling”. This is actually its saving grace, and the only thing that (probably) makes it worth your $.99. As your ball (you start with only one) passes through the stars, they are collected, and when you get them all, the level is complete. The second level adds a second ball of a second color, and stars are only collected by balls of the same color.

All in all, this makes for some very interesting possibilities, but I found the game almost unplayable with the existing control scheme. I only got to the third level, and only then because the game appeared to take pity on me and allow me to progress without collecting all the stars for the second level.

Polyball also comes up in the app store when you search for juggling. It’s a space themed game similar in gameplay to Cat Juggling, but it has a bit more depth to it (including Open Feint achievements and particle effects). I actually already had this game on my phone because it went down to free back in December, and I had yet to play it. It’s okay if you like that sort of game. A lot like Uggles, which has similar gameplay and depth. (Note that Uggles also comes up when you search for juggling, and it’s about as much juggling as this is. That is to say… kinda sorta maybe to someone who has never juggled before. It’s been widely reviewed, and is probably way more successful than any of these other games, so I’m not giving it its own section.)

There were some other apps in the app store that had juggling in their titles, Cannonball Juggling, Juggle Gears, Juggle Pong, GolfBall Juggle, Picsaw Juggle, but none of them were really juggling. (Or they were that other soccer meaning of the word juggle.) This concludes my informal survey of the state of juggling apps in the app store. Enjoy!

Awesome and new-to-me Internet Tetris variants

First Person Tetris has clearly been making the rounds. (I’ve had three separate people tell me about it in the last week.) Basically, the whole screen rotates and moves while the current piece remains stationary in the center of the screen. I was actually surprised at how easy this was to play, intuitive even. Ultimately though, it’s still Tetris, with nothing terribly different about it, so it’s probably got a fairly limited replay value.

Tuper Tario Tros is tetris meets mario bros. You can also find it on Kongregate. From the developer’s description:

We were playing some Xbox Live games during lunchtime. Guillaume was really excited about “Lucidity” and the idea of playing a “Tetris platform” game… but he finally felt disapointed by the concept.

So, Guillaume decided to create a little Tetris plateformer for fun. William came with the idea to mix up Tetris with another well know game: Super Mario Bros.

This is interesting to me, because I also tried out (and was a tad bit disappointed with) the much hyped Lucidity. It’s definitely very pretty, but the gameplay just felt a bit lacking. Anyway, Tuper Tario Tros is a novel idea. You are basically just playing standard Mario Bros, but then a popup tells you you can switch into tetris mode by hitting the space bar. Then it’s up to you to build the 2d platforms for Mario to traverse using Tetris pieces. Eventually you reach the end of the level, and the gameplay switches to another mode entirely. Those folks at SwingSwing Submarine did a great job of creating not one but two new and interesting gameplay types out of it. The first part is relatively short, so I’d recommend sticking with it until you finish it so you see the second one. Good stuff.

3D Stereogram Tetris has probably been around the longest of these three. When I sent it out at work, one of my coworkers said she’d been playing it for years. It’s exactly like a Stereogram image, where you have to cross your eyes correctly to see the game, and I found out that gives me a headache after a very short amount of time. I only recently discovered this painful Tetris variant a few months back, and it deserves a place on any list of Tetris variants, for novelty alone.

It bears mentioning that Wikipedia has a nice page listing many official Tetris Variants, (I may have linked to this before) but the page doesn’t seem to have any flash games on it, and is most useful when trying to remember which version of tetris existed for which console system. I briefly toyed with adding these, and possibly Go-Tetris to the page, but I think adding my game would be against Wikipedia’s TOS.

iPhone Developer’s Library App reviewed

The iPhone Developer’s Library App (appstore link) contains an great set of e-books that any cocoa developer would be proud to have on their phone: Programming in Objective-C 2.0, by Stephen Kochan, Cocoa Programming for Mac OS X, by Aaron Hillegass, and The iPhone Developer’s Cookbook: Building Applications with the iPhone SDK, by Erica Sadun. There can be no question that this is a great selection of books, so I focused my review on the e-book reader itself, which contains some bonus features for developers that make it really shine.

Unfortunately, some of those features can be a bit difficult to figure out at first. When I launched the app, I expected to see a menu or a help button. I think this reader in particular could even have given me a brief tutorial when I first launched the app. Regardless, there is a help screen, but you have to get all the way into reading a book before you can get to it. Click into the book you want to read, then click past the table of contents, and only then you can tap the center of the screen to bring up the menu. From here the Q&A style help screen is accessible by touching the question mark icon in the upper right. I know I wanted to read this first.

Once I got started actually reading one of the books, things were pretty much as I’d expect from any e-book reader. The main exception to this is that clicking on an image, a link or a bit of code requires a touch-and-hold method. This is indicated nicely with a sort of shrinking border around the item you are selecting. I think this was probably implemented to avoid accidentally opening something when you meant to page forward through the book, but I found myself avoiding those types of things instinctively when touching to turn a page, so I think it would be nice if that was configurable someday. I also found the length you have to hold before one of these opens (two, maybe three seconds) seems a bit on the long side.

Speaking of configuration, the settings screen has three different tabs full of configurable items, but still somehow felt bare to me. Most of the settings were on the “Appearance” tab, which consisted entirely of color options, but I missed the ability (common in e-book readers) to simply reverse all the colors to view white text on black instead of the default black on white.

I was pleasantly surprised to note that clicking a link opens a browser page without leaving the app, but still gives you the ability to open the link in safari. Clicking an image opens the image in what might also be Safari for all intents and purposes, allowing you to scroll and zoom in a recognizable fashion. Clicking on a bit of code opens the much-touted “code view”, which I found to be a very nice addition. Essentially this allows you to scroll and zoom (via a text-size slider) a given piece of code. You can copy and paste the text here, but more practical is the ability to email it to yourself for use on your mac.

Now I’ve got a lot of reading to do.

Juggling Games, including Wii Fit Plus!

As anyone who knows me well can tell you, I’ve been a prolific juggler at various stages in my life. I was president of the Juggling Club at the University of MN for about 2 and 1/2 years, and I’ve juggled on and off for at least 17 years now. That’s the main reason that I tend to pick up any new juggling and/or circus related games that appear on the market. They’re usually terrible, but I have a small collection, for various ancient consoles mostly, and now, increasingly, for the iPhone.

Read on for some mii juggling in Wii Fit Plus, and some iPhone mini-reviews. Continue reading

3D Tetris Variations & Polycubes

3dtetris_1I recently purchased a Virtual Boy from ebay. I did this not because I’d had a virtual boy when I was a child, or because I’d always wanted one, but because I found out there are not one, but TWO versions of Tetris for the system, one of which is completely in 3D. Well, actually, since they are for the virtual boy, they are both viewed in 3D, but the game titled 3D Tetris consists of actual 3D pieces in a 3D playing field. (I scoured the internet to find this screenshot, so you’d better appreciate it.) The Virtual Boy version of 3D Tetris is just okay. I think the controls are pretty good, but there isn’t much depth to the gameplay, and I hate to say it, I really wish there were some way to save my game. You do get to pick a level to start from, and choose a difficulty. If you start on easy, the game is really easy. It mostly just gives you pieces that are made up of 3 or less squares.

3dtetrisThis wasn’t the first time I’d played a version of 3D tetris, however. In fact, not more than a few years ago (possibly as many as 5), there was a time when I was SERIOUSLY addicted to 3DTRIS which is a flash implementation of this type of 3D Tetris, playable in your web browser. I think this relatively simple flash implementation gets a lot of things right. It may have been one of the first high score lists I’d ever seen that keeps track of scores for “the last 24 hours” and “the last 30 days” in separate lists.

But I don’t think even the flash game was the first place I’d played 3D Tetris. Way back in high school, I remember distinctly discovering a version of 3D Tetris called Welltris. I’m not sure if I even understood it enough to play it. Looking at the screenshots now, I’m still not sure I know what’s going on exactly. I also didn’t know if Welltris was the first version of 3D Tetris ever made, so I did some google searching, and it looks like both Welltris (pictured above and including game’s designer, Alexey Pajitnov who was also the developer of Tetris), and another game called Blockout (pictured below, and obviously a more direct ancestor of all these modern 3D Tetris variants) were both released in 1989. I have no idea which was first, and it was probably close enough that it doesn’t matter.

Enter today, when I reluctantly purchased Polycubes on my iPhone for ninety-nine cents. I say reluctantly, because it’s hard for me to justify purchasing games that are obvious clones of games I could be playing in flash… for free. The flash games were obviously first, (although just as obviously still clones) and I have this inclination to distrust developers that just make clones of already-existing games. (Flash games are somehow different because they’re free to play. I see it as sort of the democratization of video games.) Anyway, there are so many game possibilities out there, why make a game that already exists? (There are actually tons of reasons to do so financially, but that’s a topic best left for another post.) Anyway, let it suffice to say that curiosity overcame my disinclination, and within minutes, I had absolutely no regrets.

Polycubes is pretty no-frill at this point. I’m really hoping the developer decides to add some more features. I’d give at least my pinky toe to see the piece coming up, for instance. I’d also like a way to access the high scores, and I’d give out huge bonus points if there were any sort of online high score tracking. Right now I think it’s supposed to tell you if there is a higher or lower score already played with the same game configuration, but even that doesn’t appear to be working for me. (Either that, or the fact that the game doesn’t remember your previous game settings is making it impossible for me to play the same configuration more than once.) This leads nicely into the main reason why I’m particularly impressed with this implementation. I guess at least some versions of Blockout also have this ability, but on the configuration screen (the only other screen other than the game itself) you can choose the size of the gameplay area, the starting level, and also choose from three different types of pieces to play with, simple, medium, or complex. That leads to a whole heck of a lot of gameplay possibilities. Dialing the playing field up to 16×16 is almost unplayable, but totally fun at the same time.

I’m clearly a geek for this sort of stuff, but I have no regrets about picking up Polycube, and neither should you. Not to mention, hey, it’s A LOT cheaper than buying a Virtual Boy on ebay!

two of my favorite “indie” iPhone games

In some strange cosmic coincidence, both DropOut and Claustrophobia had updates released this evening into the app store. These are both incredible action puzzle games that I have spent lots of time with, and both are games that I’ve meant to write about here, and just hadn’t yet found time. Both games are also deceptively simple in concept, but lead to some really fun tetris-like brain burning when you’re in the middle of a good long game. So, in alphabetical order:

claustrophobiaClaustrophobia, by David Leblond, is a collapse-like color/shape match-3 game (the shapes are new in this update). You’ve basically got a bar in the middle of the screen, and that’s where you’re releasing your blocks from. Blocks can either launch upwards or fall downwards, and if they hit or make a group of two or more of the same color/shape, then that group is removed from the game. If blocks are left without anything underneath them (or above them), they’ll fall, and in the case of the top gameplay area, they’ll fall all the way down to the bottom gameplay area, possibly scoring you big points, or possibly just mucking things up for you down there. The game’s namesake comes from the fact that both the top and bottom blocks are moving continually toward the middle, and when either of them reach it, that’s game over. There are special types of blocks that slow or speed up the block movement, and some of the strategy comes from knowing when to use or avoid them.

For a very, very brief period of time (two days, I think?) I had the high score on the “Normal” game mode of Claustrophobia. David took that score back from me shortly thereafter, although neither he nor I can come close to the scores getting submitted for “Easy” mode. Go figure.

dropoutDropOut, by Curt Stein, also involves falling blocks, but you don’t control when they get released, they just fall all at once, as the row at the top of the screen fills up. If you have any column of blocks all the way to the top of the screen (thus blocking any part of that row from falling), then the game vibrates at you angrily a few times before game over. You can move the blocks that have already fallen either left or right, and they’ll wrap around the sides of the screen. Whenever a group of 4 or more blocks of the same color is made, those blocks are removed from the game scoring you points and making combos.

DropOut also has both bad and good special blocks, the good ones have stars on them and are basically just worth extra points (but they’ll fall off the bottom of the game if you let them get all the way down to the last row). There are also locked blocks, that prohibit the movement of their entire row. This is where the strategy comes in, and the game transcends a simple one-dimensional Yoshi’s Cookie clone. DropOut can get really intense after you’ve played for even just a few minutes, and I found myself getting done with a game and realizing I’d just been playing one game after another for over an hour.

For about a week after the game’s release, I also had the global high score for DropOut.

Both of these games are super fun, and well worth picking up. I’ve actually emailed back and forth with both developers, and they have been super approachable, and given me the advice I’d been asking for in regards to my own iPhone development. I’m excited to play with the updates and see what’s been changed. Highly, highly recommended.