Chains

1

We’ve all played your basic match-three puzzle game before. In a world full of Snood, Bejeweled and Hexic copycats, the puzzle genre suffers from a lack of cleverness. Often these big name publishers forget to capitalize on what truly makes a game enjoyable: creativity, innovation and honest fun. Those things are the elements on which independent game developers thrive. It allows them to create fantastic, unique titles that continue to define what a game is and keep the foundation in tact for the overall growth of the industry.

Ivan Trayko’s Chains is a title that takes the match-three puzzle genre and puts an entirely new spin on the concept. By far the most entertaining game I’ve reviewed to date for Test Freaks, I had difficulty closing the program so I could write this review. The design is simple, it’s straightforward, and it’s utterly clever; ingredients that develop it into a stellar title that gives you a fantastic experience playing a tried-and-true puzzle platform in an all new and fresh setting. Addictive. Fun. Awesome.


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Specifications:

Chains

Chains is a puzzle game with a unique feel and distinctive vector graphics style. The object of the game is simple – to link adjacent bubbles of the same color into chains. As you progress through the physics-driven stages it becomes increasingly more challenging and your speed, strategy and skill will be put to the test.

Demo only includes the first five levels. For just $9.95 you can get the full version of the game with 20 levels, more music, art and hours of fun.

Features:
20 levels each focusing on action, strategy or flow
· Physics-driven gameplay
· 3 difficulty modes
· Colorblind option
· Up to 15 player profiles
· Unique art direction with beautiful vector graphics
· Soundtrack from the Belgian electro band Silence
· Unlimited replayability value

Installation is simple on the PC – Nothing more to it than opening the .exe file and letting the little 16MB game install itself.

So what makes this title so unique from the bevy of match-three puzzlers out there? Plenty.

The name Chains is a great choice for the game, as everything relies on building chains of matching colored circles. It is a balance of physics, as the environment changes around your task, and strategy to do the required task for the level. The vector graphics are distinct and help you focus on what you’re doing, not be distracted by a game striving to be more graphically advanced than is necessary.

Each level has an entirely different goal. In the first level, you simply aim to clear 100 orbs, and it is set up as an introduction to playing the game. You remove orbs by dragging your cursor across three (or more) nearby colors and watch them vanish. In the second level, you have to eliminate 100 orbs without losing any (as the platform is a giant tipping scale). Others require you to keep a constant flow of orbs coming down a stream, balancing two sides of a scale without letting orbs drop, make a chain of a particular number of orbs, keep the level going without losing a piece, and so on. This variety gives the game tons of ingenuity and replay value. It doesn’t leave you stuck doing the same thing over and over with different time limits or on a shifting backdrop, like many match-three puzzlers. It is 20 unique levels, able to be played over and over again individually.

All the above ensures that you develop some sort of strategy for getting through each level, while having a speedy hand and eye to make it possible. Add to that the orbs come through all the levels in different sizes, and there is brain-work involved in keeping track of them all and working with them to meet your goal. Not only does all the above help the replay value, but there are multiple difficulty levels, and the game remembers your high scores and longest chain totals, letting you know when you beat them on future playthroughs.

Again, the graphics are barebones. They are only what is fundamentally necessary for each level. There is a background of varying weirdness, the contraption your orbs will be working with, and then the orbs themselves. Personally I love it. The text is old-school 8-bit font that speaks well to the overall appeal. The only problem with the text is that since many backgrounds change colors, occasionally the instruction text that pops up at the beginning of each level with your goal will get a little lost in the image behind.

The controls are pretty good. A simple drag selects the orbs, and if you have three or more when you let go, they go too. If you build a chain and decide you don’t like it before you ‘submit’ it, you can right-click and undo what you’ve created. That is, of course, only useful if you are in a level where time is not an issue.

The sound in this game is another great part of the experience and is better than you’ll often find in an independent title. It really adds value to the product. A Belgian band called “Silence” provided the soundtrack and their music is of the Euro electro variety. Most of the songs are fantastic and very fitting for the pace of the game.

The only real negative about Chains could be the length. It is 20 levels, but some go by real fast. Once you get real good at the game, I’d imagine they go by even faster. After a couple hours, you’ll have gone through all of them and will have to ramp up the difficulty or repeat play for new challenges.

Conclusion:

Chains is a fantastic independent title that offers tons of variety, boasts great music and design, and gives players an all-new performance from a classic puzzle format. It does everything you want an indie game to do, and ultimately succeeds because it focuses on creativity and fun above all else.

8

Pros:
Very original gameplay
Awesome soundtrack
Every level is something different

Cons:
Overall length
Graphics, while not a true con, will turn some people away.

Grades:  
Overall score-8-10
Design score-8-10
Performance score-8-10
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