App of the Day: Puzzlejuice

The mind boggles.

Version tested iPhone

With its crisp design-agency visuals, electro sounds and ingratiating, streetwise chatter - it will "punch your brain in the face" and is "rad", apparently - Puzzlejuice is the image of a slick, fashionable iPhone game. Underneath, however, it's just the kind of improvised, cut-and-shut piece of bedroom game-making that has been beaten out of mainstream games, but that the mobile marketplaces excel at.

Developer Colaboratory clearly belongs to the A-Team school of game design. If you can make a serviceable armoured car out of a golf cart and a fridge, why not try making a new game by sticking two existing and completely unrelated concepts together? So Puzzlejuice welds a Boggle-style word game to Tetris in the most blunt manner imaginable, bolts on a few leftover components of Bejeweled, and bursts triumphantly through the suspiciously feeble locked garage door of your mind. The result is as crudely effective as you'd imagine.

It's simple: slot the falling Tetrominos (though smaller three-block pieces do appear on the easier difficulty) together by rotating, dragging and dropping in the time-honoured fashion. However, once you've completed a row it doesn't disappear, but turns into letters. You then have to make words of three letters or longer out of these to clear the screen and earn points.

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Surprisingly for a visually simple game, when things get busy, Puzzlejuice has a tendency for slowdown on my trusty 3GS.

You're given the maximum flexibility for word-making; you can link letters in all eight directions and change course at any point mid-word. This is both a blessing and a curse, expanding your options but taxing your visual recognition to the max - the best potential words are extremely hard to spot in the alphabetic tangle. Bear in mind that you're having to divide your attention between this and slotting the falling blocks together as they rain down with increasing speed.

Thankfully, making words clears all adjacent blocks in an explosion. On the default 'hard' mode, any word does this, but on the tougher 'Euro Extreme' (which you will probably graduate to on your first play), only words of five letters and longer do. Occasionally, power-ups drop that help out when cleared by exploding, freezing dropping blocks, drilling through tiles and so on; you unlock these by clearing objectives, such as chaining 20 words of at least four letters in length.

Finally, there's a match-three element, where tapping groups of three or more blocks of the same colour will turn them into letters, which can be a life-saver when you can't find a word or fill a row.

There's plenty going on in Puzzlejuice, then, so much that it doesn't really need permutations - and sure enough, the 90-second Zen Mode Extreme score attack seems superfluous. The game must play beautifully on an iPad, but on a phone's screen, making words is a little fiddly; a text-editing-style "picture in picture" magnifying glass helps, but failing the game because you can't make a word you can see quickly enough is galling. It's the only way Puzzlejuice frustrates that's not intentional.

It's a real mental plate-spinning exercise - you need to balance the tactical creation of scoring opportunities against time spent looking for words and the constant, nagging need to slot falling blocks and clear dangerous towers. Puzzlejuice creates challenge by making you do three or four simple things at once; as such, it's an enjoyably stern test, but one without a great deal of balance, integrity or elegance in the design. For 1.99, the legions of puzzle masochists won't care.

App of the Day highlights interesting games we're playing on the Android, iPad, iPhone and Windows Phone 7 mobile platforms, including post-release updates. If you want to see a particular app featured, drop us a line or suggest it in the comments.

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