App of the Day: Call Connect
As a personal thing - and I'll admit up front that there are plenty of exceptions - I tend not to be too bothered by most of the stories that games tell. Who am I jumping on, and where do I have to go next? Those are the kind of narrative concerns created by the platformers I grew up loving, and while the odd smartly-written RPG or shooter has worked its way through my defences since then, that simple setup is almost always enough for me.
Context, however, is crucial. Context can make a good game great or a poor game worse. On the App Store, with its split-second purchasing decisions and make-or-break icons - never buy an app with a lousy icon - it's more important than ever, and no recent game has driven this home to me quite as clearly as Call Connect.
Call Connect is a colour-matching puzzler, which would be entirely acceptable by itself, I guess. Happily, it dresses its colour-matching up a little and turns you into a switchboard operator at a phone company. That's the power of context.
Suddenly, everything's a little more intense. You can imagine yourself in your roller chair and your pencil skirt - just me? - smoking a Dunhill with some heavy, Bakelite headset paraphernalia clamped over your ears. There you are, plugging in leads, transferring people and handling enquiries with a world-weary drawl. My mum's first job when she left school in the '60s was manning a switchboard. I have no idea why, but switchboards remain one of those things that, when you see them in a film, makes you remember how indefinably cool the 20th century could be when it wasn't pumping out toxic waste or unleashing genocide.
The setup also creates just enough fiction to make Call Connect an extremely nervy affair. These are real people waiting on the line, buddy. This is complex equipment that you might be shorting out. The central mechanic's pretty simple - drag a red jack to a flashing socket and a black jack to a socket of a specified colour to connect a call, and remove them once they're no longer needed - but the pace quickly becomes overwhelming.
After a few minutes, you'll have cables stretched all over the board: spots will be flashing indicating new connection have to be made, old connections will be smoking and sizzling suggesting they need to be unplugged. You're being hectored from all angles, there's no kind of rhythm you can settle into, the efficiency dial is twitching, your multiplier is dropping - where are my sodding Dunhills?
Years ago, I saw an old silent documentary film about city living, in which footage of turn-of-the-century switchboarders was intercut with shots of barking dogs. The switchboard is the central nervous system of the modern life, the film seemed to be suggesting, and isn't it amazing that we haven't all gone mad? The highest compliment that I can pay Call Connect, then, is that it almost certainly will drive you mad. It will take you to the brink, and it may even hold your head - with your fancy Bakelite earpieces - over the edge a little.
So, yes, it's weird that my mum's entry-level job is now a game that I'll willingly pay 69p to try out myself, but perhaps that's where things are going these days. After all, there are so many puzzlers fighting for your time, it's up to you to make the right connections.
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.