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App of the Day: Slydris

Lateral damage.

A one-man studio turning out sharp, inventive shooters like Inferno and Super Crossfire with alarming regularity, radiangames - aka former Volition designer Luke Schneider - should be something of an App Store phenomenon by now. He probably would be, in fact, if anyone bothered to buy his games.

Sure, Schneider must be earning enough to keep plugging away, but so far he's inexplicably failed to trouble the iOS charts. Perhaps that explains the change of tack, but whether it's simple economics or whether he just fancied a change, Slydris perhaps represents Schneider's best shot at success so far.

It neatly falls into the current trend towards more sedate, thoughtful puzzlers. As in the likes of SpellTower, Triple Town and Drop7, the focus is on taking your time and planning ahead. It's all about what you do before you put your finger on the screen as the last action of a carefully constructed strategy. Here, this combines beautifully with the traditionalist line-clearing approach of a Tetris to make something that's both familiar and intriguingly new.

Blocks fall from the top of the screen, then, but only when you allow them to, and indeed, they're rarely your focus. Instead, you spend most of your time scanning the lines within the gulley and looking for ways to create a solid line of blocks in order to remove it from the field of play.

Each turn is but a single lateral slide of a single tile, but if you've positioned your rows wisely you may be able to trigger a chain reaction, so that when you clear a line the row above will fall and create another. In my experience, that's usually pure happenstance rather than brilliant forward-thinking, but when the special blocks appear - tiles that can't be shifted, or that refuse to fall any further after the first drop - you'll happily accept these moments of good fortune. Your only other assistance comes in the form of a bomb which clears three lines of your choice - assuming you've cleared enough lines to earn it, that is.

It's at once relaxed and brilliantly tense, but if you'd rather have less of the latter and more of the former, there's a Zen mode that proves worryingly hypnotic. The combination of a chiming piano-led soundtrack and no fail state turns it into the kind of idle pastime it's easy to lose entire afternoons to.

On the other hand, if it all sounds a bit too sedate, Survival mode ups the stakes by dropping several new lines every ten seconds, forcing you into a scramble to clear as many existing tiles as you can. It's a tremendous change of pace that flips the game on its head, requiring quick digits rather than a sharp mind. It reminded me of the DS puzzler Meteos, although frenzied sliding isn't half as likely to help you here.

It benefits, too, from radiangames' typically pristine aesthetic, a style which can at times seem antiseptic, but which fits beautifully here. But looking good is the least of its achievements. This is a puzzle game that can stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best of the genre, a game that has the longevity and depth of Drop7 without being quite so chilly or austere. It's almost certainly Schneider's best to date, and if this doesn't elevate him to the big league, I'm not sure what will.

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. For daily app coverage, check out our sister site Modojo.

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