Critical Mass

If one were to judge a game based on screenshots alone, Critical Mass would most likely be wrongly accused of crimes against Rubik's Cubes.

But being a fair-minded individual, I listened to the appeal for clemency from developer Manic Game Studios and instantly absolved Critical Mass of all charges against it.

Foolish childhood prejudices are swept away as you're drawn into what amounts to the systematic clickfest destruction of a meddlesome three-dimensional cluster of cubes.

Via the magic of match-three mechanics (well, match-four-or-more if we're striving for correctness), your task is to reunite individual cubes with their like-coloured friends, and try to swiftly eliminate whole lot in the process. If you don't, the angry clusters shake, expand and explode right in your face. Charming.


The only solution to this malaise? Start over and do better next time with swift, precision placement.

You're aided in this frantic process by a slick control system that enables you to rotate the playing field by holding down the left mouse button and dragging in any given direction. Once you're set, placing new cubes into the fray is just a matter of pointing and clicking.

Beyond that, the only limit is your reaction time, and levels come and go in a blur of furrowed, block-dropping concentration.

With progression comes complication; the 'reward' is an increasingly elaborate array of structures to systematically dismantle. Rare power-ups help take some of the heat away when it really matters, but most of the time it's down to you to stem the tide.

And once you've had your fill of the level-based Classic mode, three more (Survival, Rush and Meditation) add further means of losing your day.

Despite - or possibly because of - its simple premise, Critical Mass is a game that's hard to put down once you get into a groove, and its a game we're likely to see a lot more of on handheld platforms once word gets around.


Vertex Dispenser

  • PC and Mac (Steam) - £6.99. Free demo available.

Sometimes a game comes so far out of left field, there's no easy way to sum it up without making it sound like an exercise in wilful obfuscation - so bear with me on this one.

Creators Smestorp describes Vertex Dispenser, rather chillingly, as "an abstract real-time strategy game with mathematical puzzle elements." Possibly not the way I'd have sold it, but it's accurate, if instantly off-putting.

Appearances can be deceptive. In rather simpler terms, it's essentially a quick-fire land-grab affair, where the main goal of each level is to capture 'territory' by moving a ship around a geometric surface and taking on rival ships.

If at first you don't succeed, tri, tri again.

Capturing tiles is simply a case of directing your ship between vertices (the interconnecting blobs) and joining up each side. Once you do so on all three sides, the territory becomes yours and colours in accordingly.

While you're busy whizzing around, painting each territorial slice, a number of special abilities become available, and deploying them with timely efficiency is an increasingly necessary part of tipping the territorial tug of war in your favour.

Some, for example, act as defensive sentries to ward off incoming threats, while others enable you to soften up enemy territory to make it easier to capture, or perhaps instantly capture all surrounding tiles in one fell swoop. Meanwhile, your opponent(s) are all busy doing the same thing, so it can take a concerted effort before they eventually succumb.

Once you've got the basic mechanics down, Vertex Dispenser settles into a relatively comfortable groove - as comfortable as it can be to occupy abstract geometric shapes. And with campaign and puzzle modes to conquer and team-based multiplayer to explore, it's a concentrated dose of twisted real-time strategy for your money.


About the author

Kristan Reed

Kristan Reed


Kristan is a former editor of Eurogamer, dad, Stone Roses bore and Norwich City supporter who sometimes mutters optimistically about Team Silent getting back together.

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