Nobody remembers Tetris 2. It's hard to even imagine somebody trying to reinvent Tetris, but apparently it’s very common. None of these spin-offs / knock-offs are remembered as anything but bloated messes — Tetris with bombs? Colour matching? Hats? Their designers failed to see how much effort goes into simplicity.

I can imagine the creators of Stickets being tempted to add more. Like Tetris or iOS favourite Drop7, it sounds far too simple and dry on the page: “Place pieces down to create groups of coloured tiles.” That’s not an easy sell, especially for an app market filled with hundreds of puzzle games. I can imagine a beta version with colourful animals. Instead they stuck with a spartan, clean design.

But the gameplay is so good, why risk distracting from it? Each match starts with a sparse, blank five-by-five grid. Lining the bottom are your pieces, each a different combination of three different coloured blocks. Place a piece down and another replaces it. The goal is to arrange the pieces so that three of the same colour are touching, and then to simply tap them away. But usually I get myself trapped in a corner, or cursing when a piece I need hasn't come up yet. The deceptive simplicity of Stickets draws me in game after game.

Stickets also has a timed mode. Space is no longer the enemy. Each time a set of blocks is placed down, they start to shrink out of existence, and if they disappear before matched, one of 12 lives are lost. Managing to get a match of four or more blocks of the same colour earns back some lives. It's a clever remix of the original mode, and just as vital. The soothing airy music of “space mode” takes on a slight urgent beat here. The timed mode requires the same level of thoughtfulness, but both punishes and rewards speed.  Place too many pieces down too quickly and you'll lose a bunch of lives at the same time.

I'll admit, there is a third mode, titled “puzzle,” that I haven't even unlocked, despite obsessive playing. Perhaps that's the game's only misstep, making the scores one has to achieve to unlock new modes unnecessarily high. Everything else about the game feels right. It is uncompromising, and smart even though it plays so simply. There are quite a few games that take seconds to learn, and years to master, but there are a few that make me want to stay with them for that long.   

Rating: 4.5/5
Designer: Harry Lee
Developer / Publisher: Wanderlands
Platform: iOS

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