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Apple Arcade Review – Three Puzzle Games

Spire Blast - Puzzler on Apple Arcade

As we move through more of our reviews for Apple Arcade releases, we are finding that some titles are more like their free-to-play brethren. In light of that, we will include some mini-reviews of games from similar genres, as we play our way through every release on Apple Arcade. For this week’s review we are looking at three titles; Cut the Rope Remastered, Simon’s Cat – Story Time, and Spire Blast. Be sure to check Otakukart News in the near future for a weekly article on overall rankings for all Apple Arcade releases, which we will be keeping updated throughout these reviews.

The puzzle genre as a whole received widespread notoriety back in the mid-’80s with the release of Tetris, on the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES), and captivated the minds of many, with its slick design and catchy tunes. Over the years we have seen a number of puzzle games, with Dr. Mario (NES), Puzzle Quest (for almost every system released), to the more recent Candy Crush Saga. I remembered most of my friends being casually acquainted with these puzzlers but was astonished to find how popular they had truly become. Candy Crush Saga is the most profitable game of all time. Let that sink in for a few moments. Of. All. Time. It has grossed almost $7.5 Billion since its release in 2012.

I look back on all the games I have played over the years, and don’t think apart from World of Warcraft, that any title has even come close to eclipsing that much revenue. The highest selling, single titles of all time are Minecraft (sold over 200 million copies), Grand Theft Auto V (selling 145 million copies), and third on the list was Tetris, selling 100 million units. It seems the ease and casual style of puzzle games, make it a simple decision to create them for a mobile device. Apple Arcade saw the value in these titles and decided to add some to the platform.

Their implementation, at their very core, is odd, to say the least. It is such a strange experience to be stuck on a level in one of these titles, trying to achieve three stars, and not getting advertisements popping up to just spend $0.99 for a stimulus package to beat the level that is not as random as we were led to believe. It seems a lot easier to complete the levels in these titles, especially because we, not time-gated with a resource like energy, stifling us from attempting levels over and over again.

Once more, our success in these levels does earn us a currency (usually gold coins), that we can redeem for even more items to assist us in conquering these games. We have decided to list these in order of enjoyment, and we start with a re-release of an older App Store game, Cut the Rope: Remastered.

Cut the Rope Remastered

Cut the Rope Remastered, is a remastered version of the highly popular title released back in October 2010, that followed the zany attempts of Om Nom, a green cutesy character, with expressive eyes who is on a mission to eat candy. Our part in this sugary scheme is to feed the candy we obtain in each level, and if we are unsuccessful, Om Nom’s adorable expressions of utter pain and agony are on full display, reminding us of our blunders and failures. Each level is packed with 3 stars and pieces of candy, which we must collect the stars prior to feeding Om Nom. The original release was a free-to-play title with 425 levels, spread across multiple chapters. Looking at the cost of Apple Arcade ($4.99 per month) makes this game’s inclusion, shocking, to say the least.

Currently, if you download Cut the Rope in the App Store (the original version of the game), you have an option to subscribe to a monthly service, which disables Advertisements, In-App Purchases, and provides you with free items and daily bonuses. This subscription tier starts at $4.99 a month (rising all the way to $19.99 a month), which is the entire price for Apple Arcade. Price alone makes the transition to Apple Arcade a seeming no-brainer. Upon launching the game, you are thrust into an overworld view of different chapters of Om Nom’s life, and you traverse level by level, feeding Om Nom sugary confection at every turn. The premise is straightforward. You must feed Om Nom where ever he is, sending him the pieces of candy to advance past each level, but you are also graded on the number of stars that you collect.

Cut the Rope Remastered Level

Stars are where the difficultly lies. Each piece of candy is suspended by ropes, that you must cut (hence the clever name of the game), but by using gravity, the candy will swing and collect stars. The goal is then two-fold; send all the candy towards Om Nom, while collecting all three stars. The starting levels are easy of course, but later levels became increasingly difficult. Once you have unlocked the first chapter, they introduce another collectible; the pink star. These stars are added to levels already completed and increase the difficulty by asking to you collect four stars. Not every level has these, but it does make the game more challenging. The gameplay is intuitive and responsive, and the later puzzles are quite challenging, as they constantly add new mechanics for you to conquer.

The story is spread out over five chapters, and each increasing in difficulty. It’s a fun, lighthearted puzzler, which thankfully isn’t tethering itself to my bank account, to beat chapter 3, level 17. And herein lies the negative to a game like this, on the Apple Arcade. There is no addictive quality to keep me coming back for more. The puzzles are difficult, probably more so than any of these games featured in this article, but I wasn’t as drawn to Om Nom’s adventures as I was the other two titles.

Simon’s Cat – Story Time

Simon’s Cat follows the exploits of a likable character named Simon, and his army of snarky cats, lead by the snarkiest of snarky cats, Cat. Yes, the sidekick to our hero is named Cat. Simon’s other cat is named Kitty. Yes, Simon loves his cats. This is a standard free-to-play game (inspired by Homescapes, a match-3 puzzler, whereupon completing levels, you are fixing up the house) that was converted into an Apple Arcade Title. Each level is made up of different colored blocks, but rather than make matches to eliminate pieces from the game board, you select a color, and all the corresponding pieces are removed as long as they are adjacent to each other.

Upon completing a level you are awarded gold (based upon the completion and number of moves remaining) and one golden cat star. The gold is used for buying additional moves to continue a level (250 coins per level), and the stars are used to further the story. The music and art are relaxing, to say the least, and although the puzzles get more difficult in later levels, I never felt that there were any cheap, paywall mechanics (of course these were all removed in order to be offered on the Apple Arcade). The levels I failed were because of my own hubris or lack of planning, not some arbitrary force thwarting my efforts. Throughout the game you do earn items that can help with some of the tougher puzzles, because I wasn’t expending energy each and every attempt, I avoided using most of them. Later on in the adventure, you will come across levels the game deems as “Hard,” in which case I felt the need to use coins for more moves.

One of the more challenging levels in Simon’s Cat – Story Time, a puzzle game on Apple Arcade

We briefly mentioned the gold stars, but the story is really what drives this game. The puzzles themselves were fun, but nothing too memorable. We had to make matches near rocks, bubbles, dandelions, etc. (typical boilerplate objectives), but I found myself being more inclined to tackle these challenges because I wanted to see more of the story, not in spite of the story. In my mind, this is what prompted the change from the free-to-play app, to Apple Arcade exclusive. The story is full of one-liners, and great deviously nefarious thoughts from the cats when they are posed questions; like when Simon exasperatedly asks Cat what they are going to do about the shady construction manager, Cat imagines a baseball bat as a sensible solution, or when Cat wants to fill every available empty pot with catnip, to lazily sleep the day away.

As you progress through more of the story, you get gold or items as rewards, and you can use those to further your adventure. The dialogue, and the fact that Simon’s Cat feels expressive, and has human thoughts, emotions, and reactions to what his owner is telling him, bring this story to life. The animations are subtle and charming, and really add a lot to the experience. The music is vibrant, and a perfect pairing to the visual aesthetic, although, after long play sessions, the sound of the birds chirping can grind on your senses.

Just one example of the zany dialogue in Simon’s Cat – Story Time

One of my only complaints about the story is that upon completing Chapter 1, you have to go back through the story to find the Hidden Gnomes. It isn’t merely a quick jaunt; you have to listen through (inevitably we just hold the button to skip the story) the entire story again, to find the gnomes. I was tempted to wait to experience the story until the second go-round, after having to re-watch the entire Chapter One story just for a few pieces of gold (most of the Chapter One gnomes give a whopping 10 gold).

For such an efficient game, I wish we would have had the option after Chapter One, to freely explore the backyard to find all the Gnomes at once, rather than having to wade through so many load screens and re-watching stories. Additionally, if playing with a controller, there is no simple way to select the gnomes, so I had to resort to using the touch screen. Again, these minor nuances do take away from the overall appeal.

I wish this was more intuitive, and it felt gritty having to go back and re-watch stories. The deftly ease at which Simon repairs his home is a real-life power I wish I could obtain. Within seconds, greenhouses and ponds are instantly revitalized. If somehow all of life’s problems could be solved through some match-3, puzzle goodness, the world would be a better place. Until then, I will simply aspire to find out how Simon bankrolled this entire operation, while never seeming to work. Until then, this tidbit from Heather will tide us over; “Knowledge is knowin’ a tomato is a fruit. Wisdom is not puttin’ it in a fruit salad!”

Simon’s Cat – Story Time makes for quite a refreshing way to spend some downtime, and I highly recommend it. Although, if you are after simple, puzzle goodness, I can’t recommend our next title enough.

Spire Blast

In our jaunt through three puzzle games, I saved the best for last. Spire Blast, a game where Puzzle Bobble meets Jenga/Topple (tabletop board games), takes place high in the spires, atop the tallest of towers. The premise is simple; shoot colored spheres at the corresponding colored blocks to make them topple. That’s it. But it’s much more than that. Like all puzzle games, each level has its own objectives that must be met, in addition to toppling the entire tower.

There are no characters (apart from the Dragon whom I thought I was attacking, to later finding out we are feeding him blocks), no dialogue, and certainly no story (apart from the levels taking place in a setting). The charm that permeates this shooter/puzzle game is from the invariable pleasing sight of watching blocks topple from a very high tower and knocking other blocks down. Maybe it’s my compulsion, but it is such a gratifying feeling to watching things break, and then to observe the physics and collision of other things breaking.

Pure blissful destruction in Spire Blast, for the Apple Arcade

You earn coins within each level, that can be used on items to make the game easier. I have yet to use any, as I feel the challenge of the game is heightened without this digital crutch. Whereas Simon’s Quest was a fun puzzle game, with an engaging story, in Spire Blast the gameplay, the truly satisfying feeling of toppling towers is what truly shines. On my recent vacation, I couldn’t put the game down, as I compulsively battled to acquire three stars per level. However, its primary draw is also the most frustrating part of the game for me.

In a game built upon clearing the tower, meeting the objectives, and reaching a specific score to achieve three stars, there is limited information on that front. There is no way to zoom out to see how much of the tower you have left (as evidenced in the preceding image). This vital information would have helped in planning my attempts. Even more frustrating is the scoring system. We earn points based on blocks we knockdown, but the majority of our score is based on how many moves we have left (we get 1,200 points per move left, whereas toppling a tower might get us a couple of hundred points). Oftentimes, when I have completed a level, I have missed getting three starts by a fraction or sliver of the bar. I appreciate the challenging aspect and nature of a phone game, but not having a way to plan on being successful, really underscores the large part of the scoring for me in this title.

What would have made this great game even better, would have been provided more information on how many shots I should conserve (because again, additional moves that aren’t used, are then converted to boost your score at a rate of 1,200 points), would have given me a better way to plan and strategize., further increasing my enjoyment and ultimately success. The true barometer of a great game is one that inspires and motivates you to improve to face more difficult challenges ahead. This is my only gripe with a fluid, responsive, and enjoyable puzzle experience. I am sure Apple Arcade will release future puzzle games, but for now, Spire Blast is in a class of its own and is my go-to puzzle game.

Final Impressions

Despite my minor gripes with the three games, it is refreshing to play puzzle games and not be stifled behind a paywall, or constantly bombarded with ads or videos to watch. For years, this was the ultimate challenge; beating games that were inclined and designed around getting you to spend money. There was an inherent challenge to avoid spending money, and developers had gone as far as to disclude and forego the RNG portion of a puzzler, and program in blocks to be almost impossible to avoid, in order to reap the cash ($7.5 billion in profits for Candy Crush Saga still baffles me).

Out of the three games, I continuously find myself revisiting Spire Blast for the gameplay alone. Simon’s Cat – Story Time I have revisited to learn more about the story and trudge along as we attempt to stop the construction company and JD Texman. Since my review, I have yet to touch Cut the Rope Remastered, and with the countless Apple Arcade titles releasing soon, doubt I will be. We will be doing a ranking list of sorts, discussing the best Apple Arcade games in the near future, so stay tuned. But for my money, Spire Blast is the best puzzle game thus far, on Apple Arcade, with Simon’s Cat – Story Time, a close second. Stay tuned for more Apple Arcade Reviews, at Otakukart News.