Rumor has it that mobile gaming is dying, and that the only games coming out are free-to-play puzzle games that are unplayable unless you purchase more turns or time.
Fear not however, as developer Sirvo’s Threes! stands above the crowded pool of puzzlers with its simplistic mechanics and design. Released in February for both iOS and Android devices, you may have already caught glimpses of Threes! over the shoulder of someone lost in deep concentration as they swipe their way through the game.
Threes! is surprisingly addictive for how simplistic its mechanics are, as you swipe in one of four directions to move tiles on a four-by-four grid. Tiles are arranged as ones and twos, and when swiped into each other they combine into threes which are then combined into greater numbers.
From here, the game opens up as you combine multiples of threes to create increasingly higher numbers all of which are divisible by three. Each swipe adds a new tile to the board from the opposite direction you swiped, and generally are new ones, twos, or three tiles with the occasional higher numbers. Each swipe is accompanied by a satisfying “swoosh” sound, which works well to produce a pleasingly tactile feel to gameplay. Once the board fills up and no more moves are left, the game is over and your score is calculated by multiplying every number that’s not one or two by three.
The quality of the animations and sound design add depth; all of the tiles in Threes! have animated faces that react to each other and the moves you make. They are also quite verbal about the decisions you make, with “yup” and “nope” sounds accompanying good or bad movies. Each number has a different face and unique personality associated with it, and when tiles are combined to create a higher number they also spawn a new face. Meanwhile, when the board is left idle the tiles will yawn and huff in boredom, as they impatiently wait for you to take your next turn.
All of the sounds and voices of each action and tile blend in smoothly with a soundtrack composed by Jimmy Hinson, who has created a memorable song which has yet to get old during any of our playthroughs. We found ourselves letting the title screen run idle so we could hear the song play through. It is just long enough – and loops perfectly – to ensure that it never gets repetitive.
Threes’ appeal doesn’t just lie in the game itself, and it’s just as well, because you may have already played one of the many clones that have hit the market recently. For a time, these clones had gained more popularity than the game they were “inspired” by,with 2048 in particular gaining national media recognition. Many of these clones were released within a few weeks of Threes!, and while they have the same game mechanics, many of them lack polish or are eager to harass you into paying real money.
The three-man team of Sirvo – Asher Vollmer, Greg Wohlwend, and Jimmy Hinson – spent 14 months evolving and iterating their design to create a game that was minimalistic, yet brilliant in its presentation, and it’s a shame that so many will overlook it in favor of one of the many apps seeking to cash in on its ideas. They say that imitation is the highest form of flattery, but it’s unlikely that the developers will take much comfort from that fact.
It’s becoming increasingly harder to find quality mobile games on iOS and Android, ones that aren’t plagued by advertisements or “pay-to-play” mechanics. Too many smaller games are trying to copy the success of Candy Crush, and can end up costing you more than the small entry fee of Threes!, and many of the more enjoyable titles are being buried under the weight of me-too copycats. We loved being able to pick up our phone and play a quick match of Threes! without having to worry about cluttering advertisements, or pesky social media prompts. Instead, we simply found ourselves easily lost in the addictive gameplay mechanics.
It’s difficult to find many flaws with Threes!, as it doesn’t try to be anything more than a polished, enjoyable and simple puzzle game. But all of its subtle touches come together beautifully to create a memorable and lasting game that challenges without ever outstaying its welcome. If you’ve been looking for a challenging puzzler that isn’t obsessed with intruding on the core experience, we highly recommend you fire up your mobile device and start swiping.