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Developer: National Geographic Society
Price: $0.99
Version Reviewed: 1.0

Graphics / Sound Rating: ★★★★☆
Game Controls Rating: ★★½☆☆
Gameplay Rating: ★★½☆☆

Re-use / Replay Value Rating: ★½☆☆☆

Overall Rating: ★★½☆☆

Puzzle Planets is a new game from National Geographic that bills itself as an “action puzzler.” It’s intended to be educational and fun!, but that aim is thwarted by consistent crashes and general lag.

As some all-powerful being, your job is to bring a bunch of planets to life. Three tasks (puzzles?) are required to create a world. First, you have to finish assembling the tectonic plates, puzzle-style. Then you have to smash the plates together to create seismic activity and therefore mountains, rifts, and volcanoes. Finally, you bring the newly formed land to life. After your planet is complete, Puzzle Planets trumpets that you’ve unlocked a new step in evolution and gives you a few quick facts about the new creatures that dwell on said planet.

From the beginning, it’s clear this is a game geared towards the very young, as all three of these potentially interesting and exciting tasks are very simple. When assembling the tectonic plates, the game throws a single “puzzle piece” at you and you simply rotate the planet until it falls into place. Smashing the plates together involves tapping icons when they pop up. To create life, you just hover over patches of land and watch the grass bloom. It’s pretty, and I appreciate that National Geographic is trying to dramatize the planet creation process while keeping it simple. However, for me it wasn’t very engaging.

Unfortunately, it doesn’t really matter how well the game plays, because Puzzle Planets fails at the most basic level for an iPhone app: it crashes. If I had to estimate, I’d say that 50% of the time I finished a planet, the app quit. Additionally, spinning the planets is an unintuitive and lag-ridden experience. I could barely control the planet’s spin, making the simple puzzles enormously frustrating.

Puzzle Planets has a lot of things going for it. Backed by National Geographic, it’s a noble attempt at turning a science lesson into a game. The graphics are bright and well-done, and the small planets remind me of playing Super Mario Galaxy. If it weren’t for the ever-present lag, the simple “puzzles” required to create new worlds might even be mildly entertaining, at least for younger kids. Unfortunately, constant crashes are simply unacceptable. I hope that National Geographic updates Puzzle Planets, but until then, it’s simply too difficult to play Puzzle Planets for me to care much about the game itself.

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