App Reviewed on: iPhone SE
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There are some mobile games that feel great because of how pure and simple they are. There's just something refreshing about playing a game and not worrying about unlocks, experience, or other bells and whistles. This is a double-edged sword though, as games that veer toward being too simple can end up feeling too flat. This is unfortunately the case with Topsoil, a solid little puzzle game that feels a bit too simple for its own good.
Topsoil is a matching puzzle game that revolves around planting and harvesting plants. Like Tetris, you are given one puzzle piece to place at a time, though in the case of Topsoil, these pieces are plants. After planting a few of them, you then can use a spade to select which plants to harvest. Connected plants of the same type can all be harvested at once, while isolated plants simply remove one plant off of your board.
The goal of Topsoil is to continuously have room in your field to keep planting new plants. Since you only get to use your spade once every few turns, it's crucial to carefully group plants so you can make the most of your harvests.
Once plants are harvested, Topsoil adds in a complicating element. The soil on the ground that you harvest plants from changes color every time you harvest a plant from it. These colors rotate between green, yellow, and blue. Plants aren't considered connected unless they are on the same colored ground. This prevents players from getting too comfortable with any given strategy.
To up the challenge even more, Topsoil also starts giving players plants that take multiple turns to grow before being harvested once you get past the early stages of the game. This means you can run into situations where you've set up a huge combo of trees that you might not be able to harvest at the first chance you get, since they won't be ready by the time you get a spade move.
The simple life
The core mechanics that Topsoil presents are certainly neat, but they don't feel particularly exciting after you've played one or two rounds of the game. This probably has a lot to do with the fact that Topsoil takes a long time to ramp up. Each new run you begin ends up feeling like a slog because of how easy the first few rounds of the game are.
In addition to Topsoil's simple design, it's also got an interestingly straightforward free-to-play design. When you download the game, you receive a limited number of plays. If you run out of these, you can either watch an ad for three more or pay $3.99 for unlimited lives. There's no recharge timers to worry about and no ads that pop up without warning. It's actually kind of nice.
The bottom line
While the limited number of lives in Topsoil might sound like a bummer, you'll know whether or not this game is for you by the time you have to decide between watching an ad or paying for the game to keep playing. For me, Topsoil's minimal approach is just a little too barebones to make me stick with it. There are other puzzle games I'd rather play.