App Reviewed on: iPhone 4S
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3D puzzle games have been around for quite a while now and, despite my deep and abiding love of puzzlers in general, I’ve almost never enjoyed them. Give me a basic 2D game and I’ll sit enraptured for hours on end. Drop a third axis in, however, and within moments I’m frustrated, then annoyed, then switching to something else.
Thankfully, that wasn’t the case with XenoCube SD.
The game’s odd, “pseudo-Egyptian-in-space” design aesthetic is actually very appealing, even though it doesn’t seem in any way connected to the name (or perhaps that’s the other way around?). The music is orchestral and grandiose, with the synthetic strings feeling like they would be equally at home behind Prince of Persia or another game with a similar Middle-Eastern setting. Meanwhile, the visuals pop with electric colors and a neat 3D depth effect making use of the iPhone’s internal tilt sensors that can be dialed back with a slider, similar to Nintendo’s 3DS. The framerate can chug a bit during combo animations, even on my brand new iPhone 4S, but that’s a very minor complaint that hardly detracts from the experience at all.
The gameplay is basic “match-three” puzzle style, but extending over all six sides of the cube. Swiping a finger sends the cube spinning, smoothly allowing access to multiple sides at once. Completing combos adds to the player’s level meter, which refreshes the slowly draining energy bar when a new level is reached. After clearing four levels, the current stage ends and the next begins. Lather, rinse, repeat.
There are five different gameplay modes on offer. Zen mode pits the player against only the draining energy meter. Eye of Ra is like Zen, but more difficult, requiring faster thinking and quicker reflexes. Arcade fights against a timer, and Hyper mode is a focused 90 second rush to score as much as possible. There is a fifth Augmented Reality mode, which makes use of a printable AR card to place the cube in the “real world.” I wasn't able to preview this, as strangely it only seems to be supported on iPhone 4 and iPad 2, with the new 4S sitting out in the cold. Hopefully this will be rectified in a future update. It feels very weird to have the newest toys, with the upgraded camera and faster processors, and yet still be stuck with a downgraded feature set.
Perhaps it’s the fact that XenoCube feels more like playing six 2D puzzle games at the same time, rather than dealing with depth and volume like many 3D puzzlers, that makes it so much more accessible. Regardless of the reason why, I’m not questioning it. XenoCube SD is really everything a person wants a puzzle game to be: fun, addictive, infinitely replayable. Having the whole thing wrapped up in a snazzy audio-visual package is just icing on the cake.