App Reviewed on: iPad Pro
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I'm always on the lookout for a puzzle matching game that isn't just a recycled version of the same match-three mechanics that I've seen so many times before. Vlobs is exactly that. I'm not sure that the finer points of its matching mechanics are all that intuitive--which can lead to some frustration, but I do appreciate the game for delivering something original and generally well conceived.
Colors and dots
Vlobs starts out simply enough with a blank chess-like board. Your goal is to drop colored orbs onto the board in such a way that you can link and eventually clear these orbs while making sure to leave room for more orbs to place. The only catch is that each orb also has a certain number of dots on it and you can only connect orbs of the same color using ones with dots on them and you can't clear those connected orbs until there are no dots left on a chain of connected orbs.
Writing it out like that makes it sound completely confusing, but it's a surprisingly easy-to-grasp concept. In no time you can make extended strings of orbs to clear, and in doing so you'll level up which eventually makes some changes to the board like expanding its size, adding obstacles, and more. All the while, Vlobs will serve up a larger color variety with orbs that have increasing numbers of dots on them you'll have to deal with before being able to score.
Learning the hard way
This unique puzzle design makes Vlobs feel pretty refreshing for what is essentially still a matching game. The trade-off of innovating in such familiar territory is that there is a learning curve to understanding exactly how the game operates, especially since the tutorial doesn't fully cover the situations you can run into that can doom a run to failure if you make one false move.
Things like what happens if you drop an orb next to multiple same-colored orbs with dots on them, how to manipulate certain obstacles, or the fact that there are powerups that you have to memorize the icons of to understand how they work can lead to frustration, particularly when encountered deep into a run. It's hard to tell how intentional these design decisions are, but it would be helpful if the game had some options to undo your last move or at the very least label powerups so you don't accidentally choose the wrong one after coming back to the game after some time away.
Portability pros and cons
If you play Vlobs for long enough to score 20,000 points in the game's normal mode, you gain access to a "Stressful" mode which challenges you to place and match orbs in order to keep filling up a timer that keeps counting down. If the timer runs out (or you fill up the board), you lose.
Both modes of Vlobs play beautifully on any iOS device you might own, which is to say the game looks and plays great in landscape and portrait orientations. Unfortunately, that's about where the game's mobile-friendliess stops. There is no iCloud syncing and if you close the app mid-run you can't resume it. Luckily, any given session with Vlobs is usually pretty short, but it still would be nice to at least resume a run on the same device you started it on if you get a phone call or otherwise distracted with other things.
The bottom line
Vlobs injects some much-needed freshness into the matching puzzle genre. It may not always be entirely clear about its rules and it has some limitations as to its mobile-friendliness, but there's plenty to enjoy about it regardless.