Fractal, A Brainy Beauty
Fractal: Make Blooms Not War is a beautiful, charming puzzle game - so charming I'm not even a tiny bit grumpy over it calling me "Sweetheart" before we really got to know one another. Yes, what Fractal has in spades is style. Attractive, slick controls, quality sound - it's a glamorous package for a puzzle game that has as much brains as beauty.
Oh, what delicious brains they are, too! Center screen is a board of hexes and by tapping an empty or perimeter hex next to a filled one you create additional tiles from that point, "pushing" the neighbors along their lines. Forming a seven-tile hex cluster (or more), makes a "Bloom" that clears those tiles and pushes the surrounding tiles back - which can lead to some nifty chains. In levels One through Four all you have to worry about is achieving the level score within a certain number of tile "Pushes". With a fixed number of Pushes per level to achieve the target score, you won't be moving tiles all willy-nilly. At level Five, two color mode is introduced to confound matters, and at level Eight you finally get to make use of a power-up - "Explode" - as tiny explosive icons emerge on tiles. All that is only the beginning.
Sounds a little confusing, yeah? Fractal uses presentation to make a very math-y puzzler palatable. Around the hex-board perimeter are more soft pastel hues, and notes scrawled to the player like "Good luck, Sweetheart! XOXO" and "Make Blooms, NOT War!"; add in the melodious tunes and you've got a downright ethereal gaming experience. A game "best experienced with headphones" (which games aren't?), the soundtrack actually responds to the gameplay, even slowing like a dying pulse as you run out of pushes and the level is failed.
A conundrum of stereotype, Fractal is a brainy, feature-rich puzzler that conjures up words like “lovely” and “soothing” while delivering a very smart game. Available for $1.99 on the iPad, there are three game modes plus OpenFeint and Game Center integration packed into the polished title. Campaign and Puzzle Mode offer progressive challenge, and Arcade for time attack and high score players - all this plus achievement tracking and high score competition. Here is a game at half the cost of a typical Starbucks visit with hours more enjoyment on offer, don’t lump it in with similarly priced mediocre time killers, this price point isn’t a mark of an inferior quality timekiller - it’s a steal.