A really good puzzle game is the perfect mobile companion, just as it was before we took to our smartphones to while away train and bus trips, when a book full of word games was a welcome companion. Our game of choice this week is Strata, an unusual and fiendishly difficult puzzle game for the iPhone and iPad. It’s unlike anything we’ve played before, and distinctly addictive because of it. We think it’s well worth your time, so here’s what it’s all about.
Strata is a logic game with a musical twist. You’re presented with coloured squares in a grid of four or more blocks, and the blocks come in various different colours. To complete the challenge, you must lay down ribbons over the top, and the second ribbon must match the colour of the block it overlays. It sounds quite simple, but as you can only feed the ribbons in from two sides of the square, the sequence you place ribbons needs to be correct, and it requires plenty of thought to get the pattern right.
Each time you lay down a ribbon, the music changes, and all the time you’re getting it right it sounds wonderful. Get a ribbon wrong, where it doesn’t correspond with the block below it, and the music becomes discordant, as if the wrong piano keys are pressed. It’s a brilliant touch, and stops the need for too many visual notifications to alert you when something’s out of place.
The game design is minimalistic, with a cream patterned background, and subtle pastel colours for the blocks and ribbons. A block pulses when it’s not covered by the right ribbon, and the menu system looks great, but Strata is far from a graphical powerhouse. That’s OK though, as it’s all about the gameplay.
It’s hugely enjoyable too. Some puzzle games keep you occupied for a few minutes, but this keeps you playing through dozens of levels even on your first go. The tutorial does a good job of leading you into the game, although it took me a while to figure out where to change the colours of the ribbons, and you’re soon deep into the main levels. There are 158 in all, and unless you’re really, really good, they’ll keep you coming back for hours.
If you do complete all the levels and still want more, there are an additional 152 levels available through two in-app purchases, one for £0.69 and the other for £1.49. Although the thought of paying for the game a second time – it costs £0.69 for the standard 158 levels – is never a pleasant one, it’s not so bad here.
A word of warning, this isn’t an easy game, and it’ll take a fair amount of play to get the levels right, especially when the amount of blocks increase to a grid of four of five square. It doesn’t get frustrating, as it’s never willfully trying to make the game unplayable, but we had to take a few breaks while playing, just to clear our heads!
There is the chance to get a hint on the colours or sequence used to complete a level, but these are limited. However, you can buy more if you really need them, but we’d say with practice, this won’t be necessary. It’s also our least favourite way of developers trying to make more money.
In-app purchase quibbles aside, Strata is exactly what an iPhone puzzle game should be: quick to play, but very hard to master. It plays better on the smaller screen too, although the app is universal so it’s also happy on the iPad. It’s pocket change to buy the Strata, and if you’re up for a challenge, we’d highly recommend it.