Last week I had the opportunity to test drive the latest iOS offering from dreamfab, which is a puzzle based game called Zen Shapes. If you look up the definition of the word Zen, you will see many words associated with it such as enlightenment, focus, peace, and relaxation, none of which would apply in the case of this game.
EB 5 out of 10 Buddhas
- Challenging Puzzles
- 2 Different Game Modes (Zen / Puzzle)
- Crisp Graphics
The Not so Awesome
- Lack of Direction
- Frustrating Gameplay
- Inconsistency of tile placement (Zen mode)
- Force Close of Application
After first starting the game, you are immediately greeted by Master Lu who introduces you to two game modes and gives a brief explanation. All of Master Lu’s ink paintings have been destroyed and it is up to you, as his apprentice, to use the scraps of his work to create complex shapes. Along the way, Master Lu will guide you through the story through both pictures and narration.
Master Lu and his wisdom will guide you through the story
The gameplay of Zen Shapes for me was the biggest frustration of the game, including the lack of direction, inconsistency of tile placement, and the force close of the application itself. However before I dive into those, lets cover the aspect of the gameplay that was appealing, which was the challenging puzzles and the two game modes.
Zen Shapes offers players the choice to play either Puzzle mode or Zen mode. In puzzle mode, players will work through puzzles of varying difficulty until all 60 levels are completed. Points and rankings are earned on each level and will change based on how quickly you can complete the puzzle for that particular level. Some of the puzzles were easy and straight forward, while some of the puzzles were quite complex and challenging, even frustrating at times.
One of the challenging levels in Puzzle Mode
The other game mode offered to players is called Zen mode. In this mode, players work through a never ending game where shape after shape show up on the board while players work to create shapes. If you are unable to keep enough shapes cleared from the holding queue, once it fills up the game is over. If you have ever played the classic game of Tetris, this is what Zen mode will remind you of.
Tiles continue to pile up in the queue in Zen Mode
As mentioned in the beginning, the gameplay is far from puppy dogs and rainbows and I found some of the things to be frustrating. For example, the lack of direction at times in puzzle mode can be quite frustrating. There were many times where I would fail at completing a puzzle after creating one shape and then failing on the second. However, after the level would restart I would complete the EXACT same two shapes as before, but this time I would pass successfully. I found this to be the case on more than one occasion, with seemingly no explanation as to why is would occur.
In Zen mode, my largest beef with the gameplay was the inconsistency of the tile placement. If you recall, in this never-ending game mode where you are in a race against the queue filling up, as you touch a square on the board, that is where the tile should be placed. On multiple occasions, I would touch one square on the board and the tile would at random be placed somewhere else on the board. Very irritating considering that you are racing against the clock and now have to take time to correct this error, which can be compounded when another tile is randomly place. This alone made me give up on even playing Zen mode.
The final irritation I found during gameplay was the fact that the application would force close at least once every 5 – 10 minutes. I only noticed this during puzzle mode, however as stated in the above paragraph, I gave up on Zen mode and didn’t play it long enough to find out if this was happening there as well. To be 100% fair though, without the luxury of having another iPad (v2) to test the game on, it is hard to say if the consistent force close of the application was due to an issue with the game itself, or due to an issue, or conflict with something else on the iPad (v2) I was using. Regardless, this was another point of frustration that made me want to punch the screen on multiple occasions.
One of the things that did work well in Zen Shapes was the graphics, which I found to be very crisp and clean. Designers did a good job to tie in different textures, colors, and symbols to give the game an authentic feeling. Even on screens that scrolled text during narration, the text was in a font that was consistent with the theme of the game.
Crisp graphics give a feeling of authenticity
About the only part of Zen Shapes that invoked feelings of ‘zen’ and peace, was the music during the game. The music was very mellow, and reminded me of what you would hear when eating at a Chinese restaurant or perhaps busting out a downward dog or chaturange class. Even during the zen mode game when the tiles keep coming, the music remains steady and mellow even when you are about to bite the dust.
After spending nearly a week hands on with Zen Shapes, as a fan of puzzle games and other dreamfab titles, I really wanted to like this title more. Although Zen Shapes has a lot going for it in regards to the graphics, sound, and challenge factor, the flaws listed above in the gameplay were simply to much for me to get past, and turned me off to this game. Those flaws give me no choice but to give Zen Shapes a rating of an EB 5 out of 10 Buddhas, and one that you don’t have to feel bad about passing on. That being said, the potential is there for this game, but this is the first dreamfab title that I have been left disappointed with.
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