Arabiah is a game about matching letters from the Arabic alphabet into rotating etched stones. You have four letters at a time to use. Drag them into the correct crevice while four rows of stone rotate. They rotate at different speed, and within an archway covering parts of them. If there is no letters matching the crevices you can shake your iPhone to get four new letters. There is a timer in the shape of a bowl filling up with sand, when full the game is over. Once a row is full it turns into gold and stops moving. To complete a level you have to fill all the hollow crevices with letters.
My first impression from playing Arabiah was “yeah this is the greatest puzzler ever”. The thumping sounds of the rows of stone moves is really cool using earphones. Every letter you select is pronounced by some Arab dude really enhancing the theme. It looks fantastic with nice shadows, and colourful graphics. Gameplay is quick, you start flicking letters with ease within a couple of minutes. The touch controls are spot on, just drag and release to place the letters. Sadly as I played I had to conclude that my first impression was wrong.
I have three complaints to the gameplay aspect of the game. First of all it becomes a matter of the game giving you the letters you need. If the game wants to screw you it can easily do so by just giving you letters that you don’t need. This reminds me of another action puzzler for the iPhone, Frenzic. They share the same kind of hope and pray gameplay. I want to feel in control of proceedings. Of course you can shake the iPhone to get new letters but that takes precious time.
The second aspect I dislike is that I have to shake the iPhone to get new letters. Some kind of shuffle button would be appreciated. I often play in public settings(at work), and I don’t want people to ask what I am doing.
The third aspect is that I never get the feeling that I should hurry up. When time is running out it starts flashing around the bowl of sand, and it is game over if I don’t fill in all the letters. It doesn’t grip me, I never feel the urgency to fill in all the letters. In a game such as Tetris I can feel that I improve my skill, and the game challenges me accordingly. Arabiah doesn’t really do that, it is more about eye/hand coordination than planning the next move.
Another thing that is more of a construction flaw is the fact that the game doesn’t save your progress when you exit. Having to restart from the slow first level is tedious, and quite frankly I don’t want to do that anymore.
I am sad to say that my first impression was wrong, I really like the art-style and atmosphere the sound and graphics create. It is not a broken game, but it has enough annoying flaws to make me feel hesitant in recommending it.
Presentation & Graphics
It looks really good with nice visual effects.
The rhythmic thumping and voice talent are great aspects of the game.
Touch controls work well, and I would have liked all controls to be touch operated. The shake to give new letters feels out of place and impractical.
I don’t like to be of the mercy of the game when it comes to winning or losing. It is luck that decides what letters you get, and game over is often not due to lack of skill but instead lack of luck.
Online high scores might save a bit of gamelife, sadly the lack of save feature kills most of it. Having to restart from level 1 becomes boring, and as there is no way to set different difficulty levels you have to wait to be challenged.
I really wanted to love this game, but sadly the core game is more about luck than skill. If you want something really unique to play Arabiah might be for you if you can live with the aspects I have had trouble with.