Illusion Labs are back at what they do best. Puzzle games!
Illusion Labs have been making games for iOS since the beginning. Touchgrind is perhaps their best known title, and certainly their most ambitious, attempting to recreate the tech-deck/finger skateboarding experience on a touchscreen device, with mixed results. However, their best game is without doubt their Labyrinth, taking a simple premise of titling a ball around a wooden board, and getting it to the exit hole. Labyrinth 2 took things further by adding more intricate and ingenious obstacles for you to traverse or avoid.
And so now, after a BMX spinoff of Touchgrind which yet again was met with mixed results, Illusion Labs have returned to puzzle games with yet another triumphant entry in the genre, Blast A Way.
Like labyrinth before it, it doesn’t do anything we haven’t seen before – a mashup of mechanics seen in games like iBlast Moki, Toki Tori, Gesundheit, and even some similarities to the great Portal. But, where it does succeed is by wrapping it up into a polished and attractive package, that draws you in as soon as you boot it up.
The object of Blast A Way is to find and rescue the Boxies (save three to move to next level). At your disposal are a variety of Robots, with which you wield a selection of powered balls. Each ball has their own effect on the environment, and allows you to ‘blast a way’ to the Boxies and to the levels exit. Early levels keep things simple, with you simply drawing a path for your robot follow and collect the Boxies on the way to the exit. Later though, the balls come into play. Impact bombs are the first you’ll experience. These can be thrown by your robot at objects to break them – sometimes freeing trapped Boxies or other power balls. The objects colour must match that of the ball for an effect to take place, so if you throw a red impact bomb onto a blue block, it will simply bounce off and have no effect.
Similar to impact bombs are the Sticky Bombs. These - as their name suggests – stick to objects before exploding. Occasionally you’ll find blocks with bombs already stuck to them, where it’s possible to set off a chain reaction by exploding other sticky bombs nearby. Teleporter balls can be used to move your robot to areas not accessible to them. And again, these are colour based.
The colour of each ball and the objects in the environment really comes into play in the later worlds, where you must plan your attack of each level before making an irreversible mistake. Sponge balls – which soak up the colour of any block it hits – come in very handy, particularly if all you have are red bombs in a level of bow blocks. Colourising balls also help in this regard, allowing you to change the colour of a block to that of the ball.
Things really get complicated with the addition of colour gates. These change the colour of any ball thrown through it, and to ramp up the challenge some later levels include more than one gate in close proximity. With the further addition of moving obstacles blocking your path, the game becomes hugely challenging, as you survey the level for the best solution to clearing a path to the Bloxies, and the levels exit.
Blast A Way screams of Illusion Labs graphically. Particularly the early levels which feature wooden textured blocks, echoing that of Labyrinth – particularly the chequered exit portal. Metal, fabric and other textures make an appearance in later levels, and while they are purely cosmetic and don’t bear any relevance to the core gameplay, they look absolutely fantastic – especially the fabric on retina displays – giving the game an almost tangible sense of reality. The soundtrack is a funky selection of tunes that, while not hugely memorable, perfectly matches the quirky nature of the robot characters and the Boxies that need saving.
The presentation and gameplay are – for the most part – flawless. However, the controls can sometimes feel counter-intuitive. It’s always a challenge in a full 3D puzzle game to give precise control to the player, while they must also orientate/spin the stage into view. Moving your robots around the levels, collecting the different balls and capturing the Boxies can feel tricky as you must constantly spin and zoom the camera to give you the optimum viewpoint. This will pose little-to-no problems to the advanced player, but it may put off the casual gamer, looking for more challenging puzzle games, but still expecting easy Angry Birds like-control systems. Having said that, it’s par for the course of 3D puzzle games, and Illusion Labs do the best they can to make controls as painless as possible.
Overall, Blast A Way is great puzzle game. It’s beautifully presented, but more importably its fresh and challenging, with that all important ‘one more try’ factor. What’s double refreshing is that there isn’t a sniff of freemium or In-App-Purchase in sight. You pay, and you play – and you play some more. $4.99 might seem high in this day and age where we are spoilt with budget and free, but with production values as high as this and packing 80 levels, it’s worst every penny and more.
Blast A Way is out now for iPhone, iPod Touch and iPad for $4.99.