Jenga is one of those games that really gets my adrenaline levels into overdrive when playing friends in real life. The premise is simple, and perhaps that is why it can become so engaging. Everyone can play it, and mastering it is hard. Rather it is a matter of tactics when playing against your friends. Natural Motion tries to capture the intensity of Jenga for the small screens. To some extent they manage really well, and by default not that well in some areas.
Jenga is a tactile puzzle game, or at least as tactile as anything can be on a touch screen. The feel of the game is close to that found in Zen Bound and Zwirn. Tap a piece to select it, and it shows a colour outline. If it is white there is little pressure applied to the piece, and it is easy to remove. A red outline signals distress, and should be handled with care or avoided completely. Rotating the camera is as simple as swiping anywhere on the screen. The Apple pinch in/out gestures controls zoom. To extract a piece you simply drag it out. Depending on how smoothly you drag, and how straight you manage to pull the piece will come out. Pieces removed from the stack are place on top, and you can either tap it to auto release or positioning it yourself. The controls work really well for a slower pace, and when trying to play quickly it can misinterpret piece movements with camera movement screwing up the pull.
There are three game modes available: classic, arcade and pass n’ play. The classic mode lets you slowly stack the tower. No pressure, just counting the pieces. Classic feels relaxing, almost as a game of solitaire. Arcade is an attempt at creating a fun filled quick game. The Jenga pieces are colour coded, and you get extra points for matching them on top. There are special boosts to buy, and you basically get all hallmarks of an arcade game. The game is timed with a clock counting down. The thing that spoils the experience is the fact that the controls aren’t suited for arcade speeds. Sure you can learn how to be good at it, and the global leaderboards definitely shows some talent. For the casual user it is more frustration than pleasure fiddling about with a ticking timer.
The third mode is a two-player pass n’ play mode using the classic mode rules. I found it really fun to play this mode, and to some extent it manages to recreate the real thing. It is however hard to get a good overview on the progression of the tower when you constantly hand the phone back and forth. A win is still a win though, and if you are looking for something to play while waiting for Santa this is a good choice.
The presentation is excellent with a true to life realistic look to the pieces, and surroundings. The physics of the tower, and the individual pieces feel realistic as well. The tumble as the tower falls is also well made, and slightly slow motioned. Sound effects are scarce, but suit the gameplay with the odd click as you place a piece. I am not a fan of the elevator ambient muzak. It drives me into a drowsy state completely contradicting my real life experience with Jenga. You can play your own music instead, and having some heavy metal is better in my book.
Game Center caters for online leaderboards, and achievements. For some reason the game crashes whenever I do anything connected to Game Center. Checking high scores is fine for a second or two until it updates the next batch of players. There are also some other crash issues on my iPhone 4, and this has been reported by other users as well. Hopefully an update will address these issues. An iPad version is available, and as there are less reports of crashing it is a better choice if you own an iPad as well.
Jenga in classic mode, and pass n’ play mode is an enjoyable experience. Slowly paced it is fun to challenge yourself of a friend. For higher speed the controls aren’t up to par, and the arcade mode falls rather flat. Furthermore the crash issues regarding Game Center makes it even less appealing to spend time with the arcade mode. If you are a fan of Jenga you will enjoy this, and the same goes for players looking for a new relaxation game instead of solitaire. For newcomers I recommend you to wait for a sale, or a lite version to try before you buy.