Review: Plank by Strange Flavour
This review originally appeared within iLounge’s iOS Gems series within the compilation article, iPhone Gems: Pool, Puzzle, Music + Slots Games. Additional details may be found in the original article.
Even though we’ve reviewed over 300 iPhone and iPod touch apps so far, Freeverse’s Plank ($2) is one of the most difficult games we’ve had to rate. Developed by Strange Flavour, this color-matching puzzle title has some of the best themed art we’ve seen yet on this platform, and also offers legitimately interesting gameplay with good sound effects. But it’s also missing that magical X factor that transforms something cool into something great.
At the core, Plank is a simple three-or-more-of-a-kind block-matching game like Bejeweled, Diamond Twister, Columns Deluxe, and many others released for the iPod and iPhone platforms. Here, the blocks are balls, and the balls fall onto a wooden plank that appears to be suspended on a moving platform on what initially appears to be a train. You tilt the plank by tilting the device left or right, and the backgrounds pass by as you tilt in a given direction.
While this is happening, balls fall from the sky, rolling left or right with the tilt of the plank. Match three like-colored balls and they disappear; match them vertically and all the balls below them also disappear. The twist here is that you can shift the already-landed balls left or right, rather than controlling the movement of the balls that are currently falling from the sky. Play more, and different ball colors drop, the action speeds up and slows down, and the backgrounds change. Bombs drop down to clear out deadwood, and you can shake the iPhone or iPod touch a limited number of times to do the same.
Simply put, Strange Flavour’s art in Plank is awesome by puzzle game standards. The steampunk art style—think hyper-clean and modern items made with classical materials like brass, copper, and wood—is fantastic. Occasional train sounds in the background add a little ambience, and occasionally, a jet of smoke or steam will come off of a meter on the top right of the screen. Plank is literally fun just to look at.
Unfortunately, you spend too much time looking and too little time actually doing. Even when more balls begin to fall from the sky, and the game picks up pace, it doesn’t feel as exciting or frenetic as the best games in this genre; there’s a lot of dead air here. Consequently, what could have been—and perhaps, still can become—an awesome iPhone puzzle title comes across as superbly developed visually but bland as a gameplay experience. Ultimately, your lack of control over the falling balls, the slow speed of the rolling ones, and the limited width of the plank relative to the dropping balls all deprive you of the fun you’d hope to have given the screenshots. Even for the price, which is highly attractive given the quality of the presentation, we’d recommend it only to people who like their puzzlers slow. Our strong hope is that this one continues in development, gains some more gameplay twists, and emerges as excellent as it could be. iLounge Rating: B-.