Most of the game reviews we publish these days are roundups, focusing on multiple titles at once; only when something’s either really special or important does it receive a standalone article. Despite its suspiciously low price, Mayan Puzzle ($1) by Mind Crew is really special — enough so that we didn’t want it to get lost amongst a bunch of other titles in a Gems piece. The screenshots truly aren’t enough to do justice to this impressive iPhone and iPod touch game.
Due to an all-too-familiar pitch that described Mayan Puzzle as a “variant of match 3 like no other,” we had low expectations when we first loaded the game: there are probably a thousand match-three games out there, and very few of them stand out from the pack. From the first title screen, Mind Crew makes certain that you won’t forget the game any time soon. Even the menu system is so beautifully, lovingly detailed with rendered shadows, particles, and gas effects that you can tell people with real talent put it together—plants and flowers blow in the gentle wind, and birds chirp as you select one of the game modes. It’s obvious that this developer spent more time on the menu design of this game than some companies took to create their in-game content.
The core of Mayan Puzzle is the “classic” mode, a collection of 32 individual puzzles that start out amusingly easy as a trick to addict you into playing through the entire set. You’re given a collection of runes that need to be completely eliminated by matches of three or more stones within a very limited number of moves, and there’s another limitation: though any vertical or horizontal line creates a match, you can only make matches by moving one stone at a time left or right, not up, down, or diagonally. As it turns out, these limitations provide very discrete solutions for the classic mode puzzles, and starting after the first ten or so puzzles, you’ll go from several-second solutions to several minutes, then potentially an hour or more of playing around within a single screen.
There’s one and only one reason that you might even consider doing this: Mayan Puzzle’s individual stages are engrossingly beautiful. Rather than re-using a single background for all of the puzzles, or tossing a new background out after every five levels, there are literally 32 backgrounds for the 32 puzzles with 12 minutes of charming and wonderfully orchestrated Mayan music. Each of the backgrounds is so impressively animated and drawn that they even look good blown up to twice normal size on an iPad screen, with sun, rain, smoke, and shadow effects that are obvious without being over the top—and surprisingly, whisked off screen at the end of a puzzle before you can even sit and appreciate them without blocks in the way. Lightning, spark, and dust effects accompany the matches, as well, adding small and large touches of pizzazz to the game.
By comparison, Mayan Puzzle’s other modes aren’t quite as amazing. Time Trial lets you make matches for 30, 60, 90, or 120 seconds, Challenge has you do the same within four levels of difficulty—a timer plus different colors—and Marathon goes on infinitely. Each of these modes lets you swipe upwards to add another layer of blocks to the prior collection, which effectively lets you make more matches when you run out of prior pieces to work with. If there was any one thing we wish Mind Crew would have changed in Mayan Puzzle, it would have been to spend more time differentiating and tweaking these latter three modes, perhaps by increasing the number of columns and rows of blocks. They’re fun, but not as fun as the Classic mode.
For the $1 asking price, there are very few puzzle games in the App Store that could compare with Mayan Puzzle in overall polish and quality—this is an amazing title that really deserves extra attention. We’re going to be keeping our fingers crossed for either updates or a sequel with additional puzzles, because the ones in here have kept us far more engaged than the vast majority of titles we’ve received for review in recent months; Mind Crew deserves buckets of praise for the excellent work it put into this game.
Company and Price
Company: Mind Crew
Title: Mayan Puzzle
Compatible: iPhone, iPod touch, iPad*