Fractal: Make Blooms not War might have a name that is pushing a little hard to be artistic and quaint, but the game itself is a thoroughly charming and chilled out little puzzle game, and it also happens to be the most original take on the match-3 genre that I’ve seen for quite some time.
Here soft pastel colours and gentle audio provides a frame that displays a board made of hexes. On some of those hexes are tiles displaying a variety of different colours. The goal is simple; by tapping an empty hex standing next to one filled with a tile, additional tiles are created at that point, shifting all other tiles one hex further away. Forming a “cluster” of one coloured tile enclosed completely by tiles of the same colour will cause all those tiles to disappear, and the others nearby to cascade back as though in a vacuum, in the process setting up chains and high scores.
Some tiles also contain special icons which have additional effects if they are caught in a cluster formation. The system sounds more complex than it is in practice and Fractal quickly becomes a very elegant game to suit the incredibly elegant visual and audio style.
There’s an impressive range of gameplay modes to go with the inexpensive asking price. There’s a ‘campaign’ and ‘puzzle mode’ for people who like progressing through linear levels and gently scaling difficulty curves, and an ‘arcade’ mode for the time attack or high score junkies. OpenFeint and Game Center integration provides some purpose to go with these achievements, and the end result is a game where the desire to master the unique puzzle style is at times overpowering.
And yet never is Fractal stressful. It’s an airy experience, perfect for those moments before bed to unwind or hole up with for an hour during an especially busy day at work. Much like the Art Style games on Nintendo’s Wii and DSi, or Groove Coaster on the iOS platforms, here is a game that combines audio and visual minimalism to convey a unique, and indeed artistic, interactive canvas.
It’s tragic then that this game is destined to be forgotten. For one, the price point puts it squarely in the same region as throwaway time wasters on iPhone and iPad, and many will pass this over for that exact association. It’s worth a couple of dollars more than that, though, for providing the video game equivalent of a feather massage.
Of a more dramatic concern is that same visual and audio style that is such a strength to the game. On paper, it looks dull, especially sitting next to the rich colours of a PopCap casual puzzler, or the high action genres that are in vogue right now. Fractal doesn’t do a good job of marketing itself, so here’s a review that will hopefully do the job; if you enjoy puzzlers, get this.