We take Sorrent's upcoming action puzzler for a quick hands-on flight.
Sorrent's relationship with PopCap Games, one of the Internet's better-known makers of casual Flash games, proved fruitful as soon as the superlative, chain-busting Zuma hit mobile decks--and it looks like the deal's about to get even sweeter. The duo will be bringing AstroPop, a puzzle game oriented around the wholesale destruction of colored blocks, to mobile in the near future. The beta version of the game we played engrossed us completely, and we'd say that Zuma fans everywhere have another hit to look forward to.
In AstroPop, you are to aid the good ship Sprocket on its galactic quest to blow up stacks of like-colored blocks. Like any good puzzle mechanic, the spaceship's grip-and-shoot action is simple to a fault, but also really addictive. You move Sprocket laterally along the bottom of the screen (which wraps around to facilitate mobile play, incidentally) using the action key to attract up to six blocks and attach them to the front of your ship. The blocks will go one by one or in chunks, depending on whether they're the same color or not. Then, once you have a full load of blocks, you can spit them back out by pressing up on the nav pad. If you make a contiguous group of four or more like-colored blocks, they'll explode and give you points--and if you're good, you may be able to set off a cascading combo, too. Oh, yes...all the while this is going on, the wall of blocks steadily advances toward you. You must fill up your brick-o-meter on the side of the screen before the blocks squeeze you out of the picture.
All of this would be pretty boilerplate, if not for the myriad of power-ups and other wrinkles PopCap has added to the equation. First off, there are a handful of power blocks that produce special effects when you catapult them at the wall. For instance, the "hyperbrick" will boost your brick-o-meter by an automatic 15 percent, while also producing a neat shooting-star light show. The "supercharge" brick, meanwhile, will make all bricks of a single color produce a shimmery glow. If you create matches using these charged bricks, it'll produce an explosion that'll wipe out all other adjacent blocks. There are also two other ships that you will be able to unlock during play--Vector and Turbot--and each one has its own unique special attack that'll help you blast your way out of a pinch. Finally, the format of the game itself changes as you progress. The bonus levels constitute a sort of puzzle mode, where you try to eliminate all the blocks onscreen in the fewest number of moves. AstroPop will even start throwing two new colors at you after a certain point.
One of Zuma's most impressive characteristics was its presentation, which really nailed the Flash game's look, and it looks like AstroPop's heading in the same direction. The version we played on the LG VX7000 had the same smoothly animated, matte feel of the original, with several neat explosion effects thrown in. Backgrounds had yet to be added to this edition of the game, but Sorrent assured us that they would be added before release. The sound also impressed us, as there were several bits of digitized speech, which is pretty novel for downloadable mobile games. Also, the sharp sound of bricks being blown to kingdom come helped to keep our palms sweaty during play.
All in all, AstroPop is shaping up to be the next Zuma in terms of its quality level and production values. But the game itself is different enough--with features like an online scoreboard--to drag a wider assortment of mobile gamers into the club. AstroPop's due for a July release, and we'll have the full review ready as soon as the game is out.
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