Review: Threes

Sometimes you run across a game that is so simple sounding that you don’t even want to install it.  Easy to dismiss by looking at screenshots, Threes is a game about – well, making threes … and multiples of threes.  Could there really be anything fun about sliding numbered blocks around a screen and making them into pairs of multiples of threes?  Sounds like work … and math.  Who wants to do math when they are gaming?

Fortunately, Threes isn’t a mindless box shuffle but rather a tight, well-designed game that has “greed” (the good kind) written all over it.  And that works for me.

The Basics

Screenshot_2014-03-21-08-14-26Threes comes to you as a $1.99 purchase from the Google Play store.  For such a simple looking game, it clocks in at a rather high install footprint – roughly 30Mb.  Considering the game is visually simple – you gotta wonder where all that space is being used.  I presume it is the high quality audio tracks and voice samples – but I haven’t broken apart the apk to find out for sure.  The game was played on my Samsung Galaxy S4 and Samsung Note 10.1 (2014 Edition) as well as the Nexus 7.

Conceptually, Threes is a very basic game.  There is little to learn to actually play the game – however, the devil is in the details and Threes has a much deeper play mechanic than you probably think.

The board is comprised of a 4×4 grid with a handful of numbered boxes; usually 1, 2 and 3 values – maybe a 6 – and the rest of the board is empty.  On the top, you’ll see what box is coming next.  That’s it.  No, really.

There is no way to “win” this game; you play until you lose.  It is a pure score attack game (which always rubs me right anyway) meaning each subsequent game you play is really to beat the highest score you’ve managed to amass so far.

… and to compete against friends.

Gameplay consists of swiping the board in any of the four directions; up, down, left or right.  As you do so, the boxes on the screen will move in that direction (if possible).  Those up against a wall won’t move any more, of course – but any block that CAN move in that direction?  Will.  Boxes pushed against other static boxes behave like a wall; that is – the boxes will not move.  The caveat to that is if the boxes either add up to 3 (so a 1 and a 2 box) or the two boxes share the same number – say 3 and 3, 6 and 6, 12 and 12, etc.

If the boxes match, they slide together and make a single box of the two boxes added together.  Two 3s will slide together to make a 6.  Two 6s will slide together to make a 12 and so on.

Making combinations like this is important not just for your overall score but also to keep the playfield with free space. Once the board is filled and you cannot move successfully in any direction, the game is over.

As you scroll the board around, combining pairs – new boxes will appear on the screen.  You are told what the next box will be (a 1, 2 or 3+) – and it will slide in the direction you swiped – but you don’t know which square it will occupy (unless only one slot is available – then you know it will appear there).  This adds a bit of luck and randomness to an otherwise very strategic game.

Once the playfield is full and the game ends, you are awarded points for each of the boxes.  The higher the value of the box, the better your overall score.  A playfield full of 6s isn’t going to net you nearly the score that a playfield loaded with 192s and 96s will.

That’s it.  Each game – even if you play very well – can be over in a matter of minutes.  Simple in concept; maddeningly frustrating (in a good way) once you peel back the obvious simple layer of the game.

The game sports some very nice audio; music and sound effects and add a lot of character and polish to an otherwise simple presentation.

Advanced Play

Adding up the score ...

Adding up the score …

Great games like Threes have a few common components.

First they are easy to pick up and play – nothing complicated to shield casual players.

Second, they are frustratingly addictive.  Like the previously reviewed Chip Chain, there is no way you can “just play once”.  Your struggle to beat your score could potentially take over your life for short periods of time.  More so if you’re playing against friends on the leaderboards.

Third, they contain a much deeper mechanic designed for die hard players to really move ahead of the casual player.

The secret to a good game of Threes is about controlling the board on multiple levels.  Making matches seems like the focus of the game – but it is really just a byproduct of super tight board management.

What does that mean, really?

Oddly enough, it is more about making 1+2 matches than big number matches.  Boxes without matches are dead weights and potential game enders, so keeping matches and free space available on the board is a key to success.

Learning to manipulate the board and get the incoming boxes where you want them is also key.  Yes, there is a random element to where they appear, but as you play more you’ll discover means of bending that randomness to your will.

Finally, the last advanced play technique deals with how you progress the advancement of the box values.  If you only look at the board one dimensionally, you’ll end up with one or two “big” numbered boxes and a ton of 3s which will not drive up your score.  You should be building multiple boxes up roughly at the same time.  It takes five moves to turn a 1+2 into a 48 and that is if everything lines up perfect and you increment the box each turn.  Getting focused on a single box progression will end up filling your board with crappy boxes you cannot use.

The best part of this game is?  You can throw all this advanced play out the door and just zen out – hoping things will work out on their own (and oddly, sometimes that works).

Leaderboards and Achievements

Thanks to Google Play Games integration, Threes features an integrated high score leaderboard that also tracks who has the highest number of a given box value.  It is a perfect score attack/chase game and leaderboards are essential for throwing down against your buddies.

There are 18 achievements to earn – many are labeled “secret” so you have to play to unlock them; while others are practically gimmies.  Still, everyone likes earning an achievement.  Keeps you on your game.

The Smurfberry Factor

This game is a one time purchase from the Google Play store.  There is no In-App Purchase and nothing is hobbled until you pay more money.  There is no “in app restore” for purchases, etc.  It is truly a stand alone title.

Since it is an outright purchase, this game receives a 0 out of 5 Smurfberry rating.

The Dark Side

Game Over

Game Over

No app or game is perfect.  In this section, we’ll discuss what is wrong with Threes.

The problem with Threes is like any other maddenly addictive score chaser; at some point you peak out in score and your forward momentum in the game becomes minor and often only a matter of chance.  Once your friends stop playing – the drive to score higher is all on you and that tends to release the fire from the brimstone.

The simple concept won’t work for everyone, either.  While my 7 year old son took to Chip Chain like a duck to water, Threes didn’t work out for him.  I like to bounce certain apps off my wife and kid as they deliver a different market viewpoint.  I know a lot of adults that don’t really “get” Threes and even in competitive play, it just doesn’t work for them.

Being niche doesn’t make a game bad (and obviously there is a very big market for Threes – look at it’s popularity) but the title definitely rubs certain people wrong.

A lot of people will complain that there isn’t enough you can personally manipulate to take control of the game; that too MUCH is left to chance.  No powerups or “do overs”, no hint system … nothing that let’s them get out of a sticky situation.  It truly is a game of 85% skill and 15% luck – and I think a lot of people won’t like those odds.

There is really nothing else to complain about.  The game delivers exactly what it was intended to and does so in a pleasant albeit utilitarian way.

Final Words

Threes is part of a growing genre of score attack puzzlers.  For a couple bucks, you can spend 10-12 hours of super fast, entertaining, maddening, addictive game play against your buddies – then discard it when the next entry in the genre shows up.  Games like this you return to and revisit later, playing for fun instead of score – knowing full well you don’t have to compete against your friends list.

Mobile gaming tends to be disposable anyway, so I don’t hold the score attack puzzler genre at fault.  After all, 10 hours of entertainment for $2 is a real bargain these days – so Threes is a top notch value.  If you enjoyed Chip Chain and similar ilk, you’re going to love Threes.  If you only play against yourself, you might not find the same sense of urgency and score chasing that makes this genre so damn fun – even if it is only for a dozen hours.

Threes is a frighteningly addictive (and sometimes frighteningly maddening) game that will keep you coming back for more (and more … and more).

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Get It Google Play
Developer Sirvo lls
Price $1.99
Smurfberry Annoyance Factor 0 (of 5)

 

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