Friday, September 24, 2010

Shibuya Review

Shibuya is the first iOS game from Never Center, the developers behind the App Store entry, CameraBag. The team is no stranger to the platform, which explains the fact that their first foray into mobile gaming is so well-suited to the strengths of the iPhone. Shibuya is a color-matching tile puzzle game. The idea will be familiar to anybody who has played Tetris, Lumines, or Meteos but Shibuya introduces some twists to that style of gameplay which will have even the most seasoned puzzle gamers scratching their heads.

Tiles of various colors will fall from the top of the screen in random order. Players must match up two or more colors in order to clear them away. By tapping on a tile, players can choose the order in which the blocks fall to the bottom. This allows for not only some serious combo opportunities, it soon twists your mind as you frantically race to tap colors into place. Players must think ahead, planning out the order of the colors while the music plays and the timer slowly clicks.

Shibuya can seem a little daunting your first play-through but don’t worry. While you get used to the idea of strategizing your tile order, the game makes things as easy as possible, generously offering a Slow mode to help get you started. Players will quickly master the easier settings, grasping the key concepts, as the game’s addictive qualities make their way into your subconscious.

The game is made up of two modes; Quickplay for two-minute rounds on-the-go and Endless where players see just how long they can last. In-game achievements with OpenFeint integration will keep the most-dedicated players testing their limits for a long time. Personally, I would have liked to see the game support the newly released GameCenter system but Never Center tells me they’re currently looking into it.

Shibuya’s great mechanics are reenforced by a charming, though sometimes sparse, art style and incredible soundtrack. Inspired by the Shibuya district in Tokyo, the game’s visual design mimics the neon lights, bright colors, verticality, and overall kinetic atmosphere of the neighborhood. After playing the game for so long, I did tire of seeing the same static background, wishing there were at least some options to mix up the look but the game’s edited approach to design keeps what really matters, the puzzling itself, front and center. It’s a testament to the design of Shibuya that it’s actually able to convey a sense of time and place in a small puzzle game. The licensed music from Millionyoung is not only a joy to listen to but really helps set the overall tone of the experience. The app thankfully provides a direct link to purchase the music direct from the iTunes Music Store, I highly suggest giving it a listen.

I would have liked to see more game modes and options, whether it’s a mode in which players must clear out a few blocks already placed at the bottom before moving on, or otherwise. In addition, as much as I love the soundtrack, I eventually wished I could play music from my iTunes library. After all, there are only five licensed tracks and the most addicted Shibuya players are likely to hear them many times. However, these are minor issues that come only from spending several hours with the game and, well, it’s tough to fault a developer for making a game I can’t stop playing.

As it stands, Shibuya is a touch-controlled narcotic with a beautiful art style, amazing soundtrack, and clever puzzle mechanic. I’m hesitant to bring up the issue of pricing because iPhone owners should simply try it regardless. However, at $1.99 it’s downright inexcusable not to get it considering how many hours I’ve spent in Shibuya knowing I’ve paid more for Vitamin Water. Put your headphones on, crack your knuckles, and enjoy.

Buy Shibuya here


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