Cipher Prime, the musically-inclined two-man indie studio that last producted the gloriously elegant and lovely Auditorium, is back today with Fractal, another ethereal puzzler with roots of Tetris, Bejeweled, Peggle, beepy music, clean art direction, and a steadily ramping difficulty curve that quickly turns ferocious. Check out the demo here.
I spent about an hour with the demo this morning and my overall impressions are pretty straightforward: not as good as Auditorium. Fractal is a fun puzzle game, but it’s unfriendly at the outset by providing little more than vague cues about how the game is played. The mechanics aren’t complicated: push multicolored hexes around to form solid shapes. But a bit more guidance might have been nice.
While I was immediately captivated by Auditorium – as nearly everyone who played it was – Fractal did much less to enthrall me. It retains Cipher Prime’s trademark liquid orchestrations and aquarian soundscapes, but lacks the beauty, the smooth, pure grace of its predecessor. Moreover, the musical tie-in here is far less relevant, an odd decision for a company 50% composed of composers, and one which has made a name for itself creating breathy musical puzzlers. It’s also a simpler game, mathematically; unlike Auditorium, where there were no correct or incorrect approaches, and the whooshing streams of colored particles are infinitely adjustable based on the tools you’re provided, in Fractal you’re limited to the humble hexagon and direct pushes. Doubtless the later game gets more complicated (I’ve already seen the addition of multiple colors and similar challenges), but even these steps seem minimal and simple compared to the infinite possibilities some of Auditorium’s most basic tools offered.
While I doubt Fractal will be poorly received, for my money (in the sense that it’s not going to get it), it’s a step backwards for Cipher Prime, and a bit of a disappointment compared to the luminous, fragile elegance of Auditorium. I’ll play more and report back if my experience changes dramatically, but my general feeling right now is that any gamer who played the demo of Auditorium and didn’t immediately fork over their cash needs their head examined, while I simply can’t recommend Fractal unless you’re an absolute fanatic for Bejeweled and want to add some really nice music to the mix.
Fractal will be available in late May for Windows and Mac. Pre-order price is $9.99; final game is $14.99.
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