“ Manufacturer: Sunken Media / Type: iPhone Game / Platform: iPhoneOS „
Disney's iPhone app Blackout, you are faced with a city which has lost its power. You have to restore it, through the scientifically dubious method of connecting together lines of three or more coloured gems. These then explode, filling the area they occupied with light (and more gems). Your task is to connect this light via a series of hubs (grey metallic blobs) until you reach the exit. At that point, power will be restored and you can move on to the next level.
Initially, Blackout sounded like an interesting take on the Bejewelled series, adding a story element to the "connect the gems" gameplay. The fact there is a distinct goal to each level changes the dynamic from an open-ended score attack game into an objective based levels one. It also develops on the Bejewelled concept since you can connect lines of gems that zig zag around, rather than being limited to straightforward vertical or horizontal lines or just moving a single gem one space to create a line.
Graphically, Blackout is acceptable, if unspectacular. It's easy to pick out the gems, since the game makes use of a good range of colours, so despite the small size of the iPhone's screen there's no squinting to see if that gem is really greeny-blue or bluey-green. Navigating later levels can be a bit of an issue, though (more on this in a minute).
There are a couple of nice graphical touches, too. For example, you have a limited amount of time to get the light to the next hub. As this starts to run out, the whole screen starts to get gradually darker, until you can only see a couple of centimetres either side of your position, as though you are viewing the action via torchlight. As soon as you connect the light to the hub, the whole screen floods with light once more; a neat little effect which adds to the atmosphere.
The sound is never going to win any awards, either and, like the graphics the tunes and in-game sound effects are perfectly adequate without ever being spectacular. They do add a little bit to the game, but you can equally quite play it with the sound turned off and not miss anything.
Control-wise, things are OK, although there are a couple of niggles. To connect gems together, you hold your finger on your starting point and drag your finger along the screen, drawing a connecting line to the finish point. Most of the time, this works fine. If you make a mistake and head in a direction you don't want to go, you can simply reverse your line and take the correct path; the move is not completed until you take your finger off the screen. There were, however a couple of times when I tried to reverse my path but must have released the pressure on the screen slightly. The game took this as a sign that I had finished and went ahead with the move. This is annoying, as it can sabotage your strategy or lead to you missing out on some potentially huge bonuses.
The other niggle has already been referred to - that of moving around the screen on some of the larger levels. To do this, you hold two fingers and drag them across the screen to view other parts of the maze. This is quite cumbersome, and on later levels it's all too easy to get a bit lost and be unable to find your way back to your current position. A better option might have been to have a single button offering a plan view of the whole level, allowing you to see at a glance both your current position and where you need to get to.
The game's real issue, however, stems from the fact that it is inexcusably boring to play, mainly because it is far too easy. The beginner's level (with 9 different stages) can be completed by even the most inept game player, and even subsequent levels didn't offer much more of a challenge. I certainly got bored with this app long before I completed all the available levels. I'm not renowned for my game playing skills, yet I breezed through all of the early levels so quickly that I began to wonder whether it is actually possible to fail a level (it is, but it won't happen terribly often).
There's also not much variation to the game. The only real indication that you are progressing through the game is the fact that you light up more and more buildings on the between-level cityscapes and the levels get progressively bigger. To be honest, though, if seeing things light up was my bag, I could simply stand outside our house in the evenings and ask Mrs SWSt to switch the lights on and off.
Thanks to this lack of challenge and variety, playing the game becomes a highly mechanical process. I felt no engagement with on-screen events and no real sense of achievement. Frankly, for all the enjoyment I got, I could have been watching someone else play the game. Boredom soon set in and I actually got to the stage where I WANTED to fail, just so I could stop playing (I'm stubborn and hate exiting mid-game!).
The actual rules were rather vague too. There were times when I would make a move and miraculously find that I had somehow completed the level, with no real idea of how. This was not a one-off occurrence, nor the result of luck or a fluke. If you're able to complete levels by accident, without any real strategy, it rather diminishes the sense of fun and achievement that you would normally expect from playing a game.
The game does have a couple of different modes, but since they all have the same underlying game play limitations, this is not necessarily a good thing. Whichever mode you play in the lack of meaningful challenge and the dull repetitive gameplay becomes an issue. Despite some initial promise, this is not a game with much in the way of either short-term or long-term playability.
It might only cost 59p, but to be honest, you'd be better off investing that in a Wispa or other chocolate bar of choice. You'll get just as much enjoyment from it, and if I were feeling particularly unkind, I might even that the sense of fun would last longer.
© Copyright SWSt 2010