The Lost Shapes iOS
Magic Chess. It probably conjures up images of animated, Potter-esque battles on giant black and white boards. The Lost Shapes is nothing like that. Okay, the board is black and white. But that’s where the similarities end.
TLS is a puzzle game which focuses around making the eponymous Shapes in order on a grid board. In Shape Mode, you are tasked with placing tiles with a range of different lines on them onto the board in order to form the shapes formed by the glowing red outlines. Tiles can be swapped with those already placed on the board. Often these shapes can interconnect, meaning you have to try and plan out what tiles are the best to use. New tiles are introduced into a column on the left of the screen, and if you don’t place the tiles on the board in time, it fills up and the game ends.
Shape Mode has ten levels, each with the same shapes to form, but each level has three variations. The first is a plain shape making round. The second starts with the board already populated with a range of useful and not so useful tiles. The last adds the most depth, and requires specific tiles marked with symbols to be placed in the appropriate places. In this last mode, the board can rapidly fill up with useless pieces, meaning you have to think on your toes to prevent a game over.
Unfortunately, the story mode is rife with problems. Whilst the story itself is enjoyable and features some competent voiceover work, it ends before going anywhere. Even worse, the game asks you to buy more levels that complete the story as DLC. But you probably aren’t playing for the story are you? So long as the gameplay itself is good, it’s fine right? Well, no. The concept is good, but some of the choices in implementing it are poorly made. On a small iOS screen, it’s often difficult to tell the difference between a cross tile and a double corner tile. You often end up selecting the wrong piece for the job.
The scoring system is also inexplicable. There is a combo bar that steadily decreases over time. The faster you complete the level, the bigger the score. That in itself is fine, but there’s two major problems. Firstly, you can’t fill up the bar once it decreases, meaning speed is of the essence. But this is where the second problem comes into play. TLS is a game entirely based around chance. You have no influence over the tiles that will next appear. This means you can be sitting with an almost complete shape, and you can do nothing as the combo bar ticks down, just waiting for that last corner piece.
It’s not all doom and gloom. TLS offers an alternative mode to Shape Mode called Survival. Instead of forcing you to construct specific shapes to score points, Survival Mode gives you free reign of the board, barring a few obstacles it places at the beginning of the game, and lets you build whatever shapes you want. It’s a far more enjoyable experience than Shape mode, and, combined with the soothing background music, actually becomes quite relaxing. As you score points, the tiles do start coming faster, but it’s still far more peaceful than Shape mode.
Survival mode also offers a few more tile variants to mix things up a little. The snowflake tile freezes incoming tiles, giving you more time to plan your next move. The Bomb and Nuke tiles, as they might suggest, remove tiles and obstacles from the board to various degrees. Locked tiles cannot be moved once placed, adding more tactical placement. In later levels of Survival mode, the game becomes far more based around reflex and fast judgment calls, which can sometimes add to the difficulty of identifying individual tiles.
The Lost Shapes is a simple concept that is hampered by poor execution. Whilst the Survival Mode makes for both a relaxing and tactical experience, Shape Mode is let down by poorly implemented scoring and design choices. Sadly, Magic Chess isn’t the bewitching experience it could have been.