There are some games that you just know came about because someone down the pub said, “hey wouldn’t it be great to combine [incredibly successful game X] with [equally successful but slightly different game Y]!?” And then, instead of going home, falling asleep on the sofa and forgetting all about it, they actually sat at their computer and wrote it. PuzzleJuice is one of those games.
But, wait, damn, that’s not a bad thing. If you have the chance, go and read my ridiculously long Guardian feature on where game ideas come from. There’s a bit in there where I talk to Mark Green who works in the creative development lab at Sony Worldwide Studios. They have a creativity exercise where they put 200 game names in a hat, pick two, then work out how to mould those experiences together into a cogent new game. So, if Sony does it at the highest level of its creative development strata, it’s fine for everyone to do it.
So yes, PuzzleJuice is Tetris mixed with a word search puzzle. You guide multicoloured shapes down the screen, getting them to interlock at the bottom. When you get four or more blocks of the same colour, you can tap them and they turn into letters. Now you have to see if you can make any words from your growing collection – if you can, swipe across the letters and the resulting word (as long as it’s not a proper noun) disappears and you have some spare space at the bottom of the screen.
This sounds like an awkward exercise in gaming eugenics, and visually, the two halves of your play area, the upper bit with blocks and the lower bit with letters, looks as though you have fused different puzzle titles together. A sort of ludological cut-n-shut job.
But unlike vehicular cut-n-shut jobs, which are illegal and dangerous, PuzzleJuice is utterly engrossing. Forming words is complicated by the fact that all the letters need to be placed in such an order that you can swipe from the first to the last without removing your finger from the screen, so you lose that desperation to enter clever five- or six letter words (which is the compulsion that has ruined many a game of Quarrel for me), and allow yourself to feverishly poke out any old three-letter noun that’ll clear some much-needed space.
The learning curve is smart, too, with a slow pace that only very gradually accelerates (a game design 101 right there), while various block-popping power-ups lend a merciful hand throughout.
Written by a team of three (including Jimmy Hinson, the co-composer of the Mass Effect 2 score), it’s a game of wit, grace and verve. It knows its the sort of thing that might come about as the result of a slightly inebriated conversation and it doesn’t care, because it is stylish and it works. How many of your pub ideas can you say that about?