by Staff Writer
December 9, 2010
OverviewThe tower building block stacking phenomenon Jenga has made the digital transformation to iOS Devices as the official version of Jenga. NaturalMotion, who developed the Backbreaker games, has worked with Jenga creator Leslie Scott in attempting to make the most authentic digital version of Jenga possible. The game includes the 3D real time physics engine NaturalMotion is known for along with fine tuned touch control.
FeaturesThe game includes the classic mode where you remove pieces, and stack them on the top trying to go for as long as you can before the tower topples. There is also a brand new arcade mode with colored bricks that is about timing, combos, and matching colors. You can also play pass n’ play mode for multiplayer on one device, and Game Center is included for online high scores and achievements.
The GoodNaturalMotion has set out to bring Jenga to iOS devices, and provide outstanding physics and touch controls. The good thing is that they have succeeded, and have provided absolutely extraordinary physics and controls. Every piece you remove lets you see and interact with the amazing physics engine with the whole tower being affected by your every move. As more pieces are removed the tower starts to lean and wiggle up until it becomes too out of balance and collapses. As you pull out pieces the surrounding bricks accurately respond to the pressure of how and what direction you pull the piece out. The Jenga tower reacts exactly as you would expect the physical wood blocks to do so, and it’s an amazing achievement by NaturalMotion. To pull those pieces the game uses only touch controls, but they work extremely well. You simply tap on the piece you want, and then touch, hold, and drag the piece out of the tower as fast or as slow as you want. It is so effortless to pick the piece you want, and start pulling with some of the smoothest touch controls yet experienced on the iOS device. Once a piece is pulled out, it automatically goes to the top, and then you finely place it on top, and the controls allow you to have such fine tuned precision in placing the brick in the speed and movement. You can also tap pieces to push them for example pushing out a middle piece or trying to push another brick back in place to stabilize the tower. To move the camera you can zoom in and out, and flick the screen to spin the camera angle as you need to line up the camera with the angle you’re pulling so you have enough room to do so. The classic mode is the regular game of Jenga where you can play solo going for the highest stack you can with each new layer of three bricks equaling one point. The pass n’ play mode offers the same classic game, but allowing you to pass it along with up to three others to share the nerve racking piece pulling and stacking. The arcade mode is a huge change of pace, and a brilliant addition to the game. For arcade mode, the best way to score points is to rack up the combo which is possible by taking out consecutive pieces within the time limit. Each new piece adds one to your combo, but there is high time sensitivity. You’re moving at a much faster pace to maintain the combo, and in doing so you make rash decisions on which pieces to pick, and the tower stability is harmed. You can also score bonus points by adding a new layer of three of the same color, and that builds with more layers. Picking only certain colors to remove combined with time constraints will have that tower collapsing much quicker. To get a good score in arcade mode though you’ll need to work on the dangerous side with combos, and it’s an even more exhilarating mode. The game looks absolutely beautiful on a retina display or iPad from the deluxe background environments to the wood block tower. Each wood piece has an ornate design, and there are amazing shadow effects all combined with the previously mentioned physics engine. There is a smooth relaxing soundtrack to accompany the gameplay. Once you start playing Jenga on your iOS device it’s tough to put back down as you always feel like you can do better than your previous attempt. With the brilliant control system and physics engine it’s so smooth to play that you’ll want to keep going. Game Center offers a little more replay incentive as well, and the variability between classic and arcade is outstanding. One small good thing is that when the tower does collapse it’s restacked instantly rather than you having to gather up all the fallen blocks. Seeing the tower collapse is always disappointing, but it looks so good and authentic there is still some enjoyment in watching pieces fall and scatter so realistically.
The BadThe game doesn’t take advantage of the gyroscope on fourth generation devices, and it’s only a thought because Steve Jobs demoed a Jenga like game when introducing the gyroscope at the Keynote. It would be great to have the gyroscope control the camera angle to move quickly around the tower. The touch controls for piece movement are great, but they’re not perfect for camera movement. You can accidentally select a piece rather than spinning the camera, or spin the camera instead of selecting a piece. These problems are only really noticeable in arcade mode when you’re moving at a much faster pace. The gameplay isn’t the most complex as it is just the classic board game Jenga, but it really does feel reinvented on the touch screen. The iPad version is a little bit easier to play since you have a bigger touch screen, and the game is exclusively touch based. The gyroscope would have changed that, but it’s not used, so the iPad gives you more room to maneuver. The game may be a little bit too easy compared to the physical version because pieces light up white, pink, and red depending on how hard they are to pull out. When playing the physical version you just have to think how the piece will react, while the iOS version lets you know before you even start pulling. The multiplayer leaves a bit to be desired as it’s only the same device play with no type of online connectivity. The game would be improved quite a bit with Game Center multiplayer, but even play over WiFi and Bluetooth would help. Jenga was made to be played with others, and the iOS device helps bring people together who aren’t necessarily in the same location. This may be seen as good or bad, but when playing the physical board game a shaking hand from nervousness can hamper your ability to succeed. At least for me anyway, but that’s taken out of the equation with the touch based interface where your moves are silky smooth. One big thing missing is someone yelling out JENGA when the tower is about to collapse.
The VerdictJenga is an exceptionally well designed iOS game in nearly every regard highlighted by the outstanding physics engine and silky smooth controls. The classic mode and the brand new arcade mode are tons of fun, and will keep you coming back with replay arising from some old and some new. Jenga for iOS comes as close as possible to replicating the physical board game experience, and is better than it in some regards, but is lacking in a few others. Jenga is a should buy for $2.99 that will appeal to fans and non-fans alike, but just don’t let that tower fall.
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