Review: iON Bond30 May 2014 0
iON Bond is a well-presented, deliberately paced puzzle game with one glaring flaw. While there is no chemistry content beyond the attraction of opposite particles and repulsion of equals when bonded, but even a small number of particles can interact in many ways, especially with real-time control over the duration and timing of bonds. Mere messing about will often put you in an unwinnable situation, so most levels involve some careful analysis of what is possible given the limited tools at your disposal prior to the attempt to execute a plan. Or, if you're me, the fat-fingered attempt to execute part of an ill-conceived plan the failure of which is informative enough to make the solution more salient.
The system is simple enough that it's possible to simply deduce a solution from the outset, though savvy readers have probably already guessed that my excuse for failing to do so will be that this is rarely the most efficient method of finding a solution. The aforementioned flaw comes from the interface: you make bonds by dragging your finger between two particles, and remove them by swiping your finger across an existing bond.
This means that the more crowded the area, the more likely it is that the place you'll start swiping when you try to break a bond will be close enough to some other particle that the game will interpret this as a drag to make a new bond. Such crowded areas are also exactly the ones in which timing is most crucial. The remainder of the review will consist of profanity-laden emphasis of the resulting frustration. Perhaps it's a metaphor for the negativity of breaking bonds.
Slight exaggeration, that. While the swipe/drag confusion is horribly exasperating, the puzzles are still well-designed, though they'd probably be a touch on the easy side if the interface worked well. That's exacerbated by the relative brevity of the game and its manner of presentation.
The main menu offers "Start", "?????" and "Options" at the beginning, and presents the six chapters of ten levels under "Start" in a way which led me to believe they were an extended tutorial. Each of these levels has three objectives to touch with one of your particles; my pride did not allow me to progress beyond a level without collecting them all, partly because they were often the most appealing challenges. That worked out well, because the "?????" option doesn't unlock until you collect them all, and I felt I owed it to my readers to explore the big reveal.
That buildup led me to a procedurally-generated Endless Mode: you have one minute to collect as many optional objectives as possible. Since only a few are available at any time and new ones spawn each time you collect one, there'd be no way to plan beyond the first or second capture even if you wanted to waste your precious opening seconds trying. It's a completely different experience from the rest of the levels, much more focused on rapid reaction and the development of some basic heuristics than on deduction and carefully-crafted puzzles. Since those provide the intellectual charm of the game, Endless Mode was a great disappointment.
iON Bond is equally attractive on the iPad and iPhone, the puzzles are stimulating and original, but the interface is so staggeringly irritating to me that I wonder whether I'm highly unusual. It's hard to imagine that playtest feedback didn't involve some salty language and the suggestion to break bonds with taps rather than swipes. Perhaps that introduced other problems. In any case, there's not enough joy to be found to justify the aggravation.
iON Bond was played on an iPad Air and iPhone 5S for this review.