Fractal: Make Blooms Not War has been available for the iPad for a while now. And although I had a chance to play a bit of the game back at IndieCade a couple of years ago, I only recently discovered how deep, challenging--and, at times, deliciously frustrating--the unassuming-looking puzzle game could be. That is, at least until I recently had a chance to spend some more time with the PC version that hit Steam back in November.
I picked the PC version of Fractal as part of one of the indie bundles in the recent Steam holiday sale, and it's easily one of my favorite diversions at the moment. Besides the original puzzle mechanic (which I'll get into shortly), the game presents itself with a very slick and clean style, with dynamic ambient music that changes based on how the player is performing. Don't let the static, unassuming screenshots fool you: Fractal is an audiovisual treat.
Each level of the game is a self-contained puzzle in which the player herds like-colored hexagons into groups of seven: six hexes around the perimeter, and one in the center. The hexes are pushed around the playing area by selecting (or in the case of the iPad: tapping) an empty tile. Additional hexes are then pushed outward from the selected tile. Once a group of seven hexagons is positioned correctly, it will explode, clearing the way for more tiles. Things get even more interesting when different colors of tiles are added, since they can only be grouped with those of the same color. The addition of random explosive tiles also allow the player to clear big sections of the board when cleared off the board.
They may sound a bit confusing when described, but the core mechanics quickly become intuitive. This is a very good thing because creating the necessary groups of fractals becomes a lot trickier than one might expect. Each of Fractal's three gameplay modes--Campaign, Puzzle, and Arcade--place different limitations on the player. Campaign mode, for example, is broken up into ten-chapter chunks, and gives the player a predetermined number of pushes to achieve the necessary score before it's game over. Puzzle mode is like the Campaign on steroids, and Arcade mode gives the player unlimited pushes, but forces them to race against the clock.
Whether you just have a few minutes to puzzle out a few levels, or find yourself with time to spare, Fractal's levels are bite-sized enough and addictive enough to accommodate all lengths of play-sessions. If you're a fan of puzzle games, Fractal packs in enough great content to keep you busy for quite a while.
In fairness, if you have the option to play Fractal on an iPad ($1.99 on iTunes), that's the best version to grab. It's a great game to play on-the-go, and the touch-screen interface is elegant and fun to use. That said, the PC and Mac versions pack in all of the same great puzzles too, and are currently available on Steam for $6.99.
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