Threes! is a popular puzzle game from Sirvo that took the mobile world by storm when it launched on iOS last year. The goal is simple – combine duplicate numbers to create greater numbers while trying to avoid running out of moves. Anybody can learn to play Threes is seconds, but the game has a complexity so great that even reverse-engineered solving programs have a tough time achieving the highest score.
Not long ago, Threes! finally arrived on Windows Phone. Better late than never! This release prompted us to stream the Xbox One version of Threes! (developed by Hidden Variable) on Twitch. Now that I've played Threes on both the big screen and large, I'm here to tell you how both versions stack up to each other. But can I answer the elusive question of Threes' nearly universal appeal?
A game of numbers
Threes might look complex at a glance, but it's very simple. The field consists of sixteen tiles. These tiles have numbers on them, ranging from 1 all the way to some big numbers that give me headaches just thinking about them.
Swipe vertically or horizontally on the analog stick or screen to try to move all of the tiles on the screen in that direction. If the number on a tile can be combined with the tile, it would be sliding into, the two will combine to form a larger number.
For instance, one and two can be combined to make the magic number three. Every other number after that must be added to the same number. Two threes make six, two sixes make twelve, a pair of twelves makes 24, and so on.
Harder than you'd think
Matching the same numbers sounds easy enough, but Threes! does become challenging after a few moves. Every time you swipe, one new number tile enters the grid. The new number seems random, but it's governed by a complex set of rules and can be predicted by people (much smarter than me) who learn those rules. The game at least tells you the color of the next tile that will enter the board, but that only helps people who research the algorithms and not the average player.
Different numbers (other than one and two) can't be combined. Smart moves will keep the number of tiles on the board down, whereas poorly planned moves (the kind I make) result in more and more numbers piling up on the field. If you end up with too many incompatible numbers in play, you'll run out of moves to make. And once that happens, it's game over.
Scores of scores
Having run out of moves, the game will then calculate your score. Higher numbered tiles like 48 and 96 are worth more than lower numbered tiles, of course. The scores and filled-up boards from previous games are stored locally for your analysis.
The Xbox One version has a significant advantage over the phone version thanks to online leaderboards. As with virtually every Xbox One game, you can view global high scores or your friends' high scores. This adds a fun competitive element that you just don't get from the Windows Phone version. Do you think you can beat my high score of 624? Haha, it seems like everybody can but me!
Style and swagger
Threes! has been cloned numerous times ever since its creation. In fact, its largest competitor 2048 came along just a month after Threes! debuted on iOS. Some games like 2048 tweak the mechanics a bit to differentiate themselves. For example, swipes in 2048 will move tiles more than one space if the tiles have room for the move.
Still, few of those clones can match Threes' secret weapon: its personality. The tiles in this game aren't just numbers; they're characters. Each one has a distinctive face, voice, and personality. They say cute little things as you play like "I'm the best around!" that keep the experience from feeling lonely. You can even read cute little in-game descriptions of each number.
Besides the cheerful tiles, the actual graphics are fairly minimalistic. You can switch between regular colors and "night colors," which toggles the background color from white to black and darkens the white tiles to a blue-gray color.
Threes! looks quite classy on Windows Phone, played in portrait orientation. On Xbox One, the game retains the portrait layout without filling out the blank space you naturally get from a widescreen display. Optional borders would have been nice.
Snap to it
On Windows Phone, you can bust out Threes! anytime you have a few minutes to kill. The Xbox One version doesn't have that luxury. I have a hard time imagining many Xbox players choosing to play this ultra-hard puzzler exclusively over more console-oriented offerings. But the Xbox One version does have an ace up its sleeve.
You see, Threes! can be played while snapped to the side of the screen. You can watch Daredevil on Netflix while playing this game on the side of the screen, which somewhat approximates the experience of playing on your phone while watching a show.
No other Xbox One game to date offers the play-while-snapped feature. The only other snappable game to date, Nutjitsu, can't actually be played while snapped. Talk about pointless! On the other hand, the snappability does prevent Threes! and Nutjitsu from supporting the Xbox One's in-game DVR and screenshot features.
The Windows Phone version of Threes! is not Xbox Live-enabled, so it has no Achievements. On Xbox One, we get 16 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Given the console game's relatively low price, you might expect it to be an inexpensive source of Achievements. I hate to burst your bubble…
Threes! breaks the unwritten rule of Achievements in that its Gamerscore values don't end in multiples of five. Instead, each one's Gamerscore ends in a multiple of three. Obsessive compulsives might find that annoying.
Also, I wouldn't expect to get most of the game's Achievements. They're super hard, with several relying on chance rather than skill. You can cheat and use the online Threes solver to get the Achievements for creating higher numbered tiles, but the solver can't create tiles higher than 768 without failing. Even just using the solver will take hours, so watch out!
An issue or two
The Windows Phone version of Threes! currently suffers from some crashing issues. After closing the app, I couldn't get it to reopen while crashing. Store reviews show that crashes plague other users as well, so Sirvo definitely needs to work on stability.
The Xbox One version runs great, but it does lack one obvious feature: manual saves! As mentioned before, it will take hours of continuous play to reach several Achievements. Not everybody wants to sit and do all that in one session. The game autosaves your board when you quit, but (reportedly) sometimes it fails to save the most recent tile arrangement. Why not let us save multiple in-progress games? I think the Xbox One can handle the strain.
Windows Phone version
Threes! is one of those super popular mobile games whose appeal might cause traditional gamers some befuddlement. I have to admit, this game is not for me at all. But you guys and my Twitch co-host Tyler love it, and I can almost see why. The charming visuals, simple controls, and steep challenge all make for a game that's easy to learn but tough to master.
Whether you love Threes! enough to plop down seven bucks on the Xbox One version is up to you. The leaderboards and snapping feature rock, but some of the Achievements are nearly impossible. Still, $7 is cheap for a console title – even one that makes more sense to play on the go.
If you rock a Windows Phone, you'll definitely want to give the mobile version a try. No Achievements or leaderboards, but it really is well-suited for quick play sessions throughout the day.