After taking last week off to review Microsoft’s Xbox One console, I’m back with a look at a just-released indie game for Windows Phone 7 and 8. BigBot Audio Drop comes from Wisconsin-based indie developer BigBot Systems. Not only is it their first game, it’s also exclusive to Windows Phone.
BigBot Audio Drop blends traditional falling block gameplay with thumping electronic music and slick visuals. The gameplay and design are closely modeled after Lumines, an early PSP hit that later came to XBLA and other platforms. But Lumines never came to Windows Phone, so Audio Drop fills a nice gap in our favorite smartphone’s software lineup. It also comes in both paid and free versions, so it won’t break the bank.
Match three? No way, four square
Many falling block games fall into the match-3 category, with players matching three of the same object in order to eliminate them. Not all genre titles are match 3, though. Tetris – the father of the genre – marches to the beat of its own drum, after all.
BigBot Audio Drop is one of those that works a tad differently. Within the playing field you’ll find pieces falling from the sky, sure. There’s also a vertical line called the time bar which passes from left to right at regular intervals, proving important to differentiating Audio Drop (as with Lumines before it) from other puzzlers.
Each square-shaped piece that falls from the sky is made up of four smaller blocks. Those smaller blocks only come in two varieties: circle and square. The player’s objective is to match at least four of the same shape in a 2 x 2 pattern. Once you do, those pieces get “primed” (marked) to be cleared.
Those marked pieces don’t actually disappear until the vertical line scrolls by and touches them. As long as pieces are marked but haven’t been cleared yet, you can get more points by stacking more of the same shape next to the marked structure, causing them to merge with it. If any additional, separate sets of marked shapes get cleared by the same vertical line, you’ll get. a combo bonus for them
In addition to rotating pieces and stacking them as best you can, you can also drop them down instantly. Dropping is important for making combos since you want to clear as many pieces as possible each time the line passes by.
Power drops and abilities
Additionally, two little beat indicators constantly tick down at the bottom of the screen. Drop a block exactly when the beat hits the center to perform a power drop. These charge up special abilities and boost the combo meter. I find timing my drops to the beat somewhat difficult when I’m trying to frantically make matches, but you’ll get enough power drops just by chance anyway.
Special abilities are another way that Audio Drop differs from typical puzzlers. Instead of grabbing power-ups from the playing field, players have four different abilities that charge up during a level. Each one charges at its own rate, with the more useful abilities taking longer to become available than the simpler ones. Activating an ability depletes all four charges, so you basically have to save up for just the one you want and ignore the others.
- Switch: a virtual d-pad appears, allowing players to switch any blocks on-screen with the current active block
- Slow: The timeline bar moves half as fast, making combos much easier to get
- Multi: a temporary quadruple points multiplier
- Bomb: the virtual d-pad allows players to detonate pieces off of the playing field
Music and levels
Whenever a current level’s song ends, players move on to the next song and level. The game launches with six songs, all electronic compositions from an artist called SGX. Each song also has its own beautiful background and color theme for its falling blocks.
You can select a song to play from the main menu, but it’s hard to know what you’re picking if you haven’t memorized the song. It should play preview snippets of a song before players choose to launch the game.
The selection of songs is quite similar to what I remember from Lumines. Honestly, most of them are too discordant for my liking. “Span” is okay. I never dug Lumines’ soundtrack either. Music is of course subjective, and I expect some players will really dig the tunes. You can even buy an expanded version of the soundtrack at Xbox Music.
Unlike the songs, Audio Drop’s sound effects are mixed fairly quiet. So much so that I first thought they were missing or something (partially my own fault). I had to turn them up louder than the music to actually hear them very well.
As for the song transitions between levels, the level you’re playing basically just ends with no warning. You’re then taken to a Scoreloop leaderboard screen and the next song starts after a few seconds. I don’t like how abruptly songs end though. The screen should flash and count down to the end of the song or something – provide a little urgency to the puzzling.
As slick as BigBot Audio Drop looks and sounds, its controls need a little work. In the default scheme, tapping the left and right sides of the screen moves the falling blocks left and right. The bottom corners rotate the pieces, and tiny little drop buttons beside the rotation areas.
The problem is the hitboxes for the left/right movement don’t extend low enough on screen, so you need to keep your thumbs higher up than usual in order to hit them. And the drop buttons are just too tiny and hard to hit… All of which adds an unintended degree of challenge to the game.
Having played a prerelease version of the game for a few days now, I’ve already had the chance to discuss the controls at length with the developer. Thankfully, they agree about the control issues and plan to fix them in a forthcoming update.
Free versus Paid
BigBot Audio Drop comes in both free and paid versions. The free version includes five songs and the default “Audio Drop” game mode. It displays adds on the menu screens, but not during gameplay.
Buying the full game for $1.99 will disable ads. It also adds a sixth song: “Coactive (Over my Shoulder Mix)” and a “Pure” game mode that disables special abilities, simplifying gameplay a smidge.
Depending on how well the game does, BigBot would love to add more songs in the future. That would certainly boost the game’s longevity.
BigBot Audio Drop is an unusually polished game from a first-time indie developer, with ample visual flair from start to finish. The menus and fonts just look super slick, and the gameplay graphics and backgrounds don’t disappoint either. The music (while not quite to my own taste - give me chiptunes!) fits the visual style very well, justifying the title of the game. There needs to be more tracks, but those will surely come in time.
If you like puzzle games or electronic music, drop this game into your download queue and give it a go.
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