By Mia Steinberg on Fri, 08/15/2014
Rules is an impossibly cute and very well-designed puzzle game reminiscent of Popcap's Peggle, right down to the unicorn and the weirdly addictive difficulty curve.
This game is the latest release from Germany-based Coding Monkeys (who were kind enough to provide a copy for review). Rules consists of a simple 4x4 grid of tiles numbered from 1 to 10. Each numbered tile has a creature on it, and all the creatures are colored. Rules' title is also its basic instruction; it's similar to the old kids game Simon, in that you are asked to follow a pattern which gets more and more complicated as you play, and which you must remember in reverse order as you go along. You're given a time limit on each level, and your score increases if you complete it without any mistakes or within five seconds. If you run out of time, you need to start over again from the very beginning.
For a game with such a simple concept, Rules escalates quickly. “Tap numbers in descending order,” is the first level; “Okay,” you think, and begin tapping away. “Tap the green tiles,” it asks next; “That's easy,” you respond. Several minutes later, you're eight levels in, and trying to remember if you need to tap mustaches or monsters first—or is it whales before you tap phones? Robots before adjacent monsters? As I told my partner: “Rules is the first game that's made me want to throw my phone out of my second-story window. But in a good way.”
Rules is one of my favorite types of iOS games: easy to learn, hard to master, simple enough to play in short bursts, and with a learning curve that rewards continued play but keeps things interesting. The rules are always in the same order, but the tiles are randomized, so you start to memorize the levels but always need to keep your eyes and fingers active. While I could barely recall five levels on the first day I played, several days later I can do the first ten of them without missing a beat, but still get totally flustered as they get tougher further on (I've only made it to level 27).
Anyone who played Simon as a kid can tell you why the game was so reviled: after a little while, it was simply impossible to remember every single step taken so far. The human brain can only hold so many things in working memory at once, and Rules stretches you right to that limit—but, happily, no further. Since a tile can be tapped because of its color, number, or image, you'll find yourself confusing the order to “tap the highest number” with the order to “tap telephones”, because both can apply to the number 9 tile. Just when you're about to lose your damn mind—every ten levels—the game gives you a breather page and starts you off with a new set of ten rules. It's perfect for brushing right up against frustration without taking the fun away.
Rules will frustrate some players, because it does ramp up very quickly, and it's not quite perfect. One quirk of the system is the way in which it calculates your time allotment; it's something I didn't notice until I realized I only had eleven seconds to complete the seventeenth level. The time you have left upon completion of a level is carried over to the next one, with a few bonus points added on depending on your speed: you get 10 seconds added if you finished with 0-4 seconds on the clock; 9 bonus if you finished with 5-9 seconds left; 8 bonus added if you finished in the 10-14 range, and so on. The way the game tells you about this, however, is a little different. Say you start with 20 seconds and finish the level with 15 on the clock; you get seven bonus seconds added for the next round, for a total of 22, and the game shows you this by flashing a “+2” on the score screen underneath the timer. If things got down to the wire and you only had 5 seconds left, the bonus nine seconds you're given add up to 14 for the next level—and you're shown “-6”, subtracted from the total you started off with. The math works out just fine, but it's not presented in a very clear way.
In my initial playthrough, I had been aiming for a flawless score boost in most levels, as the tutorial simply states that you get a bonus for that; but since you're not penalized for incorrect taps, it's worth it to be as speedy as possible and try to bump up your time total in the earlier levels so that you aren't left with an impossibly short amount of time when things get tricky later on. This is my only complaint about Rules, and it's easily fixed by adding one or two extra screens during the tutorial clarifying that your speed will determine your time allotment for the next level. It'd be nice if a flawless round rewarded you with a little more time as well, which would keep things balanced for those levels where you end up being meticulous but not particularly speedy. Other than that, though, Rules is a charming, addictive, well-designed puzzle game that rewards repeated play and keeps things interesting without ever becoming impossible.
very well designed, both visually and mechanically
Pleasing and unobtrusive music and sound effects
options for color-blind individuals
easy to learn, hard to master, but never impossible
no in-app purchases, ads, or payment gates
Time calculation is somewhat confusing in this current version
It would be nice if a flawless level awarded a few extra seconds as bonus, to balance the goals somewhat