There are plenty of casual puzzle games jostling for your attention during those scant few hours when you’re not killing dudes in Call of Duty or traipsing through the barren wastelands of Fallout 3. Not every game aspires to be a sprawling epic. A lot of games enjoy being merely “casual.”
QuantZ is one such game. A seemingly simple match-four puzzle game with a slight twist and a beautifully dreamy aesthetic. Does it differentiate itself from the pack, or is it just another “me too” puzzler? Read on to find out.
The concept is simple and fairly boring on paper. The mouse controls a floating cube in the center of the screen, and you click to shoot a colored “quantz” toward it (apparently calling them “marbles” or “balls” would be too derivative and overplayed). Match four like-colored quantz, and they disappear. No problem.
But wait, there’s more! Link matching quantz around a non-matching one, and the one rogue piece turns into a fireball, set to annihilate any and all like colors that it touches. It actually requires a fair bit of strategy to chain explosions together. The ultimate goal is to clear the entire cube with one quantz, thus earning yourself a cool million points, some Steam achievements, and (maybe) a spot on the QuantZ online leaderboards.
There is an aiming reticule, but aiming (the fireballs especially) often feels incredibly imprecise, especially when you first start playing. The option to slow down time by holding down the left mouse button also feels largely superfluous. You get the hang of aiming after an hour or so, but it never quite feels spot-on.
The game starts off very, very slowly. There are three game modes: Strategy (the standard game), Puzzle (eliminate a predetermined set of quantz with a limited number of shots), and Action (unlocked after a few games, the quantz fly toward the cube from any direction without your input).
During the first few hours of play, you’d be hard-pressed to lose a game (except in Puzzle mode, that one gets ridiculous rather quickly if you can’t figure out the fireball mechanics). But Strategy mode is where you’ll spend most of your time.
You have a lot of quantz to burn, and a ten-minute time limit for each one- to three-minute level. There is no hassle, and there is no real hustle required. Some may decry the lack of a harsher time limit, but I personally appreciated it. I had all the time in the world to shimmy the quantz around on my cube in a (usually futile) effort to set up a huge chain reaction of fireballs and explosions. You are rewarded with a generous amount of points for completing levels in a faster time, so hopefully that will stifle the time clock Nazis.
The quantz, unless they are the “frozen” variety, are not stuck to the cube. Shake your mouse a bit, and you can scoot the lone quantz into bigger clusters. Shake the mouse violently, and all the quantz shoot outwards from the cube before gravity sucks them all back into a new configuration. It’s very pretty, and showcases the bright, pastel, HD graphics.
There is an outer-spacey zodiac theme going on in QuantZ to help maintain a sense of progression. After seven waves of quantz, you advance to the next world. The worlds are named after Greek letters, which (if you are familiar with astrology) are also associated with zodiac symbols. The problem is, the “worlds” (the background art) all look basically the same, like prettier versions of a Windows Media Player visualizer. The cubes differ in shape as well, but it never really affected my strategy when faced with a new configuration of challenges.
A bit of variety is injected into some later levels with the inclusion of “frozen” and “exploding” quantz, but after a while, every new world just seems to blend in with the last. The difficulty increase is so gradual that it is, in many cases, nonexistent. You may struggle to complete one wave, and then annihilate the next with four shots.
QuantZ is a fun spin on the puzzle genre, and the urge to get a better score or beat a previous level-completion time will be a draw for many. It’s like Tetris – don’t expect any major formula changes after the first level, and you can have a lot of fun for a small money/time investment. With over 100 levels, there’s plenty of content, even if you can’t always tell one level from the last.
Still, this could be the next Peggle for those of you puzzle junkies with an addictive personality. Intrigued? Download it here on Steam for only $9.99.
Pretty backgrounds and bright, pastel colors suck the eyes out of your head. A lack of visual variety drags the game down eventually.
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The aiming is a bit fidgety occasionally, but the mechanics and physics are solid. You train yourself to get better in time, as there is no real tutorial besides a few lines of hints before a level.
The atmospheric space music does the job, but is underwhelming and forgettable overall.
Steam claims "more than 30 hours of fun." Not too shabby for a casual puzzle game, and it's no lie. Over 100 levels to conquer then re-conquer for a better score. If you're not a scorehound, however, there is little reason to go back and replay previous levels.
QuantZ is a worthy addition to your puzzle game library if you have even a passing interest in casual games. It won't unseat Tetris or Peggle, but there's plenty of stress-free gaming to be had.