Fractal is the newest puzzler by Cipher Prime (makers of Auditorium), with a few unique twist that will have you pushing until you manage to pull your hair out, but that’s not necessarily a bad thing. The game feels much like Hexic HD and Frenzic met at a party and got a little too drunk, resulting in a love child with great music, awesome puzzles, and three very sexy play styles.
The game borrows the idea of clearing a hexagon from the board from Hexic HD but puts a twist on the play in that you’re not rotating three pieces, but using a limited amount of pushes to get the pieces into place. The main challenge comes in seeing if you can complete the 30 level campaign in a straight shot using the amount of pushes given to you. Think of it as a puzzle marathon that you’ll likely lose, but that’s not a bad thing.
Fractal eases you into its music puzzle goodness by starting you with the basics: push a few pieces around to create blooms and clear a certain number of tiles without running out of pushes. This deceptively simple concept quickly turns into something infinitely more challenging as dual colors and smaller boards are introduced. Checkpoints are only offered every ten levels, which can be a tad frustrating, since levels ending in a nine tend to be a test of all your pushing skills you’ve developed up until the point. If you fail at nine, you’ve got to start over again.
Despite the checkpoint hurdle, Fractal’s campaign mode is decidedly addicting. Managing your pushes by pre-playing what will happen with each in your head is a common occurance and your success really depends on how well you can plan your moves around the board, especially in the later levels.
That is not to say the game doesn’t throw you a bone in variety. As you get up in the levels, new pieces like Electrify and Bomb appear, each offering some amazing benefits to the point where you might squander a few pushes for the extra pieces you can gain from getting that Electrify off of the board. Removing adjacent colored pieces and pushing bombs around the board for maximum removal is a strategy the game teaches you by requiring you to play certain ways in each level.
The levels are all uniquely designed so that each feels different; not only from a color scheme perspective, but each level requires a different understanding of the elements available in order to clear the board without running out of pushes. The theme of each level is so subtle you may not realize the change in your play style until you’ve run out of pushes and must decide on a different strategy.
Of course, Fractal wouldn’t be a puzzle game without a puzzle mode. As with the campaign mode, puzzle mode starts you off nice and slow, offering you basic thought-provoking tasks, such as clearing blooms with no left overs or creating a pattern with a limited number of pushes. The puzzles are divided up into sets of 10, each with their own unique theme that is not glaringly obvious until you play around a bit.
In a recent interview for 2 Girls 1 Game with William and Dain, the guys spoke of not having finished the later puzzles despite it being their own game, as intern Ben Ells designed nearly all of the puzzles in Puzzle Mode. This really speaks volumes as to how challenging the later puzzles are, and since each is self contained, if you get stuck on one, you’re free to go to another. However, if you manage to complete all 50, you were probably exposed to a large amount of Einsteinium…or something.
Arcade mode is a pretty fun side mode that greatly tests your reflexes; it is a timed mode that lets you see how many blooms you can clear before you run out of time, with three distinct play styles in mind: speed, agility, and confidence. Each have different stipulations and are the most common play styles you will experience in campaign mode, all bundled into a fast paced, think on your feet style game.
Aside from the puzzling gameplay accompanied by absolutely stunning visuals, Cipher Prime treats us to the most unique way of incorporating music I’ve ever seen music in a game. As each level starts, you are treated to an upbeat track that plays, seemingly not judging you for wasting all of those pushes getting to a special piece. However, as you begin to run out of pushes, the music slows down and the screen becomes a bit dimmer, helping to create that “oh man, I’m not gonna make it” feeling much better than any other puzzler out there.
Fractal is definitely worth a play through if you enjoy puzzle games with great music. If you’re still not sold on the game, you can play the demo online on the main website, which is surprisingly meaty and an accurate representation of the entire game, though it includes only campaign mode.
Gamer Limit gives Fractal a 9.0 out of 10.