November 2, 2015 10:00 AM | John Bridgman
Sometimes all you need to do is make a subtle change to an existing formula to make familiar ground feel fresh. A small adjustment to a mechanic or a perspective can breathe new life into tiresome iterations and leave you with something interesting. Colour-matching falling block games have been a mainstay of gaming for seemingly forever. Anode, the recently released title from Kittehface Software, does enough to make their game stand out, and the gameplay is just as fun as is to be expected from the genre.
With a science fiction backdrop to the puzzle action, the game is about, of course, matching up coloured blocks and removing them from play as more blocks fall. As you go further and further, the blocks speed up, and it soon demands quick reflexes and split-second decision making in order to continue progressing. Though, of course, the blocks always win.
There are a few tweaks to the mechanics of this sort of puzzle game though that make it interesting. First of all, unlike most of the other games of the genre, this isn't a match three game. Instead, you line up your blocks as they fall, and any matching colours get connected to each other. You can build quite impressive chains in all eight directions, and different colours can overlap. The blocks only clear by the use of a special detonator block which will sometimes drop. These flashing blocks complete a colour chain, and clear out any connected colours they match up to. Also, sometimes the detonator is white, which will chain up with all the blocks it touches, and likely set off multiple chains if you've taken the risk to set them up.
The dynamic with the detonators combines really well with the chaining of blocks in any direction. Since you can chain diagonally, it gives the opportunity for much larger chains, and so the game offers a risk and reward to building up larger chains and combos. Since links can even overlap, you have more opportunities for matches on a detonator drop, but if you don't get it the play area will clutter fast.
In addition to the chaining and detonating, there are also couplers. These angled blocks will line up with one another if dropped at the adjoining angle to one another, and chain together the blocks they are connected to, no matter what their colour. This will allow you to create multi-coloured chains, which can be set off by either colour detonator. With careful planning, you can set up multiple coupled links, and wait for a massive payout with the right detonator spawn.
Besides the obvious score benefits to large chains as you'd expect of this sort of game, there are also various powerups which you acquire by making chains. These are fairly standard, with ones that remove some of the blocks of a certain colour, clear rows, or help you line up your moves better by giving you more time to drop blocks in place. There are also powerups which can guarantee the white "neutral" detonators to spawn on your next drop, and can play a big role in putting together massive chains. Though I found by the time I got to higher levels it was more useful just to play any powerup immediately because the pace of the game was increasing so rapidly.
The game has its sci-fi aesthetic to carry it, and for the most part it's alright. The playfield is sleek but mostly unspectacular, which contrasts with the bright lights and explosive effects you get from the blocks as you match them. The music is alright, a bit futuristic sounding with decent bass to it, but it's on the repetitive side. The sound effects from the matching and the blocks locking into place however are sufficient enough to keep the game from being audibly uninteresting.
Offering leaderboards, local multiplayer, and solo play with both endless and objective-based gameplay, there's enough variety of ways to play that you can always find something to do. And within the game modes there are a few adjustable settings to let you set the challenge to however you feel appropriate. Turning off items or increasing the starting level lets you avoid some of the slower game of the start, while the multiplayer also lets you set a handicap if you're playing against someone of a different skill level.
Overall, Anode is a good, if not great falling block game. It sticks to its formula well, and the changes it makes to the formula are just different enough to make it worth your attention if you want a colour matching game, all the while being familiar enough that if you're a fan of the genre as a whole you're going to want to give it a try. It's also a really good way to sink some time now and again if you're looking for a way to kill time.