The match-three genre has become a staple of our beloved casual games. Line up or group three of the same shapes or colors and eliminate them from the game board, with all the accompanying bells and whistles. The bigger the chains of combinations, more points you earn. It’s a very relaxing experience.
Not so in Beep Industries’ and Oberon’s Zodiac. This match-three runs the road of the strictly chaotic where higher scores can be achieved by clicking as quickly as possible all around the screen. There’s still the requisite strategy later in a game round as the clock runs out. But, for the big points, you’ll be clicking like mad.
The vehicle for this mouse madness is the game’s physics. Set against a serene constellation map, your job is to fire colored marbles from a cannon onto the game board. There, they will speed and ricochet about until they match up with like-colored balls. When a match is made, they stick together by a loose “magnetic” bond, pulling at and orbiting each other as they travel around the board. If three of a kind are matched up in this fashion, poof! Points for you.
Matches, however, can only be made by a freshly-fired ball. Once a ball has been in play for a while, it loses its charge and joins other clusters without destroying them. Thus, huge chains of orbiting marbles can build up for enormous points. Various obstacles that litter the playing field – be they walls, vortices or black holes (in maintaining the Zodiac theme) – toss the marbles every which way. As a result, aiming and shooting for a combo is often a matter of precise reflection.
Sounds simple thus far, and hardly chaotic. But here’s the trick. Marbles bounce, swing and roll around so much that they’re bound to run into similar colors and form clusters sooner or later. So, the best way to earn points is to fire as many balls into the playfield as possible and just let them seek each other out. This means clicking fast and, for maximum points, moving the mouse around while you do so. It’s not exactly the most strategic method of garnering a high score and it will tire your hand quickly, but that’s the way the game goes – to an extent.
As the clock winds down, you’ll find that random speed-clicking won’t wholly clear the board and you’ll have to get down to some real precision aiming. Zodiac can be a bit frustrating on this point because the marbles do move so chaotically. Add to this the fact that some levels have multiple cannons to fire (you switch guns by hovering the mouse cursor over them), and you’ve got a recipe for confusion.
There are dozens of game boards to complete, each bearing a different shape designed to reflect the marbles in unexpected ways. Some contain dead spots that are hard to hit and others have gravitational obstacles that tend to hinder gameplay more than enhance it. Just when you think you’ve got a board cleared, lights around its perimeter flash and a whole new slew of colored marbles are added, putting you right back at the start.
Zodiac feels like a game that was great on paper, and some redemption is still to be found in the visual spectacle it presents. It’s a nice looking game, smooth on the edges, and wildly explosive in the middle. But, the core mechanic that drives it is essentially combative with the light strategy that match-three titles normally employ. The physics, while entertaining, overshadow the control.
This is the sort of game that demos were made for. Zodiac is so different from the ordinary match-three offering that it deserves a download – to see if it clicks with you. Unfortunately for me, the result is a game that is fun for the short term, but repetitive play in the long run.