Appular gets its Qix from slicing and dicing
Like some kind of abstract sheep-herding simulator, iSlice sees you reducing the area a bunch of perpetually bouncing balls have to move around in, without cutting off or colliding with any of them in the process. If that sounds a little familiar, you’re either old enough to remember Qix at the arcade or sensible enough to have played Dr. Awesome on iPhone. In either case, iSlice is sufficiently different to warrant a closer look.
Upon entering each charmingly hand-drawn level you’ll need to figure out the best way to constrict the bouncing balls in as few moves as possible. This entails running your finger across the playing area, cutting away sections that contain no balls at that particular moment in time. Things are complicated somewhat by the presence of reinforced edges, which can’t be cut through.
Your success is determined by a ‘cut meter’ at the top of the screen, which shrinks in relation to the cuts you make. When it hits a pre-determined mark, the level ends and you’re rated on the number of moves you made, with gold, silver and bronze medals being handed out according to your proficiency.
There’s not a lot more to the game then that. There are no additional features or modes to unlock – just a second, animal-themed selection of levels. There’s not even any form of online high score or achievement system to track and compare the efficiency with which you complete each level.
Still, there’s a lot going on underneath this simple exterior. Not only is iSlice a question of timing and reactions as you wait until the balls are perfectly aligned to make your move, it’s also one of strategy. As the levels get tougher you’ll need to have a fully formed plan just to complete them, let alone to pick up gold or silver medals.
It’s not always a case of chopping away the largest, most obvious section. Sometimes you’ll need to make a smaller incision in order to remove a restrictive reinforced edge, which will then set you up for a daring cross-level slice.
At other times you’ll want to leave certain areas untouched in order to ease the flow of balls around the whole level, thus buying you time to attack a potentially more advantageous section.
As you can imagine, there’s a lot trial and error involved with this – you’ll come a cropper countless times as you perfect your plan. Or, plan perfected, as you fail in its execution.
This happens a little too often thanks to some slightly imprecise controls, which result in the occasional misplaced or even incomplete cut. It’s the rather inevitable result of having to use your fat finger for the task, but it does annoy when it messes up your hard work (usually when you’re trying to slice off a small sliver or are operating near the edge of the screen).
It’s a good thing, then, that the ball physics have been nailed down so well. Watch carefully and you’ll see that the balls behave identically from one restart to the next, until you start making your cuts. This means that you can hone your opening move over numerous attempts, which goes some way to alleviating the frustrations mentioned above.
Complementing this finely judged gameplay is real sense of personality – although it’s the sort of personality that might start to grate after a while. The trite sayings printed across each stage may well have been a playful touch on the developer’s part (placing the statement ‘Failure is not falling down but refusing to get up’ on one particularly infuriating level had to be a joke) but we’re not willing to give them the same benefit of the doubt on the maddeningly jaunty guitar ditty that plays on loop throughout the whole game.
Irritations aside, though, iSlice gets its casual take on the Qix formula just about right, with compelling gameplay sitting beneath a supremely accessible exterior. It won’t blow your socks off, and it certainly has its frustrations, but iSlice is certainly a cut or two above average.