Who knew data packets could be so much fun?
Anyone who’s worked in Corporate America can tell you that there’s nothing more hellish than working in a cubicle, crunching numbers and dealing with data packets. However, Async Corp., a new title for the iPhone, aims to take cubicle jobs and make them be actually enjoyable. Surprisingly, it does a pretty admirable job of pulling off this particular feat.
Async Corp. is a puzzle game that pokes fun at the monotonous nature of cubicle life. The idea is that players are new hires at the cubicle farm of the Async Corporation, which is apparently some massive multinational conglomerate that’s hell-bent on making the world a better place through the assembly and exchange of data packets.
Data is represented by two grids that appear on the screen. Within the grids are a bunch of colored squares that have to be grouped into larger packets of data. This is accomplished by tapping on one square and exchanging it with another square in the opposite grid. The challenge is that at least one of these squares has to create a new (or enlarge an existing) data packet. Packets cover an area of at least 2×2 squares of the same square, though they can grow large enough to fill an entire grid. Once you’ve created a packet, all that you’ll have to do to “send” it is tap on it.
The production values are surprisingly solid, albeit simple. The intro videos are delightful send-ups to corporate training segments, while the in-game graphics feature some wonderfully bright and colorful visuals. The music, in turn, is equally bright and cheerful.
There are a few different game modes available to players: Quota, Async, Zoning, and Freeplay (which is pretty self-explanatory). Quota features a scrolling data stream that floats up the middle of the phone’s screen towards the top; creating and sending packets cuts the stream down, and the game is over if the creeping data reaches the top. Async demands that players fill up an entire grid area with one solid color at a time before they can advance to the next stage. Zoning, meanwhile, is impossible to lose, but it requires players to create packets as quickly as possible to fill in the “zoning meter” which dwindles if left unchecked.; filling it up will advance players to the next level, but the meter empties even faster as the game progresses (if you get up to the twentieth level, it’s reasonable to assume that you’ve got some pretty crazy skills).
The basic gameplay stays the same in each of these modes, but the different types of challenges make for entirely different experiences. As a result, the game never feels boring, and the pace never feels slow. As the game progresses, players will earn promotions, unlockables, hints, and well-wishes from the Async Corporation. Unfortunately, there’s no online/community aspect for players to take advantage of, which is a shame since it’d be neat if players could compare scores and achievements with one another.
Overall, Async Corp. is a fantastic puzzle game. It’s fun and challenging and pretty much unlike anything else in the App Store. That said, if you’re a player who lives for things like achievements and community rankings, then you might want to give this a pass.