ShakyTower’s fun concept and challenging design get mired by overly sensitive controls

There’s more than one way to get me to play your game, but putting adorable faces on blocks is, by far, one of the quickest ways to guarantee I’ll get…wait for it…face time with it. Combine a simple yet hard-to-master premise with unique gameplay and say no more, I’m throwing money at you until you give me your game. Developer HyperBees Ltd.’s new physics-based block-stacking game ShakyTower offers up a game that promises to deliver on all these fronts, and though I didn’t need to throw my money at them, something got in the way of mobile gaming utopia.

First I should explain what’s going on in ShakyTower. You use a combination of touch controls and your phone’s accelerometer to place blocks on top of each other and keep those blocks balanced. What you’re trying to accomplish varies wildly from stage-to-stage, which can be a good and bad thing, as there are occasions when you have no reason to believe you can accomplish anything they’re asking you to do based on what you’ve been taught already. On one hand, the developer isn’t treating you like an idiot and giving you plenty of variety. But on the other, it often leads to frustration.

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There’s two paths to take when playing ShakyTower: the six-world, hundred-plus level adventure and the jump right to it quick game with six difficulty levels ranging from “trivial” to “insane”. With all the levels they’ve packed in, you’ll be playing a long time before you run out of things to do. OpenFeint integration feeds the need to keep atop leaderboards and brag to your friends. The “How to play” selection on the main menu almost does more harm than good in helping you understand what’s going on, as some of the explanation is confusing and doesn’t seem to apply to the core concepts in the game. It’s much easier to understand what’s going once you start playing.

The main control of ShakyTower is based around tilting your phone back and forth to either keep your tower balanced or to move the blocks. It’s a great idea, simple yet requiring practiced skill – but it just didn’t translate well from idea to execution. There is a setting for accelerometer sensitivity, but this didn’t provide much relief. When the core mechanic of your game is not responding well for the player, it can ruin the entire experience. This is what happened during my time with ShakyTower. I would have liked to have had a less frustrating experience, and hopefully others will. Luckily, the game is free so you’re at no risk try it out for yourself.

If you get stuck, the in-app store allows you to buy various “cheats” like advancing to the next level. No real money is exchanged as the currency is entirely earned while playing the game. In one of the best moves I’ve ever seen by an Android game developer, you can even buy an item that completely takes away the ads. Pay attention folks, this is a great step in the right direction on how to do in-app stores correctly.

You can tell a lot of care and creative thought went into designing the levels in ShakyTower. They’ve packed a ton of game into an adorable free package that can only be made better the longer you play it by way of a great in-app store. Unfortunately the core control for the game wasn’t comfortable or fun and in ShakyTower, and control is king.