Not quite harmonious

With two apps under its belt – puzzle game Blendamaze and weather forecasting app Foresee – developer borderleap is still relatively new on the mobile app scene. Even so, it’s established a distinct aesthetic that’s carried forth in its third release, harmony: a sleek, colorful puzzle game. harmony’s main boast is that it contains over a thousand levels; unfortunately, too many of those feel like  padding.

Like other borderleap apps, harmony employs a clean, minimalist approach to graphics. Each level consists of nothing more than bands of color that call to mind the Pantone paint swatches used by graphic designers. When the game starts, you’re confronted with several slightly jumbled color bands and are given a simple, three-step tutorial. The gameplay concept is simple: each colored block contains one or more dots indicating how many moves it can make. Blocks can be swapped (within a certain range) by tapping first one and then the other. In order to solve the puzzle, not only must all the colored blocks be placed correctly, but every one of their collective moves must be used.

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The game is a lesson in streamlining, and its interface contains only the four simple button icons needed to restart a level, undo a move, skip a level, or preview what the finished puzzle should look like. As simple looking as each level is, the color combinations and trippy electronic soundtrack make harmony into aBejeweled-like form of stress reduction. Levels start out extremely simple, with only three or four bands of color divided into twelve or sixteen blocks respectively, and the puzzle aspect at that point is gentle and, in general, based on making a correct first move.

As levels progress, things get a little more difficult. The number of moves per block increases, and the color combinations become more eye-popping. If you make a wrong move, you have the choice to step back one or restart the level altogether; the first few move undos are free – after that you have to buy them (ten for $.99 cents or fifty for $2.99), or if you find yourself frustrated, you can fork over $6.99 to skip the level entirely.

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harmony looks and sounds good, and masks what eventually becomes very complex puzzle solving inside of deceptively simple visuals. However, the journey to complexity takes too long. Fifty levels in, I was still solving what felt like very similar-feeling puzzles. Depending on how quick you are, fifty levels could take one hour or three; but regardless, the amount of level repetition here is high. Not enough variation in color block formation and move numbers makes it feel like you’re playing the same puzzle three or four times in a row before seeing something new. If only borderleap had worried less about cranking out 1,000 near-duplicate levels, and had instead created 100 really cool, differently-configured ones…

Nonetheless, harmony is a good way to relax and unwind (its soothing music would even make it a great sleep aid). There’s something hypnotic about tapping glowing color blocks while listening to dreamy ambient tunes, and there’s something to be said for games not jam-packed with overblown graphics. Moreover, gamers with the patience to get through harmony‘s many same-feeling levels will be rewarded with some truly brain-teasing arrangements. Unfortunately, many gamers might not have the time – or the tenacity.