When it comes to classic puzzle games, GameHouse's venerable Collapse series is right up there with the likes of Bejeweled and Zuma. The latest sequel, called simply COLLAPSE!, is a follow-up to Super Collapse 3 that refreshes the franchise with a visual facelift, new types of boards and other goodies.
Gameplay in Collapse involves clicking on three or more like-colored blocks to remove them from the screen, which causes the remaining blocks to "collapse" in on themselves to fill the empty space. New rows are constantly being pushed up from the bottom of the screen, nudging the existing stack upwards. You must survive by clearing a certain number of lines without letting the stack grow large enough to touch the top of the screen. (Let the blocks reach the top, and it's Game Over.) Power-ups like exploding bombs, block swappers, arrows that destroy all blocks in a given row or column, and hourglasses that briefly stop time, add variety to the mix.
As in previous games, there's also Strategy Mode, where a new row appears with every mouse click; Puzzle Mode, where the goal is to eliminate all the pieces on the board with the fewest number of clicks; Continuous Mode, where blocks appear without a break in between; and Relapse Mode where blocks appear from both the bottom and the top of the screen, meeting at the middle.
The game's Adventure Mode also unfolds similarly to its predecessor, letting players wander through a world map that takes them through various fantastical lands - like an underwater realm, a snowy mountaintop, and an urban cityscape - where they'll ultimately face off against a "boss" character of some sort with a cute name like Blockzilla or Blocktopus. Each boss has a certain power that makes them extra formidable; Blockzilla, for example, causes lightning bolts to jut down from the top of the screen and constrict the play area.
Completing levels earns coins that can be spent at the Shop on power-ups, puzzle solutions and other goodies, including outfits to dress up your avatar (a feature that's brand new to COLLAPSE!). You can also spend (and earn) coins in the Arcade by playing a handful of casino-style games like Slots and Pachinko, or try spinning the Wheel of Luck to earn prizes.
The biggest new addition to COLLAPSE! is the double board, which adds a second game board into the mix so that you'll have to juggle two boards side by side. This not only makes the action more intense as your eyes and mouse pointer must constantly dart from left to right, but it also adds new layers of strategy with regards to how power-ups are used. For example, you can use warp bombs to send tiles over to the other board, and in Double Strategy mode, making a move on one board causes a new row of tiles to appear on the opposite board.
Another small but striking difference is the game's visual overhaul. The familiar red, blue and yellow primary colors that have been a hallmark of past Collapse games have given way to a jazzier palette of turquoise, green, brown, rich orange, and even pink. Ok, so it's hardly reinventing the wheel, but it does give the game a much warmer and "hipper" feel.
While the new additions and modes work very well (unlike the previous game's unpredictable Slider Mode, which seems to be absent from COLLAPSE!), there's still one area that I feel the game doesn't handle the way it should have. If you use some of the power-ups from your inventory (that you've purchased from the Shop) during a level, but end up losing the level anyway, you don't get your power-ups back - in other words, they've been completely wasted. You have to exit back to the map, go back to the Shop, and re-buy new power-ups before trying the level again. You only earn a limited number of coins by beating a level the first time (you can't go back and replay the same levels to earn new coins), so you can rapidly find yourself running out of money and trying to win more at the Arcade like a sad down-and-out gambler at a Vegas casino.
Also, while it's neat that there's integration between the PC download, Facebook and mobile versions of COLLAPSE! - you earn passwords by playing one version that can be used to unlock goodies in the other versions - I wasn't crazy about the way the between-level loading screens seemed to constantly plug the other versions and try to get me to visit websites.
These annoyances are rather trivial in the grand scheme of things, however. While the changes in COLLAPSE! are more subtle than revolutionary, it's definitely safe to say that COLLAPSE! is an improvement upon its predecessors - and with more than 180 levels to explore it offers the kind of easy pick-up-and-play gaming that can be enjoyed in short spurts over a long period of time.
- New double board modes work very well. Branching paths in Quest mode. New more interesting color palette. Variety of interesting power-ups. Gradually increasing difficulty. Two modes - Quest and Quick Play.
- Power-ups are wasted if you lose a level. Plugs for websites and other products seem a bit intrusive. Most improvements are subtle rather than game-changing.