Color us impressed: Proving you can't judge a book by its cover - or casual game by its marketing ploy - the rather oddly-titled StoneLoops! of Jurassica couldn't be more overflowing with surprises. Spend a little time with the outing, and you'll soon see it isn't just an amicable and innovative take on the typical marble-popping formula... Rather unexpectedly, you'll also find it a more than worthy match for even more established industry goliaths like Zuma and Luxor.
Let's not get ahead of ourselves, though. The first thing you need to know is simply that the game's supposedly biggest innovation (the ability to pull varyingly-hued boulders from encroaching chains of rocks before firing them back, instead of being randomly fed ammo) isn't. Rather, the most noteworthy feature here is merely how well everything gels together.
From the aforementioned gameplay change - a simple twist on a well-worn design that ultimately adds several new layers of complexity and detail - to a stunning aesthetic and brilliant selection of power-ups, it all makes the age-old setup that much more satisfying.
Bearing this in mind, the tale - which lacks a storyline, but does offer multiple game variations (Classic, Strategy and Survival) spread throughout a prehistoric realm - succeeds in several areas, not one single field, putting it head and shoulders above the average mouse-mashing rival.
To make a long story short, you're basically tasked with completing a succession of individual stages set atop deserts, mountains, jungles and other exotic backdrops flush with dusty outcroppings, leafy foliage and tunnels which lead to bleached-white skulls. To pass each, you'll need to prevent row after row of spiraling rocks from reaching said bones by using a cannon located at the bottom of the screen (which can be moved left/right with a flick of the wrist) to fire spheres back at the onrushing horde. Manage to group three or more like-colored objects, and they disappear from play. An invisible magnetic force further fills in the gaps between any holes bookended by identically-hued boulders, creating the potential for grand-scale combos.
Naturally, the action itself is much the same on the surface level as in other, like-minded outings; at any given time, you'll find yourself either frenetically attempting to stave off multiple chains or desperately trying to collect the point-boosting gems and nifty power-ups that tumble from above. But what's amazing here is how intuitive everything feels, from game controls' general responsiveness to the outing's workmanlike learning curve, expertly-balanced level progression and overall integration of extras like explosive fireballs, sizzling lightning bolts and display-assaulting meteor strikes, which you absolutely have to collect to get ahead.
In short, from beginning to end, whether you consider the rain which falls on gorgeously-rendered/-animated stages to bonus levels where you'll frantically snatch boulders from a conveyor belt to smash randomly-appearing obelisks, everything comes across as keenly-polished and incredibly well put-together.
On the downside, a passive meta-game in which you slowly deck out houses through continued progression, nondescript soundtrack and repetitive speech samples which underscore certain moves do little to add to the experience. And certainly, although you can earn bonus trophies for playing marathon sessions, the title grows wearisome over longer hauls. But frankly, it's hard to make a stink about such minor quibbles, considering that the designers don't just deliver a top-notch interactive outing... They also simultaneously do away with multiple problems that have plagued the category forever. For example: Having to wait until chains appear at preset times even though you've already cleared the playfield of boulders or the need to waste ages in front of the PC waiting for lengthy stages to end. (The secret: progress-advancing power-ups and AI that automatically responds when few stones are left on-screen.)
Yes, the adventure can be repetitious, and progress is all too often dictated by frustratingly random events. Still, we find it hard to complain about an outing that purposefully does everything it can to aid the player (i.e. slowing down near-fatal stones), pump up production values and cram in hours upon hours of value. Between a core campaign that'll take days to complete and an underlying challenge factor which lies just on the right side of the addiction/frustration divide, do yourself a favor and keep worries in check. As StoneLoops of Jurassica quickly establishes within minutes of booting up, the title's overall vibe may be downright primeval, but from a hands-on gameplay perspective, it's light years ahead of the competition.
- Keenly-balanced play. Fun twist on proven formula. Great integration of power-ups, obstacles. Fixes common genre problems. Awesome special effects. Great value for the money.
- Annoying voice-overs. Gets tiresome over long sessions. Takes more tries to beat each level than typical casual outing. Victory relies too much on randomized bonuses sometimes.