When a game tries to use a theme and doesn’t really do much with it, it’s easy to criticize. But when the core gameplay is so interesting and fresh, can it really be held against it? 3Tones tries to make music an integral part of the gameplay and doesn’t. But even with the sound muted, 3Tones is a great match-three puzzler with enough twists and innovations to keep you playing.
When you first load up the bright orange title screen, a quick run through the tutorial gives you the basics of what to do, but there is indeed a lot of depth. You start by picking a song (the game comes with 30). To win, you make matches by dragging a path through adjacent like-colored tiles (even an L shape, as long as they are directly beside one another), making matches of between two and five tiles. However, you can’t just make any match you want. At the bottom is a series of tiles that move from right to left, and start piling at the left side of the box. These tiles tell you what matches need to be made in order to keep the game alive. If you allow the box to get full before the song of the stage finishes, it’s game over.
This twist alone is a great new way to determine success. But there is much more to the game than that. To really rack up a high score, you want to get a combo going, by making matches of the same color repeatedly. Each time you do, a multiplier increases how many more points you’ll get for a match, to a maximum of five. So if your box is getting full, you may not care about what order you make your matches, but if you’ve kept control, your score can really rocket.
To help you keep control, there are a number of power-ups in the game. Some remove an area of tiles, while another freezes the movement of the tiles at the bottom, giving you a chance to catch up. You’re also able to shuffle tiles, or make nice, clean rows of like colors to help make easier matches.
The game also gives you special matches with a timer beneath them, usually of different colors in a row. If you can finish the special matches before the timer ends, the entire board turns into ice cubes, and you just have to make matches of a certain number, color no longer matters. But you have to find and make these matches quickly, or else risk having too many tiles add up at the bottom. It takes some reflexes and skill, which may or may not be a good thing, depending on your ability.
As you play, you build up a combo meter just below the playfield. If you complete a certain number of matches, the game enters Fire mode, and you can clear away vast tiles by clicking on areas with adjacent tiles to make them vanish, and rack up a giant score.
The reason for a high score is to unlock badges and achievements in the game. By earning a minimum score or destroying a set number of blocks in each of the three difficulty levels, you can open up more songs and modes. Each mode is unique and different enough to warrant a long playthrough.
The main mode is Career mode, which lets you play through the game’s soundtrack one song at a time, and earn badges. The other mode available at first is Arcade, which is basically a survival mode, where you play until the bottom area fills. Success in these two modes unlock two further modes, Time Attack and 3Tones Puzzle.
As if there weren’t enough in the package, 3Tones allows you to upload your own songs and play them in any modes except Career. The only downside is that you have to use MP3s, so if you’ve bought your music through iTunes, you’re out of luck.
In fact, there is very little to complain about with 3Tones. The graphics are bright, colorful and fun. The music that comes with the game is quite good, and the ability to use your own music gives you unlimited replayability. The speed of the tiles moving seems to be tied directly with the speed and loudness of the song you import.
No, if there is anything wrong, it’s that the music isn’t really integral to the gameplay. You don’t have to make matches to a beat of any kind. While the music you use influences the difficulty of the level, it’s entirely possible to play 3Tones without hearing anything.
However, music adds to the frenetic experience of the game, especially if your tastes lie in high-energy tunes. 3Tones is a marvelous breath of fresh air in a well-worn genre. Whether you’re a fan of music or of great puzzle games, don’t turn a deaf ear to this one.