A berry puzzling good time
Oh hello there, it’s berry nice to meet you! And now that my one awful attempt at being funny is done with and out of the way, I can tell you about a brand new physics-based puzzle game that comes to us straight from the berry-filled mountaintops of Random House Digital: in what is the very first mobile game by the big-name publishing house. Borrowing ideas from both Cut the Rope and Where’s My Water?, Catch the Berry is an amalgam of several successful physics-based puzzler ideas that we’ve seen before in the past. But does their new arrangement here give you that sweet taste of satisfaction that mobile gamers crave, or does it just leave you with a big ol’ red berry stain on the front of your shirt?
The setup to Catch the Berry is simple, and told through a handful of nicely illustrated title cards before getting right down to the actual gameplay. The Telfnords are little blue elf-like creatures who like harvesting berries on the top of their mountain community. But then one day while out picking berries, a Telfnord named Huckle discovers a magical artifact that makes all of the berries come to life! The story essentially ends there, and the Telfnords simply just go back to picking more berries like they always have before: only now the berries have eyes, mouths, and personalities, which actually makes things a little disturbing if the Telfnords are still planning on eating all of the living berries that they harvest in the game. Whatever, we just won’t think about that.
At its core, Catch the Berry is probably the most comparable to ZeptoLab’s Cut the Rope, in that each of the game’s initial 80 levels requires players to guide a happy berry into a basket held by Huckle, while collecting three optional diamonds along the way. But of course, berry picking isn’t always that easy, and as such, the game will constantly be throwing in some exciting new twists to the main gameplay mechanics: like fans that give your berry an extra boost of speed, timed switches that open up barriers in certain parts of the level, air bubbles that allow your berry to slowly float to the top of the screen, and many more. A lot of these are lifted straight from the Cut the Rope franchise, but they still function in a few interesting ways in this specific context.
In each level, you’ll be primarily guiding your berry over to the basket by drawing new platforms into existence to accentuate the setup that is already there. A blue meter at the top of the screen lets you know how many lines you can draw at any one time, and if you make a mistake or need some more drawing juice, you can erase your previous marks on the screen one by one, which effectively serves to refill your meter. It’s simple enough for seasoned players, but once you have to worry about guiding two berries into the same basket at the same time, drawing and erasing lines as fast as you can, and all in between popping air bubbles and setting off switches, the fusion of gameplay mechanics can get complicated pretty quickly: but the game has a nice sense of difficulty throughout, and always provide a good challenge, while never crossing the line into frustrating territory.
I think the basic idea here was to have players map out their entire pathway and draw in every blue line ahead of time, before sending their smiling berry on his way to see if the setup works or needs some tweaking: sort of like The Incredible Machine. However, I realized very early on that most levels will require you to draw in the different platforms and barriers in real time as your berry makes his way along to the basket, improvising and erasing previous lines as you go along. It certainly puts a frantic and welcomed spin on the basic gameplay as your berry is constantly in motion, and quick-thinking and experimentation are the keys to coming home with bushel full of berries at the end of the day. Unfortunately, that’s also not to say that the system doesn’t come without its flaws.
The big problem with this is the erase function, which proves to be extremely cumbersome for such a key mechanic to successfully completing most levels. You can only erase lines that you’ve drawn one at a time, and in the reverse order of which you originally drew them. Adding further complications, the erase button is located far and away from the action at the top of the screen, and the input is especially finicky at times: often needing numerous presses to erase a single line, which by the time you finally get it to work, your berry will have long since fallen off the screen, forcing you to restart the level.
But I think the bigger issue here is that Catch the Berry suffers from an all-around lack of identity, and is never quite sure what kind of a physics-puzzle game it really wants to be. The basic gameplay seems to be constantly changing, rather than building upon itself with added layers, and it never exactly cements itself in the player’s brain. For instance, in some levels I actually forgot about drawing my own lines into the game space because I hadn’t used them for a few levels; while one later level in particular depleted my draw meter from the onset, and made me rely entirely on tilting my device left and right to move the berry: a feature I had completely forgotten that you could even perform in the game.
So in the end, Catch the Berry shows a lot of great potential in the way it takes some of the biggest tropes in mobile puzzle gaming today and forces you to use them in a much different context. With a beautiful cartoony presentation, and a huge amount of variety in both the puzzle designs and the gameplay mechanics that get introduced the further you progress in the game, Catch the Berry ends up losing its footing a couple times along the way. But in the moments when the game finds itself completely on point, this one can be even sweeter than the biggest red berry at the top of the tallest tree.