Do you remember the excellent home computer puzzle game Deflektor? It was a classic right from day one, back in… what? The 80s?
Yeah, 1987, according to the ever-reliable Wikipedia. Anyway, it’s a game that inspired a generation, and that generation is now making its own games. Games like Socioball.
It would take an aging, avid, slightly misanthropic retro-phile like myself to spot the similarities between Deflektor and Socioball, but there’s an inspiration at work that makes this new iPhone puzzle game such a brilliant reimagining of that 1987 champion. But rather than guiding a laser around the level, you’re now tasked with cleverly maneuvering a ball to its goal tile.
The levels are simple, isometric grids with a starting position, various gaps in the floor, and a finish tile. Get the ball to the finish, and the level’s complete. You’ve no direct control over the ball, however, which simply moves forward until it hits an obstacle, or is manipulated by a tile that you’ve astutely placed in the correct position.
There are various types of tile at your disposal, such as corners, buttons, jumps, teleporters and so forth. Let’s say you place a right angle corner on the board, in just the right position. As the ball rolls over it, it adheres to the angle displayed on the tile and makes a turn; ideally into the finish position. As more complex levels come along (there are 60 bundled with the game) you might have to jump over gaps, bounce the ball off a wall to change its direction, push a button to alter a tile up ahead, and place multiple angles about the place to create a devilishly clever route to the goal.
The cerebral element to Socioball is superb, and the puzzles are a joy to watch as they unfold. Not unlike the classic board game Mouse Trap, much of your time is involved in setting up a predicted solution, and then watching to see if it worked. You can go back and make adjustments as often as you like, in an effort to eventually and accurately reroute the ball.
You might have noticed the name of this game, of course. The social aspect of Socioball adds a second, and equally brilliant dimension to the experience. It’s not a multiplayer, mind you. Instead, the game includes a level editor that allows you to create your own Socioball puzzles.
These custom levels can then be tweeted either to your friends, or to the Socioball community in general. What’s impressive about this notion is that the game makes use of stenography techniques as a way to share your custom-built levels. The data is encrypted inside a screenshot of your level, which is then shared via Twitter. By accessing that image of a Socioball game, the system can decode the level and allow you to play it.
This effectively means there’s an infinite number of levels out there (assuming enough people start playing the game), and there’s a great social element added not only through sharing levels, but also by engaging with its creator via the social network.
It’s a twist on the usual type of asymmetric online gameplay that makes even the most introverted smartphone gamer want to interact with other players, and deftly expands Socioball from a great puzzle game into a connected community of players. Get involved today.