Sandago Review

Sandago might not be much to look at, but it’s a real gem of an indie puzzler

Sandago is weird. It’s simple. There’s no real variety to the gameplay, and it’s not much to look at. It’s almost primitive, really. It’s also very cool. Don’t let first appearances fool you – this is definitely a game worth checking out.

The trouble with a game like Sandago is that there’s really not much to say about it. It’s like Tetris, except that instead making rows out of colored blocks that fall from the top of the screen, you make big piles of colored sand that pour from the top of the screen. That’s quite literally it: Tetris with sand instead of squares. Simple, like I said.

Sandago Sandago

It’s also ingenious. It’s difficult to visualize without actually seeing the game in action, but essentially you control a glass jar at the top of the screen that fills with, and then empties, digital sand of various colors. The jar slides left and right so you can pour the sand wherever you want within the confines of the various architectural obstacles that break up the game’s 30 levels, and once a sand pile of a particular color is big enough, you can tap it to make it disappear, freeing up room for more sand.

It’s easy enough to keep the screen relatively clear so you can keep on pourin’; the challenge lies in building multiple, simultaneous piles to earn bonuses and maximize your score. Unlike geometric shapes, sand has a tendency to shift in inconvenient ways, especially when it’s poured onto other, bigger piles of sand, so it’s easy to cut yourself off from a promising score. On the other hand, making a pile disappear brings any sand resting above it crashing down on the sand below, so the opportunity to open up free space and rack up some extra points is rarely far off. You’ll also get help from the occasional appearances of “concrete sand,” which takes on the colors of any “glowing” pile it touches, and “acid sand” that dissolves everything in its path.

Sandago bears all the hallmarks of a debut game from an indie development studio with a roster of one: it’s not much to look at, the sound effects are sparse (to put it generously) and there’s absolutely zero musical accompaniment. If flash and bang are what you look for in a game, this will hold your interest for about 30 seconds; as an audio/visual spectacle, Sandago is… well, it’s not.

Sandago Sandago

But the gameplay itself is a whole different story. It’s relaxing, soothing and almost hypnotic at times. The difficulty automatically increases from “relaxing” to “insane” as you progress through a level so there’s definitely a challenge, but the leap from one end of the scale to the other is very gradual and not as dramatic as it sounds. And in a nice touch, passing through the “insane” level causes the game to automatically reset to “relaxing,” providing an opportunity to slow down and catch your breath.

Another nice touch is the ability to begin the game from any completed level, so you’re not forced to start over again at the very first level with every new game. Unlocked levels can also be accessed in a “Score Attack” mode, with high scores uploaded to a leaderboard via OpenFeint. And although I don’t normally talk about price in game reviews, in this case I think it’s worth mentioning. A demo version called Sandago Lite is available for a no-risk tryout, but the full release is only 99 cents on the Android Marketplace. That’s a dollar, people. You can’t buy a bag of chips for a dollar.

I can’t wholeheartedly recommend this game to everyone because I know there are a lot of people out there who demand a certain amount of razzle-dazzle in their games, and there’s nothing wrong with that. But I like Sandago. I like it a lot. I think it deserves some attention, and I would absolutely urge you to give it some.

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