Finding Shapes in Chaos…

The Lost Shapes Screenshot

HIGH Fast-paced, yet simple tile-based mechanics.

LOW A lot of the game boils down to waiting for the right piece.

WTF The main character is a strange mix between Harry Potter and The Riddler.

In the world of The Lost Shapes, the tile-dropping game introduced to the player is known as "Magic Chess." This is a bit of a misnomer. The board is checkered and there are rules and strategies involved, but that's where the similarities end. Instead, The Lost Shapes should be understood more as a tile-based, shape-building game that can accelerate to a breakneck speed in its later levels.

Like the best of small, mobile games, Shapes starts out slow and methodical—almost boring—but with time becomes a complex, nail-biting race against the clock and the player's own damaged sense of spatial reasoning. In her haste, the player must form shapes, clear the board, and hopefully deploy the next tile before the docket fills up and the game ends. In this way, it can either be a relaxing, meditative activity or an anxiety-inducing gauntlet comprised of shapes, magic, and scorn. It depends on the player.

The mechanics ask players to form shapes using tiles engraved with basic lines. For instance, there are horizontal and vertical straight lines, pieces that form corner lines, and shapes composed of two corners or intersecting straight lines. While creating a simple square takes four corner pieces, more complex shapes will require a combination of many different tiles.

Additionally, some tiles feature special symbols such as a star, moon, and sun, which grant a higher score bonus when incorporated into a shape. Finally, modifier tiles like the bomb, snowflake, and nuke tiles are introduced to help out in desperate situations. At any time, the player can switch out a tile on the board with the first in her queue, allowing for a speed of play limited only by the player's tapping abilities.

For whatever reason, Rockabyte wrapped The Lost Shapes around a fantasy narrative involving wizards, mysterious magic books, and a young, red-headed whippersnapper who grows up to be the player's guide through the game. Although certainly not a reference many will get, I cannot help but think of Castlevania: Symphony of the Night's narrator when listening to the narrator in Lost Shapes. The voice is stilted and mechanized, but still so serious about the subject matter. In a game with production values that are otherwise on par with other quality mobile games, the anachronistic delivery certainly feels like a blast from the past. This is not a critique so much as it is me pointing out an intriguing quality or an endearing flaw—out of everything in Shapes, I found this detail to be the most memorable.

Occasionally the game design feels like it forces the player to wait out the queue for the right piece to complete the main objective in any given stage. I understand that while waiting, the player is encouraged to form other shapes and increase her score, but sometimes this artificial lengthening of stages feels a little too transparent and the player's enjoyment may suffer as a result. Beyond this minor quibble, there's a lot to like about The Lost Shapes. Even without the quirky narrative, there's magic in the game's simple but solid design. Rating: 8.0 out of 10.

Disclosures: This game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the iPhone 4. Approximately 3 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was not completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: The ESRB does not review iOS games. This game is rated 4+ on the App Store. This reviewer thinks it is suitable for children of all ages.

Deaf & Hard of Hearing: Sound is not required to enjoy this game.

John Vanderhoef

John Vanderhoef

As a 5-year-old child forced to hang out with older children because their father was friends with his father, John recalls his first experience with video games -- wide-eyed, a big dumb look on his face -- in a furnished basement littered with imported Korean toys and illuminated by the glow of a cheap 19 inch television displaying mesmerizing, bouncing pixels. Yet because he was young and inexperienced and "bad at it," he wasn't allowed to play. Kids are like that. After eventually convincing his folks to buy one of those amazing machines for the family as a Christmas present, he did finally get to play, albeit while sharing with two older sisters. Luckily, they soon lost interest. But he has never looked back.

In college John fell to poetry, short story writing, and journalism, but ultimately took to writing critical, academic work on video games. He was actually surprised this was an option. For reasons he will never be completely sure of, he ended up in graduate school where he wrote about the discursive mapping of gender onto the terms "hardcore" and "casual" and the power hierarchy of legitimate and illegitimate games that creates. He is a proud feminist.

Currently, John is a PhD student in the Film and Media Studies Department at the University of California, Santa Barbara. He continues to study gender, race, and sexuality in video games, video game culture, and the video game industry. He also mulls over issues of creative labor, cultural hierarchy, and power, among other random subjects.
John Vanderhoef

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