artb's Fractal (PC) review

An interesting idea buried

Fractal is what happens when you take the style from games such as Lumines and Chime and mix it with gameplay designed by someone who thought Bejewelled needed to be more challenging. That's an oversimplification of what's happening, but the picture in your head should immediately tell you if this is something in your wheelhouse.

Fractal's menus are simple and elegant.

The presentation is minimalistic and very stylish. When it comes to menus simple fonts and good graphic design go a long way and the game nails it with simple and elegant design throughout giving the game a classy artistic look that so many games of this scale and genre strive for. The music is well crafted and adds perfectly to the game without being overbearing.

Fractal has three modes: Campaign, Puzzle and Arcade. The concept of "campaigning" in a puzzle game is strange but in this case it means thirty levels of increasing difficulty on different maps while progressively unlocking more power-ups along the way. In Puzzle mode you are given a board with tiles in specific locations and a limited amount of pushes to complete a goal, which could be score, getting a specific combo or clearing the board. In this way players should try this mode first as it comes the closest to actually teaching you about the gameplay systems and giving you any understanding of how it works. mode is the only timed mode, split into three parts: Speed, Agility or Confidence. Although when you look under the surface this is just their way of separating the difficulty levels at least they attempted to give it an interesting context. In all parts players are given unlimited pushes but have a limited amount of time to reach a certain score milestone, which when attained resets the clock for you to continue to try to reach the next milestone. You have all of your power-ups from the campaign added with new ones such as one that gives you extra time.

This is your tutorial!

Unfortunately, the game falls apart as soon as you start playing. The gameplay is this: You have a board containing a number of hexagons. The player can click empty tiles around the hexagons to push them around in an attempt to create a "bloom" which is seven hexagons in a round formation. The goal is to reach a certain score using a limited number of pushes. I have now given you more information than the game does. Starting in Campaign mode Fractal tells you to create blooms and watch how many pushes you have. It doesn't tell you about how the tiles move or how new tiles are created every time you push or that the combo system even exists let alone how it works. It doesn’t even tell you where to click. It implies all these things with UI and vague scribbled messages on the levels that refuse to be noticed. It leaves you confused and bewildered as to what you are actually doing and for hours I felt like I was just bruising my way through, with no deep understanding of how the puzzles work or what I was doing and without any sense of real achievement. The power-ups are meant to add some variety and strategy to the game but no explanation is given to them or what they do so often they would just go ignored until I happened to stumble upon a use for them.

Special disappointing mention also goes here for the music during the game which sounds great and fits in well with the game but as soon as everything stops for a bit while you figure out your next move, which will happen, you realise it is given the barest attempt at interaction with the gameplay resulting at you hearing the same eight bars over and over again except maybe slowed down because you're running out of turns.

There's fun to be had, it just takes way too long to get there.

However, this isn't a bad game. What makes this so disappointing is that by the end of the game I got it, I saw how fun and interesting the design is and but it is so poorly communicated that I had to fight for hours the urge to go play something else, so by the time I was starting to have fun I was already tired of it and ready to move onto something else. The difficulty curve only becomes a wall for this game because they don't show the player how to play and that's the real tragedy of this game.

There will be some players who will understand this game and for them it will be a fun and beautiful puzzle game, but for the average gamer looking for something simple to play for a few hours the barrier to the actual fun is not worth it when there is so much else out there.

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