Threes Review: Mathematical Matchmaker
A riff on the bland match-three formula, Threes understands simplicity, where describing the game’s mechanics is no more complex than pronouncing a single syllable name. Instead of pairing miscellaneous objects, players literally match 3s, 6s, 12s, and so on, sliding numbers around the screen until they run out of moves. Threes abides by the phrase “pick up and play,” though the urge to surpass previous high scores frequently fought with my iPad’s low battery warning.
At the start, 1s, 2s, and 3s occupy nine of the grid’s sixteen spaces. Numbers move about the columns and rows with each directional swipe, and every turn leaves a new card behind. If numbers cannot shift up, down, left, or right, they remain in place or combine, forming greater wholes. 1s and 2s mix only with each other, while ensuing additions require identical integers (two 12s become 24, two 24s equal 48, etc.). The game then proceeds until no more pairs can be made, at which time Threes tallies the board.
Threes rewards people who plan ahead and delay instant gratification. Watching those 48s happily bounce up and down, you may attempt to merge them immediately, but experts ignore those short-sighted goals. Why link two numbers, dooming your operation before your score cracks quadruple digits, when you could create three or four pairs, moments later, during a flurry of mathematical matchmaking? Given time, you begin to see patterns. My fingers flew around the screen in a contemplative trance, my thoughts lost in the competition of elementary arithmetic.
While that purity could easily be Threes’ downfall, an inviting art style and personality placate concerns. Number 48, an aristocrat named Torbus, loves swimming pools. Number 96, or Traven, is an herbivore that eats potato chips. 192 goes by ThreeJay, a sharp-toothed music lover who finds sweet solace in the embrace of 10" LPs. They talk as well, greeting you with energetic welcomes, judging your next move, or singing lispy renditions of “You’re the Best Around.” In what could have been another static number cruncher, these characters separate Threes from the chaff.
No smattering of charm, however, could calm the pain of restarting fresh following personal bests of 10,000 points or more. I get tired of uniting lower numbers just to create Capt. Triad (384) or Triferatu (768), because sessions no longer last several minutes. Now they exceed half an hour. Threes was not built for everyday commutes or lunch breaks, and its single mode wears thin after extended marathons. A time attack or challenge setting, where players try to maximize their scores in the fewest turns, would benefit Threes' longevity.
Take those gripes with a grain of salt, of course. In two days, Threes drained twelve hours of my life. The gameplay hooked me in seconds, sans big budget clutter. This is a thinking person’s game, minimalist as they come, and with a lot of heart, but addicting all the same.