Mobile Game of the Week: Threes (iOS)

Hundreds was one of our favorite mobile games last year. One of its designers, Greg Wohlwend, has returned with a new partner, Puzzlejuice designer Asher Vollmer, and a new puzzle game called Threes. Don’t let the name worry you—it is more than just a thirty-three and a third as good as Hundreds. It might actually be better.

Threes is another elegant finger-slider for the discriminating gamist. The goal is to combine tiles on a four by four grid by sliding them into other tiles with the same numbers on them. Two threes combine to form a six, two sixes form a 12, and so on. You don’t slide individual tiles or rows, though—you slide every tile on the board in the same direction whenever you swipe. The game starts with nine tiles on the board, and a new one appears every time you swipe. Once the board is full and there are no possible combinations left, the game ends and your score is calculated. It might look complicated in words, but it’s a simple concept relayed easily through an in-game tutorial.

Success is a two-part trick: You have to understand the physics of the board, and you have to think ahead to manage the new tile that appears every time you swipe. Say you have two threes side by side in the top row, and want to combine them into a six. Every tile on the board will move in the direction you swipe, unless its row is already full. So if you have two sixes side by side in a lower row, or a one next to a two (ones and twos combine to form threes), those tiles will also merge into a single tile when you swipe. You can swipe left, right, up or down, so the vertical and horizontal rows aren’t always tied into the same relationship with each other. If you have a 12 on top of a 12, and then slide to the left to combine two 24s, you might get those 12s out of line with each other. You’ll often have to swipe simply to get tiles of the same number near each other in hopes of eventually combining them, adding new tiles to the board with each swipe and potentially hampering your ability to shift rows in the future. The game gives you a glimpse of what the next tile will be, so you can prepare your next move to a small extent. Every action you take can have a drastic impact on the board, and you’ll often have to think several steps ahead to be truly successful at the game. Unlike Hundreds, there’s no need for manual dexterity—this is an almost entirely intellectual game.

Last year in the Atlantic Ian Bogost described Hundreds as “the haute couture” of videogames, important more as a “design object” than a “consumable media experience.” That could almost describe Threes. Its simple color palette—a soft grey rectangle on a white background, covered with tiles that are either white with small splashes of orange, or a muted blue and red—is almost as stark as Hundreds’.Threes is a more whimsical game, though—tiles have small faces and sometimes speak, saying hello to one another when they combine or muttering “bored” when the player takes too long between moves. Jimmy Hinson’s music has a strong Jon Brion influence, evoking the mannered but not quite icy early films of Paul Thomas Anderson. If Hundreds was a European art film, Threes would be its quirky American cousin. It’s worth getting obsessed over.

Threes was developed by Asher Vollmer, Greg Wohlwend and Jimmy Hinson. It is available for iOS devices.

Garrett Martin edits Paste’s games section and reviews games for the Boston Herald. He’s on Twitter at @grmartin.

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