Threes! is devilishly simplistic game. In an alternate universe, it might be branded a “match three” game, but in our world you can only say that with a sly grin and a knowing wink that Sirvo’s latest iOS game is very different.
Each game starts with a simple 4×4 board with a wall on each side. A few tiles are placed on it randomly, with 1s, 2s and a couple of 3s to start off with, and you swipe in any of the four directions to move the tiles around. With each swipe, all tiles that are not blocked by a wall or another tile will move in that direction.
The aim of the game is to merge the 1s and 2s to make a 3, then match 3s to each other to make 6s, then 12s, 24s, 48s and ever upwards into the thousands. As you load up the game for the first time, all of the basics are taught to you in a short and simple tutorial.
At first blush, it’s a simple task, but it’s one which has a lot of nuance to it, and though I initially played the game very quickly, as my scores have improved I take a lot more time to consider my moves.
Part of this is down to how all tiles are moved together, when they can, so short and long term planning tends to pay off. There’s nothing better than having managed to create a 4 or 5 move string that leads to the creation of the big tile, and nothing worse in finding yourself trapped with a nearly full board and no moves to make, ending the game and awarding you a score.
Each swipe brings a new tile into the arena, entering in the direction that you swipe and drawn from a randomised deck of tiles. There’s a very Tetris-like display of the next tile to enter, with blue signifying a 1 and red a 2, while white could be anything from a 3 or 6 to 48, 96 or more, depending on how far you’ve got in that particular game.
It’s easy to rattle your way through the first few moments of a game, quickly crashing to a 48 or a 96 tile, but soon you have to slow down and think. Do you want to push on with your plan to try and move those tiles together, or do you need to react to the next tile that’s coming in?
Thankfully, you can preview a move (though not what and where the next tile will appear) and pull back, since it gets more and more treacherous as you progress. A 192 or 384 tile becomes an impediment, as you try to push the tiles around it into the right place to create a matching tile and move on. As your array of tiles climb to ever higher numbers, the introduction of 1s, 2s and even 3s or 6s becomes trickier, and you have to find ways to merge them into greater value tiles as soon as possible.
An errant 3 or 6 will often end up between two 24s, for example, blocking your path and forcing you to shift your focus, and the luck of the draw can often decide your fate at a crucial moment, but or each moment of frustration and difficulty, there’s a moment of joy in successfully progressing. In a handful of swipes you can practically clear the board, merging tiles and improving your score exponentially (each successive tile is worth three time that of the one before).
This would be enough for an incredibly addictive game, but where this could have been a cold and sterile experience it’s full of warmth and charm. The gameplay keeps me coming back time and again, but the design makes it all the more enjoyable to stay.
Each tile has an adorable little face drawn on the bottom edge, every number has a name and cute little backstory which is shown when you first find that number, and the little voices and sounds each number has just make my heart melt every time. Their faces even move depending on which tile is talking.
And it’s all accompanied by a cheery 7 minute backing track that loops round and round, but after a week or so of playing still hasn’t got old. It comes from Jimmy Hinson, who has composed for games such as Mass Effect 2 and Black Ops 2, but his pay-what-you-want OST release also gives a fascinating insight into a potentially more ethereal and otherworldly take on the game and how very different it could have felt as a consequence.
Threes! has got so much going for it, from the endlessly endearing style and flair to the addictive “one more go” gameplay. It’s so easy to sit down for a single quick game and lose yourself for 20-30 minutes as you start to agonise over every single move you make.