Putting a little face on a puzzle game piece has a magical effect. Compile knew it when it turned colored blobs into Puyos; World of Goo feels less like a series of engineering challenges and more like a world because your building materials are semi-sentient and have lil' eyes.
I won't go so far as to say putting faces on the squares in ASYNC Corp. was the smartest decision Powerhead Games made in the game, but ... they're really cute faces! Sometimes they sneeze. They react when blocks are dropped on them. They're just so charming. The rest of the game is great too, but those smiling blocks are what stay in my mind after playing.
ASYNC Corp. switches up the normal color-matching puzzle game by putting you in charge of two adjacent playfields. You have to pick one block out of each playfield to swap, in order to create rectangular groupings of four or more blocks, which become larger, face-bearing shapes. Then you tap on the block to make it disappear.
Powerhead took that basis and made four totally different gameplay styles out of it, by changing the scoring mechanism. "Quota Mode" puts a slowly climbing bar in the middle of the screen, which you reduce by eliminating blocks. If it reaches the top of the screen, game over.
"Zoning Mode" actually doesn't have a failure state, instead raising its level as you quickly eliminate blocks, and lowering in level if you fail to do so quickly enough. At each level, the speed at which you need to work to reach the next level increases -- but you always have the option not to care, and just continue playing.
"ASYNC Mode" is functionally the opposite. Instead of "zoning out" and just playing forever, this mode requires strategy, as you have to arrange your swaps to create 4x6 rectangles in each color in order to advance.
I've expressed my affection for stress-free puzzle experiences before (in another game with cute face blocks!), so I tend to spend my time in Zoning Mode. But the option to play it a completely different way exists, and I like that. No matter which way you play it, you'll get to match colors while listening to some catchy, upbeat music -- which, in fact, I'm just listening to right now as I write.
Groove Coaster is available from the iOS App Store for .99 as an iPhone app. We're always looking for new distractions. Want to submit your game for Portabliss consideration? You can reach us at portabliss aat joystiq dawt com.