My fellow Gen-X'ers will think of Simon, the electronic memory game from Milton Bradley that became an '80s pop culture icon. Of course, Circles is more portable, playable and fun. And challenging.
Circles, ambient music and creeping panic; these make up the overall aesthetic of Circles. When first launched, Circles presents its icon plus three highly legible menus on a black background. The settings menu and store are also very easy to read. The white letters on a field of black stand out wonderfully, which I like. Because I'm old.
While you're playing, Circles presents anywhere from two to six colored circles. There's a play button in the center at the start of each game, and a button marked Continue appears if you're lucky enough to complete a level. Likewise, brief words of encouragement emphasize your every triumph.
The game's looks are straightforward and let you focus on the game play. Which is good, because focus is exactly what you need. Elaborate backgrounds or annoying music would have made this game even harder, so it's good that Snowman's developers left them out.
Oh boy, the good stuff. Here's how Circles works. When a game begins, Circles briefly highlights a pair of circles on the screen and plays a unique tone of each one. Your job is to tap the same pattern back. Two circles become three, then four, then five and so on. Once the app is finished playing a pattern, it notes how many taps were in that pattern, and counts them down as you repeat what you saw.
As you play, you progress through the game's eight sections. Each section has several levels. Complete each level successfully to move to the next section. Section one is relatively easy, with only two circle targets to keep track of. Section two introduces an additional circle target, as do sections three, four and five, which has you keeping track of six targets at once. It's fun and becomes a true test of your short-term memory rather quickly.
Section six is where Circles gets nutty. It's the "lightning round," so the patterns are presented more quickly than in previous sections (note that your response is not timed, so take your time). Section seven is even more devious, as the pattern is presented quickly and the whole field of colored circles makes a one-quarter clockwise turn after each pattern is played.
Section eight is the most devilish. All of the circles are the same grey, there are no tones, the patterns are played quickly and the circles rotate. Yikes.
Fortunately, Circles does not send you into battle without weaponry! There's a practice mode that lets you select the number of circle targets you'd like to play with. There's also a store selling weapons and chances. As you play, you earn virtual coins that can be spent in the in-game store.
Weapons are used during multi-player games via Game Center. Once you're in a game, take your turn and wait for Game Center to notify your opponent that his/her turn is ready. You could secretly add lightning to their turn, speeding up the pattern. Or "Twirl," which rotates the targets or even "Blackout," which removes color and tones. Sneaky!
Chances are also available, though you must pay real money for these via in-app purchase. Basically, a chance lets you try again if you make a mistake. In a multi-player game, your opponent does not know when you use a chance.
While Circles is great fun, there's another benefit to the app besides the immediate enjoyment. The developers at Snowman will donate a percentage of each sale to Alzheimer's research. Not for a week or a month, but for as long as the app exists. That's pretty great.
I like this game. It's beyond simple to learn and challenging enough to be fun. You can move to any section at any time, so you needn't complete section one, for example, to try section eight. Plus, who doesn't want to give their brain a little exercise and support a important scientific research at the same time? Circles is available in the App Store now.