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Portabliss: Puzzlejuice (iOS)


Did you know that you can download handheld games now? That's amazingly convenient! The only inconvenient part of it is finding the right games to buy -- and that's where we come in, with our Portabliss column. In each installment, we'll tell you about a downloadable game on the iPhone, iPad, Android device, DSi, 3DS, PSP, etc. Today: Portabliss.

Usually, if an iPhone game is crippled by its control scheme, I won't recommend it here. Most of the time, awkward controls are enough to get me to stop playing a game, and not bother with it.

However, Puzzlejuice's concept is so strong and so irresistible that I continue playing it, over and over again, despite there never being a time I'm not fighting with the controls. And I'm going to tell you to play it, even though you're going to be annoyed by the controls too. I think that's indicative of strong game design.

By way of explaining the gameplay, I'll tell you why the controls are messy. Groupings of 3-4 colored blocks fall from the top of the screen, Tetris style. You swipe on an empty area of the screen to direct and rotate those. Then when the block is in place, you tap any area of three adjacent, similarly colored blocks to turn them into letters. (Full lines of blocks are automatically turned into letters.) Then, you swipe over adjacent letters to build a word, which awards points and explodes nearby blocks.

One problem is that the letters are tiny, so swiping those accurately is difficult, especially while dealing with the time pressure from the continuing drop of additional blocks. The other problem is that moving blocks and building words is done with the same motion. If you swipe too low, you're connecting letters instead of moving a block. Several times, I accidentally spelled a word while a tower formed in the middle of the screen.

Luckily, the pace is generally slow enough that I can take my time deliberately moving and spelling, even though it's against my instincts. Also luckily, this game is really fun, so I'm dealing with the issues. The experience is enhanced with powerup items that freeze, explode, or drill through blocks, challenges for specific goals like those in Jetpack Joyride, and a fantastic visual theme that recalls developer Greg Wohlwend's previous hit game, Solipskier.

This is a really fantastic game, and it has control issues. I've been able to overcome the internal conflict, and I'm confident you can do the same.

Puzzlejuice is available for $2.99 for iPhone on the iTunes App Store, on sale for $0.99. 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.

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