Publisher: Manic Game Studios
Platform: PC exclusive
US Price (as reviewed): $9.99 (ex tax)
UK Price (as reviewed):
20 June on Steam
Critical Mass is a three dimensional match-four game, which at first feels like trying to solve a slowly-revolving Rubik's Cube that explodes if you take too long.
However, the Rubik's Cube comparison is purely visual. With a simple concept of matching up four or more blocks of any colour to clear them from the screen before your time is up, Critical Mass is best described as a hybrid of Tetris and Bejewelled, and the mechanics aren't over complicated either. With only three power-ups available in classic mode that charge up over time, the game does a brilliant job of not introducing too many features that would distract you from the core gameplay.
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The only problem is that the task of clearing the blocks can be highly frustrating. Manoeuvring the cube in 3D space isn't a problem, as you can use a simple right mouse button click to control the camera. However, the process of actually placing your current block can be utterly maddening, as the whole thing spins slowly of its own accord, making the process feel a bit like trying to build a house in Minecraft while at sea in a gentle swell.
You do get the hang of this after a while, though, and once this happens, Critical Mass is able to put you into a virtual Zen-like trance as you try to build up longer and longer combos. It must be said, however, that the frustration never completely disappears, and you're never as far away from a rogue mis-click as you might think.
Our advice is that you swallow your pride and stick with the casual difficulty for a significant amount of time in order to avoid working yourself into a fit of anger. There are a few variations on the gameplay available, with four different modes in total, but all of them point still suffer from this significant drawback to the game.
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On the plus side, the game looks great, and the particle effects that trigger when you complete various combos are all very satisfying. That said, however, while the stripped-down HUD looks great and doesn't clutter the screen, Critical Mass is notably lacking a notification of the colour of block you're going to be given next.
An indication of the block you currently have wouldn't go amiss either, as it's only possible to see what you're holding once you highlight a potential location to place it. Likewise, the game is also in sore need of a more varied soundtrack to join the game's lonely, infinitely-looped eight-bar techno riff.
Critical Mass is definitely an interesting and visually-attractive take on the standard four-in-a-row colour matching formula, but in practice it's just too fiddly for us to truly recommend. With some more tweaking to the gameplay mechanics and notification area, this game has the potential to be a great-looking, addictive puzzler, but at the moment it's simply too frustrating to play.