Skill for iPhone, by Gorilla Games, is one of those puzzlers that frustrates the player for the very reason it keeps you playing. While the minimalistic design works great, keeping the field free of clutter and unnecessary feedback, the physics seem pretty wonky, which is too bad for a game that shows this much promise.
In Skill, your task is to land two different discs on their respective squares in order to clear the levels. You must bounce the dots off of a variety of obstacles, simple lines at first, then colored ones, then ones that disappear, and on like that. The design is simple: two colored discs, a white field of play, and two landing zones colored for their respective discs.
A flick of the finger sends the discs pinging off of the walls and barriers around and in the field of play. Shoot too hard and your disc will sail over its landing zone without fail. Shoot too softly and the disc will come to a stop before it reaches its destination. The gameplay is further complicated by the fact that you must land both dots in the same turn. Nail one and miss the other, and it’s a trip back to the Restart button for you.
My favorite thing about Skill is the clean minimalistic aesthetic that pervades the game. The white background is refreshing after so many games that seem to invent reasons for more eye-catching backdrops that have little to do with the actual gameplay.
The colored discs aren’t bright red, or flashing, or actually a cartoon bird. They’re just discs. When you land them in their zones, the game congratulates you as heartily as a schoolmaster patting you on your shoulder and sending you on your way. When you fail, the discs go black and the Menu appears. No poppers and confetti here, just clear feedback and simple, addictive progression.
The level design is also consistently interesting. Many levels seem impossible at first, upping the sense of challenge and the satisfaction of clearing each one. The variety of ways to accomplish your very straightforward task keeps the gameplay interesting across the levels as more and more complex obstacles come into play.
One of the best things about this game is the lack of tutorials and hand-holding. Instead, the game asks that you patiently work out each puzzle on your own, a quality that seems to be disappearing in the current generation of gaming.
What keeps this game from being highly recommendable is the inconsistency of the controls. Whether it’s the physic of the game itself or the touchscreen input, sometimes levels seem impossible not because of the complexity of their design, but because the discs refuse to do what you tell them, even though you seem to be doing exactly what you’re supposed to.
In these instances, the lack of any tutorial or content that might familiarize you with the logic of the game seems inconsiderate. As levels get more and more difficult and require more and more precise manipulation of the trajectories, getting it right can seem sometimes like a game of chance.
Despite the niggling control issues, Skill is an addictive, well-designed game, with a lot going for it. New levels come with free updates, and the app is cheap considering how much time you can actually spend playing the game. While it isn’t perfect, Skill is still one of the better puzzle games available.
Author bio: Steve August writes for AlphaDigits, an online resource for iPhone and Android app reviews.