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App Alert: 'Hundreds'

A deceptively simple and deeply satisfying game for iPad

By James Renovitch, 3:16PM, Tue. Jan. 8, 2013

There's something refreshing about a game with enough simplicity and clarity as to not require tutorials. A game where playing is all that is needed for full comprehension. Hundreds – a new game for Apple phones and pads from local developer Adam Saltsman, his partner at Semi Secret Software Eric Johnson, and Chicago's Greg Wohlwend – is such a game.

The best way to explain how Hundreds works is to describe the first few levels: Level one consists of a single circle with a zero in the center. If you touch that circle it turns red and begins to grow along with the number until the number reaches 100 (naturally). Success! That was easy. Round two has three slowly moving circles that follow the same rules as the previous but if you are touching a circle when it collides with its neighbor your game is over. The next round has five circles that are moving a bit faster forcing you to think about the direction of travel and impending ricochets when pressing for that 100. From there the game slowly introduces players to point-sapping buzzsaws, circle-freezing ice balls, and red spheres of death, each creating a handful of new difficulties to what once seemed like a simple task of touching round objects. As the gentle learning curve turns to instinct, the more challenging levels begin to require patience, forethought, and/or quick fingers depending on the level. Before long, instinct becomes addiction and the last of the 100 levels brings together everything the game has cleverly imparted to the player.

Proceed through enough levels and you are "rewarded" with codes to break revealing messages. These offer a nice distraction for completists. Expect to do some serious internet research if you don't already have a graduate degree in cipher sciences.

The 101st level is unlocked about midway through the game is Endless Mode and starts players off with four simple circles. With each 100 points a random group of familiar obstacles and aids are added. The strategy to this is different from the other levels. You want to complete your first few hundred points as cleanly so the screen doesn't get flooded with shapes seemingly gravitating toward one another. However, as I came to realize over and over, trying to keep the board clear early on often leads to premature collisions. Whether or not something is worth attempting is a question you'll have to ask yourself again and again often with only a split second to decide as one circle floats tantalizingly alone for a brief moment. Should you try and trap the buzzsaw knowing full well that you could increase the speed of all the nearby circles? Will taking the time to unfreeze things just cause more problems than it solves? The answer will be different with each attempt, and that's what makes the game addictively replayable.

The design is clean and intuitive with red, white, and black circles dominating. The interface uses the multitouch screen of the iPad smartly. The ambient soundtrack courtesy of Loscil doesn't distract players from the task at hand and yet manages to avoid the stigma of background music. The rest of the sound design is similarly helpful. The sudden crunch of a circle getting frozen or the subtle electronic rustle of a killer buzzsaw coming back to life become necessary warnings leaving your eyes free to keep track of the million trajectories and impacts necessary to master the game.

Like my previous smartphone addiction, Super Hexagon (which was on my Top 10 games of 2012), Hundreds hides difficulty and complication in clean and simple design and gameplay, and will be tough to unseat as my favorite.

You can buy it for $2.99 (40% off its regular price) until January 10.

(out of five)

(I'm rating games with stars now rather than letting my review stand alone and am a bit torn about it. Anyone have any thoughts?)

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