Let’s take that classic game Jenga, except instead of taking block of wood out, you chop it off of a 2D hollow shape. Now let’s put some speeding shuriken in there, big and small, which you have to keep all in one place. Not only that, but swiping through a shuriken ends the game instantly. Sound like fun?
ISlash HD brings a new take on puzzle games, incorporating a Jenga-style twist into its gameplay. It’s a great and addictive way to pass the time, allowing you to harness your inner ninja and show off your deadly accuracy and skill — at least it feels that way.
Obviously you can’t master this game in minutes, so let’s go through the gameplay before we touch on any of the game’s functionality. The premise of iSlash HD is that you have to slice chunks off of a shape until you chop off a certain amount without touching the shuriken, or “bamboo stars,” that are flying around the shape. But that’s not the only thing you have to worry about.
As the game progresses, the amount of wood that you have to cut increases and the shapes become more intricate. The number of bamboo stars gradually increases too, and new forms of these stars start to appear, such as a bomb ninja star which explodes and gives birth to new regular stars. Another type of bamboo star is the ghost star which turns transparent, making it tricky to know where you can safely slash. Things like metal edges also prevent you from slashing down that path, so be prepared for a long sit down!
As well as having all these obstacles, you also have a few tricks up your sleeve to combat your new adversary. There are a few power ups you can use that can do anything from slowing down the time to instantly completing a level with no effort.
The power ups are given to you in quantities of three by default, but if you end up using all of them, you can buy more through the game’s store. Luckily though, the game’s not that stingy; additional power ups can be accessed in little bubbles during a level by slicing off considerable chunks of wood.
The first screen you’re presented with is a menu with four options on wood backdrops: Play, Social, Store and Options. It’s split diagonally across the middle into two sections with some atmospheric Japanese text in the background and a nice little tune over the top that gives a very welcoming and Asian feel.
Touching on the play option will take you into a set selection screen. Each set has 50 levels and there are four sets, so there are a whopping 200 stages to complete! Keep in mind that the levels increase in complexity as you progress, so you’ll most likely try lots of the levels more than once. I have yet to reach level 200.
The Social option allows you to check leader boards and achievements using Game Center or OpenFeint. Like lots of games, there are a set of achievements to aspire to collecting after completing all the levels, which range from things such making 10,000 slashes in total (good luck!) and failing a level with less than 1% remaining.
The first experience of playing with iSlash is relatively pleasant. By that, I mean that you can cut the majority of the shape off with slow ninja stars almost letting you do the job. The finger swiping feels satisfying when joined with a white trail and sword-swinging sound that makes you feel like you’re the master of precision.
This is relatively enjoyable for a while, but as the levels progress and get subtly harder and more complex, you find yourself locked in tense moments where you need to slice off a large chunk without disturbing many agile shuriken all moving at different paces. Most of the game is just holding your breath, waiting for a particular area to become free of shuriken. Doing this in the final few levels is virtually impossible.
Now this is all fine and well, however what the game does to cleverly lure you in is instead of navigating out of the menu when you fail, the level is instantly refreshed, putting you back in your ninja mind frame, ready to cut up some wood. This involuntary reset will cleverly immerse you into hours of gameplay.
This game can get quite frustrating when you’re not getting through a level, no matter how many times you’ve replayed it. I feel almost devastated when I’ve timed my slash quite well but a cheeky fast bamboo star has suddenly collided with my finger. This did lead to me becoming frustrated with the app a few times, but overall the gameplay is quite addictive and great fun.
If you’ve managed to get as far as the last few levels, you’ve probably used most, if not all of your power ups, so now is where the games in-app purchases come into play. Not many people would walk away after getting so close to finishing the last few levels, so this is the key point in the game where most people will buy the extra upgrades.
The app is predominately Eastern themed, with details such as the carvings of wooden animals for levels contributing significantly to the atmosphere. I am a big fan of the ambient music featured during levels, and it seems very reminiscent of Ecco the Dolphin, a venerable Sega Megadrive classic. However, the music is probably the least of your worries when locked in intense, patient gameplay. It almost enhances your concentration in a mystical fashion.
The navigation is smooth and solid throughout the app. It looks sharp even two years after it’s debut on iOS, little details looking as good as the main screens. The colours and textures also stick to the Eastern style of the app.
This is a great puzzler that can consume hours of time without using too much RAM and with a tiny price tag. This is also about as close to being a ninja as I will ever get.