Right, first review of the year, so let’s ease ourselves in gently. Hundreds should be easily covered by looking at the official WDGP Pretentious Indie Shmindie Checklist.

Soothing new age-y music playing throughout, with a recommendation to play with headphones (via Osmos)? Check.

Clean, functional presentation (a la Drop 7)? Check.

Simple initial idea belying later complexity (Dyad?) Check.

Underlying cryptographic mysteries (Fez)? Check.

Great, four poops, game of the year decided already.

Hundreds main

Well, OK, let’s dig at least a little bit deeper. Hundreds is the product of Semi Secret, no strangers to being the justified iOS flavour of the month thanks to hits like Wurdle, Canabalt and Solipskier, but is a far more serene and considered game than those ever were. It’s a numbers game, but its puzzles largely concern themselves with momentum and physics rather than tickling the mathematical parts of your noggin. You’re presented with several numbered discs on a white space. Touching the discs will increase their size and the number on them, until the on-screen total reaches the titular one hundred. The trick is that should a disc you’re touching bump anything else on-screen, it’s game over, which makes things tricky when the screen is flooded with obstacles like bouncing bubbles or buzz saws that instantly shrink a disc to zero, and that’s before having to contend with discs that are tied together and can only be grown with multitouch.

Things get tougher as the screen fills. Reducing inertia is key, or discs will fly everywhere.

Things get tougher as the screen fills. Reducing inertia is key, or discs will fly everywhere.

Through its appropriate length of one hundred levels, Hundreds does well in teaching and then implementing new mechanics to keep things fresh throughout, complex gameplay being hidden beneath its plain monochrome visual design. It soon becomes a game about the preservation of momentum, discs pinging off one another in Newton’s cradles and movable pucks being used to delicately create space on the playfield without causing a chain reaction of movement that’s too fast to deal with. While levels are short enough for this to be a fantastic toilet game, you’re awarded for playing as slowly and level-headed as possible; such delicate pacing paring with quick fix gameplay is something rarely seen (the Pickfords’ marvelous Magnetic Billiards being one of few examples)and it makes the game a great thoughtful companion piece to your array of endless runners for when you’re waiting for a bus.

There’s a grim culture of entitlement surrounding the App Store thanks to the long won (or lost depending on perspective) race to the pricing bottom which may make some throw up their hands at a perceived lack of content on offer here, but in truth, there’s a lot more to Hundreds than meets the eye. There will certainly be some stages amongst the initial one hundred that will leave you scratching your head, but once through those there is an endless mode to carry on with. You’ll also occasionally be given mysterious messages after completing a stage; dig around enough and you’ll discover the ability to play with them through a secret cipher mode. The coded messages range from straightforward riddles to anagrams and then more complicated ciphers (I was able to interpret the first three, everything else has proven to be beyond me somewhat) designed to create more conversation around the game than simply discussing optimal solutions for the core puzzles.

Ciphers start with simple anagrams like this and get harder than any cryptic crossword.

Ciphers start with simple anagrams like this and get harder than any cryptic crossword.

Encouraging players to break out a pen and paper to think through a code and maybe even (shock) talk to somebody else about their progress is great to see, but the code breaking isn’t as incorporated nearly as convincingly into the game as, say, in Fez; rather Hundreds’ ciphers feel more like a bonus mini game. Though you’re rewarded with an in-game bonus for figuring out the underlying riddle being delivered here, it seems like there will be fewer cases of people discussing codes as they pick through the puzzles, and more instances of hopping online and simply reading the solutions. While expecting your audience to dip outside the game and look into press releases and Game Center acheivement badges to find clues is a novel idea, it’s easy to give too little away for the audience to care rather than lead them to satisfying self discovery, and that’s a balance that’s missed here.

But the ciphers are a bonus rather than the main attraction, and happily, the main drive of Hundreds is pleasantly magnetic. It’s become easy and fashionable to dismiss the minimalist independent puzzler simply because of the amount of competition on the App Store, but Semi Secret’s offering is fresh, smart and a fine start to iOS gaming in 2013.

GODZILLA SCORE:

3poops

 

 

3 Poops: Exceptional. There are quite literally hundreds of games that try to do what Hundreds does and fail; this collaboration of iPhone classic creators has the thoughtfulness and panache to stand comfortably above the crowd.

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Gamer, Educator, Writer of Stuff, wrestler of professionals (sometimes)