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Video games are an ever-evolving medium, and as such, certain genres seem to fall out of style as the years pass. The match-three tile puzzler – arguably perfected by PopCap with Bejeweled 3 – isn't exactly redefining the interactive experience, but Alien Hive proves there's still room for innovation in an otherwise well-worn, casual-focused concept. Blending two simple gameplay ideas with a relaxing, cartoonish aesthetic works – for the right player.
Alien Hive is a mash-up of sliding-tile and match-three puzzle games. Only one tile is missing from the board, so movement is done in increments of a single space, and lining up three like objects produces a single, upgraded tile. The primary goal is to evolve "supreme" aliens from eggs: combining three eggs creates an embryonic figure, three of those create a baby alien, and so on.
Removing any form of countdown clock, Alien Hive instead relies on a limited number of turns, displayed as energy crystals. You can gain crystals by matching them on the board, or using a wide assortment of power-ups. Unfortunately, the in-game gold used to buy power-ups is fairly scarce, and while Alien Hive doesn't outright demand in-app purchases, you'll find it incredibly difficult to grow a supreme alien without plopping down a couple of real-world bucks.
Alien Hive is well-suited for quick rounds during a commute or a lunch break. You're free to take your time with turns, and leveling up your little aliens is a thoroughly enjoyable experience. But then the enemy robots appear, thus freezing movement, and the relaxing atmosphere quickly devolves into frustration. It's an irritating twist that works against the otherwise chill dynamic.
The bottom line. Alien Hive is a unique puzzle game, but the originality crumbles a bit under the weight of limited resources and a pointless enemy tile.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 4.3 or later
Original blend of match-three and slide puzzles. Growing new alien types is a real challenge. Doesn't beat you over the head with freemium sales.
Gameplay can grow stagnant, quickly. Robot enemies are extremely frustrating. Gold and power-up allotment is a little unbalanced.