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Rotating rings of sweet little cartoon animals close in around your catapult with a shuffle of furry paws. What's an animal lover to do? Why, launch their own feral pals back at them before they tan your hide, of course. Match three of a kind or more, and the grouped cutesy-pie balloons will burst, while any that remain snap back together to cause chain reactions pop-a-thons or simply continue the parade.
True to their spherical air-filled forms, your foes are more adorable than threatening. They do come to present an addictive challenge over the course of Riot Rings' 101 campaign levels, though. See, every balloon you launch with a simple targeting tap could wind up adding to the population of an orbiting ring. Miss too many matches, and the lock and key that bookend each crowd will meet and unleash a level-ending stampede.
There's far more to it than that, however, because Riot Rings constantly adds interesting new elements. At first you face just one ring of animals at a time, then concentric circles, then unpredictable overlapping ellipses. Initially your biggest problems are the occasional clouds that like to obstruct your view, but soon enough stones and frozen animals are also getting in your way, and large evil bees start buzzing about. All the while, colorful backgrounds and charming animated flourishes make the whole show easy on the eyes, even as your battery rapidly empties.
There's always some goofy new power-up around the corner, too, whether it's a thrown hambone distraction, a balloon-scorching red nuke, or a ricocheting rhinoceros that breaks everything in its path. Before 90 minutes are up, you'll find yourself halfway through the whole collection, but even the simpler levels are too addictive to play just once. Earn up to three stars on every stage, or concentrate on climbing the Game Center leaderboards. (Sadly, Riot Rings offers no achievements.)
The only genuine misstep in gameplay is the sloth-like rate at which Zen mode's endless challenge ramps up. On our very first try, we cleared fully 56 rings over the course of 27 minutes. Chances are the lack of intermittent boss battles or any background imagery will drive you away long before you're overrun.
You can't fault the main campaign for the failings of its ancillary offshoot, though. One would be hard-pressed to claim Riot Rings is truly innovative, borrowing as it does from obvious forerunners like Zuma. But it certainly delivers enough new ideas and lovable imagery to earn your dollar.
The bottom line. Riot Rings is an addictive and endearing action puzzler that just about anyone will enjoy.
iPhone or iPod touch running iOS 3.0 or later.
Simple screen-tapping controls. Cute and colorful graphics suitable for all ages. 101 imaginative level designs. Nifty temporary power-ups. Game Center leaderboards.
Campaign flies by in a hurry. Slow-moving and variation-free Zen mode falls flat. Heavy battery use. No Game Center achievements.