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You wouldn't know it from the screenshots – what with that clean, minimal design and little faces on the number tiles – but behind Threes!' delightfully cheery exterior lays a complex and calculated puzzle core. Its number-blending mechanics are simple on the surface and incredibly easy to pick up, yet careless play is quickly punished and low scores prove inevitable without constant consideration for each and every move made on the board. Success is often elusive in Threes!, yet seeking it has quickly become our favorite new single-minded pursuit.
Basic addition drives this latest collaboration from Greg Wohlwend (Hundreds) and Asher Vollmer, who previously paired for the also-sharp Puzzlejuice. Everything takes place on a 4x4 grid, wherein every tile is shifted by your swipe and the goal is to continually combine compatible tiles without filling the board. Blue (one) and red (two) tiles can merge to form a three, while all multiples-of-three tiles thereafter can only blend with an exact counterpart: a pair of threes becomes six, a couple of those turns into 12, merging those gives you 24, and so on and so forth.
Each swipe not only shifts the contents of the board up, down, left, or right, but also pulls in a new tile from out of view. As such, you'll need to continually combine tiles to free up space on the board — and create larger and larger numbers — while simultaneously considering the placement of the incoming tile to accommodate the next potential pairing. At times, it feels like playing a sliding image puzzle, as you make moves to nudge certain number tiles around the board and ultimately towards a companion, but there's a lot more going on here.
It's tempting to make quick decisions early on when the board is bare and movement comes easily, but that's a fool's errand; obsessing over every little decision is key to setting sizable scores and enjoying the game for more than a few minutes per attempt. We regularly found ourselves embroiled in tense games, analyzing every possible action with the knowledge that one wrong move could botch an otherwise well-played board. You'll flub a lot of attempts, but Threes! is absolutely scintillating once you're deep into a solid run and pairing triple-digit tiles.
Unlike many iOS puzzle games, Threes! isn't meant to merely kill time or fill spare moments in your day. As you absorb strategies and labor over every little action, it'll consume not only your time, but also your attention and brainpower. If that's not the mark of an excellent puzzler, then we don't know what is.
The bottom line. Threes!' engaging mechanics add up to iOS puzzle perfection.
iPhone, iPad, or iPod touch running iOS 6.0 or later
Brilliant game mechanics are easy to learn but ultimately elaborate and challenging. Unlocking higher and higher numbers while improving your score proves captivating. Wonderful UI design and intuitive touch controls.
Sound effects are a bit grating, but can thankfully be turned off independently from the great music.