In his ongoing, mad quest to give us all nightmares about geometry, Tonypa has unleashed Cobacoli upon the world. It sounds like a deadly bacteria, but no, it's an elegant puzzle game based around 2-dimensional ball physics, although in many ways it qualifies as an infectious disease. Symptoms include intense concentration, swearing, and the inability to pry your hand away from your mouse. Also my left knee is itchy, but that's probably not Tonypa's doing. Probably.
The gameplay is similar to Shuffle, though the ball motion seems more directly inspired by CGDC3 winner Gimme Friction Baby. Each level presents you with a group of colored circles, and your goal is to clear the board by knocking each one into a wall of its own color. Move your white cue ball by simply clicking in the direction you want it to go. A white arrow line will assist you in plotting a course, but keep in mind you have no control over your shot's velocity. You have a limited number of shots — indicated by the readout in the center of the screen — and when you run out, the game is over. Be careful not to touch the colored walls with the cue ball, or your shot count will decrease by one.
The more efficient you are, the faster your score increases. And when you clear a level, your remaining shots will be divided by two and then added onto your starting allotment for the next stage. So if you perform well early on, you can build up a buffer for the later, more challenging levels.
And you will be challenged. Oh yes you will. Right from the beginning, you'll never have a straight line to the goal or even a simple bank shot. Rather, the balls start each level in exactly the most inconvenient spot possible, with improbable angles preventing you from easily ricocheting them to their goals. You will need to fully engage your spatial instincts and plan each shot carefully, or you'll find yourself caroming the cue ball repeatedly into the walls and trapping target circles in awkward corners where, despite their lack of speech, facial expressions, or writing utensils, they will mock you.
Analysis: As you might expect from Tonypa, this is a highly developed and smoothly executed game. The strong colors and elegant visual layout are present and accounted for, and the background music from Kevin MacLeod is simply spectacular. Not only is the music well chosen, but it's somewhat dynamic as well. As you advance, you'll not only be rewarded with new and more diabolical level designs, but also a fuller symphony.
It's a remarkably addictive cocktail, made even more gripping by the fact that nothing in the game is random. You always have complete control, though the math may be baffling, and that makes the search for the perfect strategy on each level compelling.
Cobacoli is full of refinements. Target circles feature a little bulls-eye to help you make precise shots. The level order gets shuffled around each time you play just enough to break up expectations. There's an interesting twist where balls shrink each time they are moved (they never disappear entirely), and although this makes it gradually harder to execute accurate rebounds, it also eases the pain of bucking a circle out from a tight corner.
I do feel like the sound effects are lagging slightly behind the rest of the package. Some of the rebound sounds feel a little off to me, and there definitely should be a unique effect when you successfully burst a circle against a wall; not necessarily a twenty-gun salute, but something that can act as a minor reward.
But overall, this is one of Tonypa's best efforts. Cobacoli will turn off some players with its difficulty, especially since some situations can seem hopeless and others can punish you severely in a short period of time. A single poorly-judged shot can wipe you out on some of the crueler boards, and that means you'll be starting over all the way from the beginning. However, this prospect shouldn't keep you from trying out one of the finest ball physics-based games available. The urge to throw a rock through your monitor has never felt so sophisticated.
UPDATE: Tonypa has just released a new version of Cobacoli with several nice new features, including a level select screen that allows you to play any level you've already unlocked. Bonus shots are not carried over when selecting individual levels, but playing through stages in order still earns you those precious extras. High scores are also saved for each level and for your current session.