Return to the days of your childhood, playing with simple-shaped blocks to help a ball towards a hole in the addictive puzzle game Isoball 2, from Candyflame. Because as a baby you were apparently already a genius.
The rest of us probably were not. We all just stacked the blocks in shapes that followed our imaginations, which in the case of a boy would inevitably resemble a structure under attack from some menacing force. Inevitably that force would be, in the fit of Godzilla-esque fervor, the boy's fist. Perhaps the more industrious and less Tokyo-Monstered opted to try their hands at building bridges and I am sure that a manic genius here and there took on the early stages of decoding something's genome. But Isoball 2 takes the whole idea of playing with geometric shapes to a whole different and ultimately dumbfounding level.
If you have played the original Isoball then the sequel will be very familiar. Apart from tweaking the interface and cleaning a few things up, it's the same game, albeit much longer and with a much higher difficulty rating. Like the first you are presented with a isometric view of a grid. Given several specific pieces - ranging from cubes and flat blocks, flat and sharp ramps, direction changes and more versatile pieces like bridge builders, ball accelerators and teleporters - you need to guide a ball towards a hole by placing pieces on the screen with the mouse. This ball is pretty stupid, so it can't handle a wrong turn, a slight drop of someone sneezing on it. There is no margin for error: your approach has to guide the ball 100% of the way.
That is the Isoball series, more or less. The difficulty adjusts through how the ball and hole positions are changed, whether there are gaps to bridge and how creative you need to be with the pieces. It's also child's play until you start going past the sixteenth level...
Analysis: To be fair, completing Isoball 2 in the allotted time for this review meant I'd also have to be capable of curing cancer. So, in the hope that nobody one day accuses me of robbing mankind from life-saving medical breakthroughs, I might as well admit I did not make it through Isoball 2's fifty levels. The best I did was hit the halfway mark - and at this point it had gotten really hard. Browsing through the walkthrough it becomes apparent that things get a lot tougher. Honestly, it looks like the final few levels involve removing and placing blocks MID-GAME. Isoball 2 will take you a while to complete — and if it doesn't I think some scientific outlets might want to probe your brain... Or maybe I am just stupid.
This is a sequel, so it merits looking at how things have changed. First off are the fifty levels, a whole heap more than the original's twenty. The developers have done away with the countdown - you have all the time in the world to complete puzzles (and mercifully a level reset nullifies the timer as well, so your score takes less of a hit). In return, the game is a lot harder. Isoball had some whoppers, but Isoball 2 clearly benefited from some community puzzle suggestions. Or they have a bridge-building savant locked in a cupboard somewhere.
The game is very addictive, but it also becomes frustrating. Early puzzles can be sussed out by building from one point to the other and adjusting as you go, but later you really have to take in the whole scene and think of how the pieces can fit into it. To make things trickier, the game sometimes hands you more pieces than you need; for example, you might have five direction changers, but in the end you only needed four. It also soon does away with the notion that the best way forward is a straight line and hides a few other tricks that puts the puzzles beyond the scope of brute tinkering. This is not a game that allows you to fit a circle into a square.
But it is clever, well presented and just as polished. After playing the first game it is clear the bar has been raised to accommodate the game's existing players, but newcomers should at least get through the first fifteen levels before the going gets tough. If you are still going full steam by level twenty five, I hope the other - lesser - nerds pick on you. Because nobody likes a smart guy. If you breezed through to level fifty, I believe China wants someone who can build a bridge for them to the States... Or maybe I am just stupid.