Developer - Fallen Tree Games
Publisher - Fallen Tree Games
Platform - iOS [version tested], Android, Steam
Price - iOS 79p, Steam £3.99
Genre - Match 3
Every so often a match 3 game comes along and is the next big thing in the genre: Bejeweled, Puzzle & Dragons and, of course, the colossus that is Candy Crush Saga (I was lucky to break the addiction to that one) are recent examples. By design, though, match 3 games are pretty limited: you slide the tiles to line up the colours, hoping to get good combos along the way and achieve something before the time runs out. Repeat with jewels or jelly beans or bits of pills or Pokémon faces or whatever. In Swapperoo they're mostly literally tiles. So far, so by-the-book.
Swapperoo doesn't tear up the rulebook but it does gently remove the odd page. Firstly, you are not free to move many tiles at all. Arrow tiles swap with their neighbours in the appropriate directions when tapped and circular tiles disappear at your touch. Square tiles refuse to budge, like a Snorlax blocking a road (and you don't have a Poké Flute). Later levels introduce more mechanics, like saw tiles - arrow tiles that destroy the tile next to them - and the dreaded skull tiles. They start a move countdown and must be in a match before they hit 0, or it's game over, man, game over.
The game splits into two halves: Challenge levels, which ask you to match all the tiles in a limited number of moves, and Normal/Hard levels, which give you a full playing field and are objective-based: you might be matching a certain number of tiles, or a certain number of specific tiles (like so many purples, or so many down arrows) or more innovative things besides, like my favourite level type. This introduces heart tiles - a heart tile can be any kind of tile; it just has a heart on it - and eye tiles. The eye tile moves one space in any direction at random and eats heart tiles if it finds them, so you have to match either the eye tile or the heart one before that happens. The tension can be unbearable when an evil eye is stalking a helpless heart: it's as close as match 3 gets to survival horror.
Some levels give you access to three sorts of special move, which you can activate by matching certain tile types. The skull delays skull tiles by three moves, the swapper allows any pair of tiles to be swapped (which might sound limited but has saved my matchin' bacon many a time) and the detonator, which replaces the entire playing field. The use of these adds another layer of strategy to the game: using one at just the right time can really improve your chances of success.
The aesthetic is simple but effective: large bold tiles sit on a cream background and everything remains clear, even on the smallest iScreen. The music consists of the same gently noodling jazz tune, which is a slight disappointment, but does fit the game remarkably well. The only irritating part is the 'game over' sting, though I can't tell if that's because it's not good or because I heard it so often and now associate it with being annoyed!
There's also Game Center functionality (though the achievements are not working properly at the time of writing) and on-line leaderboards, should you wish to find out how good you are compared to the rest of the world (I'm in the top twenty on a few levels!). In short, your 79p gets you an awful lot for your money (Steam version untested). I have to say that it's the best value for money I have yet spent on the App Store. I have been seeing Swapperoo tiles in my sleep, it's that addictive. That is actually a problem: the one big criticism to level at the game is that it has no Endless Mode, so you can finish it off and then have nothing new to experience.
Final Verdict: My favourite thing about Swapperoo is that there's no time limit. You can and should plan ahead at your leisure as frantic tile swapping quickly leads to game overs. We're looking a game that doesn't reinvent the genre - how could it? - but improves on it in a few different ways. It's smart, cute and supremely addictive - fans of match 3 should get their fix here.