Shadowmatic (iOS) review: This well-designed puzzle game begs for more challenge
This fun game for iOS shines a spotlight on silhouettes in a refreshingly original way.
Shadowmatic (iOS) casts you back to the days of creating shadow shapes on your wall with your hands. In this reimagining, you rotate abstract shapes with the goal of creating a familiar silhouette, like an elephant or a rubber duck.
Full of special touches, such as the parallax effects and themed levels, Shadowmatic is engaging and fun. It's no wonder this one is climbing to the top of the charts. For the most part, there are plenty of hidden extras to keep you engaged after you beat a level. However, some levels are remarkably easy, making the game go by faster than I'd like.
Still, it's worth the modest cost: $2.99 in the US, £2.29 in the UK and AU$3.79 in Australia.
Light and dark design
Shadows and light are everywhere in the game, from the level map screen to the levels themselves. That gives the game a dark and moody design that's still playful.
The game levels are divided into nine rooms, each with a theme, such as nautical or children's toys. The room's background and the textures of the shapes reflect the theme, and that helps clue you into what kind of shadow you need to create.
Those nine rooms are further divided into paths on the map screen, and you'll often reach a fork where you need to decide where to go next. With some paths, you can only go so far before the game stops your progress and you'll need to play levels on a different path to continue. I found it really confusing that I couldn't just keep going, and unfortunately, the game doesn't offer any explanation why you can't. It will simply tell you that you cannot play the level.
Shadowmatic uses parallax effects so that when you tilt your phone you can see parts of the game shift on the screen. This is most obvious on the map screen, where the boxes that represent each level will animate and cast different shadows. The parallax effectsalso add pizzaz to in the individual levels, but it doesn't affect how you play the game.
Cast a shadow
The point of the game is to rotate one or more abstract shapes to create a shadow of a familiar silhouette. Some of the shapes look like the finished shadow when you first look at them, but most are nonsensical and don't offer any clues.
You swipe with one finger to spin a shape around on its axis and swipe with two fingers to rotate it in the space, which you'll often need to do to get the correct shape. The controls are very precise and responsive, which made the game a breeze to play.
Some levels are very easy, requiring just a few twists and turns, while others are far more complex, especially those that give you multiple items to manipulate. For those, you can toggle between pieces with a button at the bottom left and move the two (or three) objects closer or farther apart. The game does a great job of explaining the controls, though it does take some practice to get the shapes to move the way you want them to.
The progress bar at the bottom tells you how close you are to getting the correct shadow; the more dots, the closer you are. For some shadows you'll need to make very small movements to finish the level, while others you can get the shadows close to the finished shape and the game will complete it for you.
The game times you in each level, keeping track of how long it takes you to get the shape. The faster you complete the level, the more points you'll earn.
If you ever get stuck, you can unlock clues by spending the game's hint currency. The first clue costs one coin and is usually vague and clever, while the next clue costs two coins and is more spot-on. The last two clues, which cost four and eight coins respectively, will unlock the level title or show you the finished shadow. I rarely needed hints, since many of the shadows were easy to spot quickly, but it's nice to know you have help when you need it. I'm also happy that the game doesn't bombard you with requests to purchase more coins. The game gives you plenty of coins to get started and you can purchase more if you need to from the menu in each level.
Secrets and achievements
Within some levels, there is more than one shadow you can find. These extra shadows are called secrets and most of them are very odd shapes, such as an alien dachshund or a fictitious dinosaur called a Weirdosaurus.
Secrets unlock new achievements, but they don't really add anything to your progress in the game. You can see a list of secrets for the entire game by tapping the two circles at the top-right of the level map screen. You can also tap any level on the map and see how many secrets are hidden within. There are 35 sprinkled throughout the game, and some levels have more than one secret.
While some of the levels are particularly easy to solve, secrets can be much harder to get into place correctly. Luckily, the progress bar will help you out once you get close to creating a secret.
To keep the game interesting, Shadowmatic has 24 achievements. Most are easy to get, like the ones for completing all of the levels in a room. Some of the achievements even clue you in to other hidden parts of the game, such as finding a secret on the map screen. When you unlock an achievement, you earn more points towards your total score.
The dark side
Though Shadowmatic has several extras to keep you playing, I found myself getting bored with too many too-easy levels. I expected the first several levels to be easy, but after that I wanted the game to ramp up and it didn't do that.
I would finish a particularly tricky level only to get to the next level and solve it in a matter of seconds, without even needing to adjust the shapes much. I wish the game had a more consistent progression from easy to difficult, which would help the game feel more challenging.
Full of whimsical puzzles and thoughtful designs, Shadowmatic is a delightful and captivating iOS game. It forces you to use your imagination to find a common shadow from a seemingly random shape and think about how things fit in a space, which felt like a mental exercise that I enjoyed doing.
However, Shadowmatic has a few issues, mostly that the levels are often too easy, taking just a few seconds to complete. The hidden secrets keep things interesting, but they weren't always enough to keep me coming back.
Given that many games in the Apple App Store are free, the price tag might seem a bit too steep. However, it's worth it and for less than a cup of coffee, you get a game that's far more interesting than the thousands of "match three" puzzle games that are getting stale.