British developer FuturLab seems to think the secret to success lies in value-priced video games with high production values. Last summer, it released the critically acclaimed PlayStation Mini Velocity to rave reviews. Now, the company is doing the same with its PlayStation Mobile puzzler, Surge. Produced in a mere three months according to FuturLab's Twitter feed, Surge doesn't quite have the depth of Velocity, but it's still plenty of fun to play.
"Easy to learn, difficult to master" is an ideal way to describe Surge. Available on the PS Mobile store for $3.29, the game only has one mode. Your goal is to clear the screen of colored blocks before the pressure builds too high and overloads the system. Once that happens, it's game over. Although it sounds simple enough, the gameplay hook in Surge has to do with the fact that clearing the screen is only a goal insomuch as it keeps you alive. The real goal is achieving a high score.
Earning a high score in Surge is done by clearing blocks in large chains. Two- and three-block links can be cleared quickly, but they don't rack up the points like 20-block chains. Setting up those longer chains takes time, though, and that's a precious resource in Surge. It's possible to temporarily slow down the pressure buildup by clearing a row and opening a set of vents, but that's only a stopgap solution.
Ultimately, every decision in Surge is a question of risk versus reward. Going for that super-long chain can quickly boost your score, but it can also mean the end of the game if you miscalculate. Thankfully, Surge's control scheme doesn't get in your way.
Because it's on PS Mobile, any hardware that can run Surge has a touch-screen. Making matches is a matter of using your finger to draw a line between blocks of the same color on your screen. The line can go in any direction; it can even cross over itself. The only rule is that it cannot touch a block of another color. Do that, and your chain disappears without clearing any blocks.
In addition to the standard blocks, Surge also features a handful of special blocks that can assist in clearing the field. Star blocks behave as normal but are worth double points. Multiplier blocks increase the score of the current chain, and they can be stacked. Switch blocks cycle through colors, stopping only when you touch them. They're usually more annoying than helpful, as they cycle rather quickly. Wildcard blocks can be used to match any color. Bomb blocks destroy all blocks of the same color when matched. The most powerful special block is the frenzy block. When matched, it turns all blocks on the screen to the same color for a few seconds. If you set it up in advance, the frenzy block can assist with some massive chains.
Since it's running in the PS Mobile sandbox, Surge doesn't have standard Vita trophies, but that didn't stop FuturLab from putting them in. Much like Velocity, the trophies are only viewable from within the game, but they're here. More importantly though, Surge has full leaderboard support.
Leaderboards are shared across PS Vita players and PS Mobile players on phones, so you always have a real-time ranking to view. While playing, Surge uses the score of the player immediately above you as the high score to beat. Some might say it's a purely arbitrary number, but it does serve to foster the competitive spirit. You're not just playing to best your own score. You're playing to move up in the ranks by besting someone else's score.
As enjoyable as Surge is, it does have one annoying fault, and that has to do with how it deals with special blocks. Because Surge requires at least two blocks for a match, if you end up with a single block of a given color on the screen, another block of that color will immediately drop. This makes sense for normal blocks, but it can wreak havoc when special blocks come into the picture.
Despite their generic nature, it seems that special blocks must have an underlying color to them. More than once, we would clear a set of blocks, only to have a seemingly random normal block drop down. The only explanation for this single block was to match against a special block such as a wildcard. It didn't matter if the wildcard could be matched against other colors, the single block would still drop. While it was usually a minor annoyance, not being able to plan for the appearance of these random singles was a frustration that should have never been present in the first place.
We played Surge on both the Vita and an Xperia Play smartphone. Surge was easily at its best on the Vita. Colors were vibrant, and the sound was clear, but most importantly, there was no lag. That wasn't true on the smartphone side, where the Xperia Play had trouble keeping up with some of the speedier matching.
Much like PS Mini titles, games under the PS Mobile banner are often overlooked. It would be a shame to do that with Surge. It's a bite-sized puzzler that costs about the same as a Starbucks latte, and is a perfect fit for short play sessions. Sometimes, less is more.
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