Though it doesn't really need it, UFO Dad has a simple and silly plot. Dad has successfully invented a new spatula with some interesting technology that helps him craft the perfect burger every time. During a grilling session one night, aliens fly by and decide they want the spatula for themselves, so they abduct Dad, the spatula, and anything else in their tractor beam. Luckily for Dad, his wife, his son Ned and his daughter Sadie head outside just in time and try to rescue him.
The game is like a mix of a typical match-three puzzle game and Mr. Driller, only taken above ground instead of below. Playing as either family member, you must match three burger blocks of the same color and cause them to disappear from the playing field. Instead of using a cursor to manipulate things, your character is physically on the field, using the special spatula to swat the blocks into place. Blocks can be moved left or right but will always continue moving until they hit an object, so minute movements in either direction aren't possible.
Though the moves seem basic, you can pull off some more advanced ones, like swapping places with a burger block or tossing it in the air and swatting it while it floats. Since new blocks come in from below, gravity plays a big part in the game, as burger blocks fall to the ground if there's nothing under them — unless they pass a like-colored burger block, which sticks them in place. Once three burger blocks are connected horizontally, vertically, or in a cluster, a timer counts down to signal how long it takes for the cluster to disappear. If you can attach more like-colored blocks to the cluster, the timer resets, giving you more time to make bigger matches that are worth more points.
Burger blocks are not the only things you'll find on the playing field. Regular earth blocks are colored just like the burger blocks, and they also fall to the ground level unless they get attached to like-colored earth blocks. However, they also disappear when they're hit. Rock blocks, however, never fall and act like blockages or platforms, depending on their height. They also don't fall, and there's no practical way to destroy them. Finally, you have the grill, which can be used in one of two ways. If burger blocks fall on the grill, the blocks disappear and hopefully give you a chance to get rid of stray burger blocks to get better matches. If you pick up the grill and drop it to the ground, it can be used as a bomb to clear other blocks.
As for player selection, choosing between family members involves more than just aesthetics. Each family member has different attribute levels in terms of speed, jump height, and strength, and that determines how high each can lift a burger block. Aside from that, each has a special ability that automatically activates once he or she has matched up enough burger blocks. Dad can slow down the alien tractor beam intervals while Mom can combine different colored chains into mega-chains for bonus points. It's disappointing to see both of the kids have the same power to turn solid stones into burgers for bonus points, but Ned can also survive being crushed as least once.
This all comes together for quite an interesting puzzle game. When it clicks together, you'll be frantically trying to avoid the tractor beam and evading falling bricks while making the biggest and best matches possible. Alas, the moments when the game mechanics click are few and far between due to the game speed and the tendencies of the randomly generated board. Like most puzzle games, achieving higher levels means an increase in game speed, but here, the increase is barely noticeable. Even when you start the game at level 10, the speed feels as slow as it did on the first level. There's no sense of challenge until much, much later in the game, and by that time, the player may no longer care.
Levels are tied to how many burgers you've eradicated from the field, and that leads to the realization that there are far more solid rocks and earth blocks in the game than there are burger blocks. You'll spend more time clearing earth blocks and artificially speeding up the game to get the precious burger blocks to appear, and that means most of the game is spent doing busywork than something substantial. Once you get the impression that not much is being accomplished, you begin to lose the audience, and for this title, only a few will be patient enough to see the payoff.
Presentation-wise, UFO Dad is simple but effective. The graphics are decent and there's a basic set of animations, but the vibrant colors make everything look nice. Even though the characters aren't that large, each one is distinct enough that you can easily tell who's on the field. The sounds also follow the simple but nice philosophy, as the effects aren't very complex, but the sound of the metal spatula hitting solid rock is nice and clear. There are only two musical tracks (one for the gameplay and one everywhere else), but the tracks are composed well enough that even when they loop, they don't irritate or make you want to shut off the audio. They keep the game lively even when the dull parts set in.
If you're a big supporter of the PlayStation Mobile platform, then UFO Dad isn't a bad puzzle game. The twists to the match-three formula work well in its favor, and the different characters make the game feel a bit different each time you play. Unfortunately, the slow build-up to anything challenging hurts the title, as gamers will likely sleepwalk through most of it to reach the good stuff. If you're a patient gamer, UFO Dad is worth checking out.
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