Hundreds (iPhone Game Review)

HundredsThe most notable thing about the iPhone game Hundreds is its design sense. Simple but visually arresting, it just features black and gray circles on a white background, with the occasional burst of red. Items fade in or roll onto the screen after you win or lose a level, and the level select menu punctuates its whitespace with circular symbols that are labeled “statistics” but may as well be an artistic flair. The soundtrack, naturally, is simple looping music that always seems to mesh perfectly with whatever just happened on screen.

The gameplay has the same understated elegance, without even needing a tutorial. The first level has a single circle with a “0” in it. When you touch it, it grows and the number increases. It reaches “100”, and the level is complete. Future levels introduce multiple moving circles (generally in different shades of gray) that bounce around each other with a smooth Brownian motion. The goal is always to grow the circles until they total 100. The game continues to add new pieces with special abilities, but always with a simple internal logic. The only written instructions the game provides are “if they touch when red then you are dead”, a reference to the fact that the circles turn red as they are growing. The challenge lies in making them grow when there is space around them, and then stopping in time to let them bounce off each other safely.

HundredsThe game is at its best when it lets you enter a simple Zen-like state. With no time pressure, you can watch the circles bounce around harmlessly while waiting for the right time to increase one by a point or two. (SemiSecret Software, also the publisher of Canabalt, seems to have a thing for simple games that reward a relaxed mind.) However, most levels don’t let you do that. The game introduces other types of objects, including non-growing ones you can drag around yourself, ones that shrink down towards “0” when left alone, and ones that reset anything they touch back to “0” immediately. Some of those add a time pressure, especially the ones that stay red, forcing you to complete the level before they bump into anything. (New rules about “frozen” pieces add some exceptions, but that isn’t worth going in to here.) Suddenly that meditative gameplay goes out the window, and you need to outrace objects that will undo all your work.

The problem is that Hundreds is a very unforgiving game. Make one mistake with the dozens of items moving around the screen (while your own fingers are obscuring the view), and “you are dead”. Most levels are easy to complete – sometimes there is a trick or two to decide on, but this isn’t a “puzzle game” in the strict sense of having a precise solution. In fact, sometimes you’ll rush through several levels in just a few minutes. But others are very challenging. And those ones, with tight quarters and enemy pieces, are where the frustration appears. They demand near-perfection, and when you do finally win, the screen just fades away to an underwhelming “100”. Reaching that threshold doesn’t feel like an accomplishment in the way that crossing a finish line or clearing out enemies does. Most of the time, it wasn’t even obvious to me that I was about to win. Picture that: repeating the same actions, over and over, continually making it halfway to your goal, and then suddenly being told that you can move on. The level transitions have the same smooth, iconic design of the rest of the game, which makes it easy to keep going, but it doesn’t provide any visceral satisfaction either.

Hundreds is a well thought-out puzzle/action game that’s almost worth experiencing for its sense of style alone. However, it feels hollow beneath that. It’s also notable an an example of how a by-the-books game can fail to hold your interest.

Grade: C+

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