Surge Review—Spark of Genius

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All block-based puzzlers need a kernel of a brilliant idea to become one of the greats. Tetris has its deceptively basic shapes. Lumines has its binary system of two different-coloured blocks. Even Bejeweled used the fantastic match-3 concept, even if it wasn’t the first to use it.

Block-based puzzlers need a unique core concept to make them work, but they also need that push that keeps you playing. Tetris has its rapidly rising tension; Lumines has its enthralling soundscape evolution; and, Bejeweled has the power-ups and the amazing sound bytes that make it stand out in its crowded genre.

Surge certainly has the flash of brilliance that every puzzle game needs. The first moments of the game are pure puzzle magic—something on par with a first-time Tetris or Lumines session. It’s dead simple: with your finger, you drag a line between two or (hopefully many) more blocks of the same colour, and they’re blown away in a sort of wonderful coloured fizzle. It feels absolutely euphoric, and that’s about all you need to keep you busy for several hours.

The core gimmick of drawing lines of electrical current would be enough on its own, but FuturLab’s touch controls are absolutely perfect. The lines of current aren’t just your average cursor lines, either. They seem to snap neatly into a clean-cut string of lines and 45-degree angles. It always looks appropriately electric, and it’s without a doubt the finest display of two-dimensional graphics the PSM platform has seen.

Another bonus is the utterly pointless but delightful touch of visual flair on the menus. Touch anywhere on the screen within the menus, and a randomly coloured arcing bolt of electricity stretches across the screen. Best of all, it even supports multitouch, so expect the feature to distract you for a good while. Another very nice detail: the game informs you of your leaderboard rival before every game.

It’s a shame, then, that for all that Surge gets right, it’s missing some of the factors that might have brought it to the peak of puzzle greatness. It’s got a brilliant core idea, but not much else supporting it. There are a bevy of power-ups, but they’re all so straightforward as to be forgettable, and they don’t much change the gameplay. It’s got some tension by way of building pressure on the sides of the screen, but it’s tension so easily relieved that it feels redundant. As for any other extras or bonuses, the game doesn’t have more than only a single mode.

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Still, it’s the sort of game that’s extremely compelling from the get-go, and it’s fresh enough to warrant a replay from time to time. The problem is that it’s riding on fumes. It’s fortunate that the core idea is such an excellent one, though. This is a one-trick pony with enough trick to keep you entertained for a while. It’s just the sort of game that deserves a sequel, because these ideas have even bigger potential.

8/10

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Comments

2 Responses to “Surge Review—Spark of Genius”
  1. JeremyR says:

    Nice review!

    Although I am not color blind, one of my roommates back in college was, so I’m always sensitive to games that might pose problems for people like him. It doesn’t seem like there is any sort of indicator of color except color.

    Usually in matching games, there will be a different symbol on the block so people can still play it even if they can’t distinguish the colors.

  2. Aaron Jean says:

    Thanks!

    That could be a concern, though I’m sure with the PSM’s small userbase at this stage, it’s not one big enough for most developers to take into account right now.

    I know someone who is colourblind, but he is able to recognize between different shades and tell different colours apart, even if he can’t identify the colours themselves unless told. That might be a different form of colourblindness, though. I’m not sure.

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