You Should Play: Triple Town

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[These days, keeping up with games can be a full-time job. So how do you separate the signal from the noise, the wheat from the chaff, the Temple Runs from the Temple Jumps? Allow us to help by regularly selecting a game You Should Play.]

Some games are just so engaging that you only want to put them down to tell your friends to play too. They strike a careful balance between being easy to learn, yet challenging to master. They can be quick to play, but capable of sustaining interest for hours. They are chock full of bears, yet also full of ninjas. And maybe some magically floating castles. And perhaps the occasional robot for good measure.

All right, maybe when I say “some games,” I really just mean Triple Town.

The basic approach should be familiar to anyone who’s played puzzle games in the vein of Bejeweled: Place three objects of the same kind together, and open up space on the board. Triple Town’s quirk is that combining objects upgrades them into more impressive objects, raising your board from a grassy no-man’s-land into a charming little fiefdom. Three patches of grass become a bush; three bushes become a tree; trees turn into wee houses, and so on, all the way up to castles magically floating in the sky.

Not everything you place is necessarily a simple building material, however. Sometimes you get a crystal, which can complete a trio with any other two objects, or can be changed into rocks if you’re patient enough to transform those into treasure chests down the line. Every now and then you get an imperial bot, used to clear away unwanted objects.

More common than either of these, however, are bears, moving about on their own accord, potentially blocking your plays. Trapping them turns them into tombstones, which in turn transform into churches, and churches into cathedrals, and cathedrals into treasure chests, making the bears both your greatest enemies and your most welcome guests. (Ninja bears, on the other hand, may be more trouble than they’re worth. But I’ll let you judge that for yourself.)

If you already know you love compulsiveness-inducing puzzle games, the promise of careful object placement and parallel upgrade paths may be enough to persuade you that Triple Town is worth a try. Just in case, though, let me further assure you that this is a game you can’t afford to pass up:

Free(ish): Triple Town is a freemium game, allowing you to try out the core of the game for a good long time (and potentially indefinitely) without paying a cent. Each time you place an object—a patch of grass here, a bear there—you lose one turn. You start with so many turns, however, that it’ll be awhile before you run out. When you do run out, you can spend currency earned through play to buy more turns, potentially indefinitely.

Personally, after months of playing it for free (generally in short spurts of one game at a time), I never once got shut out of from playing. As I started playing a few games in a row with each sitting, I had to buy turns more and more. If I had run out, I could’ve waited for turns to replenish naturally (at a rate of one turn per minute). By then, however, I was playing so frequently that I figured the developer deserved my four bucks—and I deserved to unlock a few extra features for a little more variety.

Bear essentials: As the game advances, you have to balance the desire to make neat stuff with the demands of bear-herding.

Challenging, but not stressful: Don’t get me wrong—I love totally skill-free games like Tiny Tower as much as the next iPhone gamer. Still, in a gaming market with increasing focus on “casual” play, it’s refreshing to find a game that sits comfortably within the range of “challenging enough to make me wish I were better” and “easy enough to feel relaxed.” The penalties for losing are low in Triple Town, but you sure do lose a lot. When you get better at it, the rewards are obvious and strangely exciting, like that first time you turn three castles into a floating fortress of wonder. You can also customize your difficulty level by unlocking the features available through buying unlimited turns.

After an upgrade, you can crank up the challenge with a map partially covered in water, or a mode with even more bears than usual. You can also dial back the difficulty in a bear-free mode where you can cultivate grasses into castles in peace. Even in a screen filled with bears, however, Triple Town never really moves from challenging into stressful. Menacing though they may appear, the bears never actually “attack” you, so the game feels pretty easygoing, even down to your last move.

Adorable: Triple Town would be a perfectly capable puzzler with just the elements described above, but it’s the details that make it truly joyful to play. The bears are actually a big part of this. Yeah, you need to trap them in their own graves to get anywhere, but they’re pleasant companions along the way. You can play the game perfectly well in silence, but try it with the audio on sometime. What could be more charming than their angry little bear-scowls, you ask? Just wait until you hear them yawning and scratching their heads. It’s like getting to enjoy your own enchanted wildlife preserve, but without the risk of being mauled.

Developer: Spry Fox
Platform: iOS (Universal), Android, Facebook, Google+, Kindle 2 and 3
Price: Free, or $4 for unlimited turns and extra features

This story, "You Should Play: Triple Town" was originally published by TechHive.

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