Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint for iPhone and iPad
Magnetic Billiards: Blueprint from Zee 3 Limited is a study in contrasts. The game has simple graphics—it takes places on a billiard table sketched out on a set of blueprints—but the colors and patterns are quite striking. It's a pretty simple game—you can get right to playing without ever swiping your way through the in-app tutorials—but there are tricks and tips you can only master by diving in deep. And it's a textbook casual game that you can play in short bursts and put down again—though, if you're not careful, you could find yourself spending a lot of time trying to conquer Magnetic Billiards.
The point of Magnetic Billiards is to get similarly colored balls to group together; the balls help you out by sticking together once they make contact with each other. You need to make sure the billiard ball you strike makes first contact with a ball of the same color—a green ball has to hit another green ball before it can make contact with any other ball—or you run the risk of wiping out any bonuses, losing a life, or bringing your game to an unexpectedly early conclusion. That said, you rack up bonuses for firing balls as close to other colored balls without touching—Magnetic Billiards calls this "buzzing”—and you can also score bonuses for banking a ball off the sides of the virtual table. So there's a risk-reward factor to consider with each shot.
Magnetic Billiards offers two game modes: Classic and Arcade. In Classic, the game arranges balls in different patterns, and it's up to you to clear the table by grouping balls together by color. Counter-intuitively, you don't want to do this in a single shot: Taking your sweet time—and multiple shots—increases your bonus and your score. Once you've cleared the table, you're assigned a letter grade based on your score—a nice variation on the three-star rankings that appear in other iOS games that encourages you to replay levels you've already completed. (Curiously, A is not the highest letter grade—one of the many quirks you come across in Magnetic Billiards.)
Arcade mode features a single game when you download the app. (Others are available via in-app purchase.) The Relentless mode that comes as the default Arcade offering in Magnetic Billiards keeps adding balls to the table, no matter how successfully you keep clearing out similarly-colored ones. It's essentially an endless mode—except if you happen to strike the wrong ball and bring the game to an abrupt conclusion.
The $1 price of admission to Magnetic Billiards gets you 20 tables in Classic mode and the single Arcade game. The game offers packs of other Classic tables and two more Arcade games for $2 apiece; an $8 purchase unlocks everything. It's not exactly the free-to-play approach favored by some game makers, but it does give you a chance to test out the game for a low price without having to commit to a large upfront fee.
Controls in Magnetic Billiards are pretty straightforward: Your finger acts as the cue stick. The game gives you the option of setting whether you push or pull with your finger to fire off a shot, which is a handy setting for those times when your view of the board might otherwise by blocked by your fat fingers. The degree you slide your finger determines the strength of your shot; again, the game helpfully displays the percentage of how hard your shot will be, giving you the chance to adjust for those times you just want to tap the ball forward. Magnetic Billiards also provides you with a guided arrows to show you where your shot is headed; happy and frowny faces tell you if you're going to be on target or not. Some players might find that removes some of the challenge from the game, though as you build up your bonus—the tariff, in Magnetic Billiards' parlance—the length of the arrows decreases dramatically. Overall, I had little difficulty lining up shots, particularly once I learned that tapping elsewhere on the screen can cancel a shot that you're lining up, saving you from inadvertently shooting a ball that has no chance of reaching its target. Still, occasionally, I'll line up a shot but flinch ever so slightly as I release, making the shot go off target. That's maddening, but it's part of the game.
Other niceties in Magnetic Billiards include an old-timey piano that plays on the app's home screen and gives way to more modern background music in the game itself. Electronic blips and beeps augment your shots, enhancing the game experience, while a robotic voice praises—or pans—your shots. For in-game tips and tutorials, the faces of Magnetic Billiards' creators pop up, which is an... interesting aesthetic choice. Menus felt a little bit cluttered to me, and on a few occasions, it takes a few too many taps to get to where you want to go. In Classic mode, for example, you'll tap on a specific table to play it, only to have the game ask you to tap again if you want to play the table you've already selected.
Those are minor complaints, however. Magnetic Billiards stands out in a crowded game section of the App Store by offering iPhone and iPad users a unique combination of a billiards game and a physics puzzle. Don't let the simple look of its blueprint-style interface fool you—there's a lot of fun to be had here.
[Philip Michaels is Macworld.com's editor.]