Blackbar review: Simple, witty, and politically engaged word-based puzzle game for iPhone

At a Glance
  • Generic Company Place Holder Blackbar

    Macworld Rating

    A self-confessed 'artsy' game with plenty to say about censorship, Blackbar is nevertheless a legitimately fun puzzler that will get you scratching your head for a few hours.

Blackbar
You start with this...

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Disclaimer: The spouse of one of the developers of Blackbar has contributed articles to Macworld U.S.

A politically literate tirade against censorship. An Orwellian adventure story told through one half of an increasingly mangled email exchange. A puzzle game based entirely around decoding blocks of text. None of these things might sound like your idea of a merry time, but Blackbar (iTunes link) is odd like that.

As a downtrodden citizen of a dimly sketched dystopia, you receive a series of messages with parts blacked out by censors, and have to work out what the missing words are. Blackbar is easy at first, but the game takes the idea and runs with it, tangling and weaving its internal logic until your head hurts.

Blackbar
...and start filling in the blanks like this.

Blackbar can be a frustrating game—I found myself head-scratching for days at a time over a single word needed to unlock the next screen. And the actual substance of the puzzles, when you remove this non-playing thinking time, is relatively thin. But Blackbar makes up for this by having a rather wonderful story, a story that’s barely there, whispered to you in code and reassembled piece by piece.

Blackbar is often funny, particularly when the censors grow suspicious and start sending out entertainingly euphemistic threats. It’s also a little bit politically charged. Every now and then Blackbar will catch you off guard and be rather moving.

Blackbar gets a hearty recommendation, with the (hopefully unnecessary) caveat that Infinity Blade this is not. If you fancy having your brain stimulated for a few hours, however—on a number of levels at the same time—this is well worth $3.

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At a Glance
  • Macworld Rating

    A self-confessed 'artsy' game with plenty to say about censorship, Blackbar is nevertheless a legitimately fun puzzler that will get you scratching your head for a few hours.

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