Kern is a text-based puzzle game for the iPhone and iPod touch in which players must move letters into the right location to correspond with a falling word. Slide the missing letter into the correct location, let go of the touchscreen and you’ll score a given number of points depending on where the rest of the word falls around the letter. Misalign a letter too far to either side of the falling word and you’ll lose a ligature (one of five life points). Lose all five ligatures and the game ends then and there.
Kern takes a simple approach to its graphics and sound, but the combined effort works out almost perfectly. A minimal-yet-stylish interface combines a fair amount of detail with good use of the iPhone’s screen real estate while a great use of tones and audio feedback prove you don’t need a symphony orchestra to convey the acoustic elements of a game.
Despite Kern’s lack of similarities to many other games on the market (the title is perhaps best described as a “reverse ‘Tetris’ with falling text”), the creators took an original idea and made it work. The game takes literally only a few seconds to learn, varies its difficulty very well (sometimes you’ll be working to fit a letter into a word with large, easy type to target and work with, other times you’ll be squinting at the small text, sliding what appears to be a four point font letter from side to side and praying you’ve dropped the rest of the word in around it at the right location.)
Kern occasionally froze from time to time under iPhone OS 2.2.1, requiring me to quit to the iPhone’s home screen and relaunch the application. And while the bare bones nature of the game makes it intuitive and easy to learn, the title can get repetitive at times and could improve from additional features such as a global scoreboard, additional music, score multipliers and other power-ups.
In spite of these shortcomings, the game is a good value for its $1 price tag and there’s something interesting here as well as room to grow within a few updates. Text has now become a fast-paced puzzle game and for anyone who ever struggled to line up the next issue of a publication on a rainy Saturday afternoon, Kern is like coming home…
Kern requires iPhone OS 2.2 or later to install and run.
[Chris Barylick is a frequent contributor to Macworld.]