German indie developer drahtwerk has just released Tumbles, a physics-based match-3 style game (with a hint of Tetris) for the iPhone and iPod Touch. Before any match-3-haters click away from the page, we urge you to read on, as this injection of physics and gravity really adds a fresh and unique bit of strategy to the game, which is generally not found in other titles in this rather crowded genre.

In Tumbles, players are presented with a screen full of multi-colored bubbles. Simply tap one of a pair (or more) of touching like-colored bubbles and they will “pop” and be removed from the game board. Any bubbles above these will fall down to fill in the gaps left by the removed bubbles. If you tap on a single bubble (un-matched) you are first given a warning, then tap it again to get rid of it. You have a limited number of these single-bubble removals you can use throughout the duration of the game (so use them wisely). At any time, you have the ability to tilt the screen to shift the bubbles and they will roll and tumble (thus the name) with gravity. This is the key to getting bubbles positioned where you want them, especially when strategizing which groups of bubbles to remove next. This particular aspect reminded us a lot of the similiar gameplay mechanic found in the marble-popper Eyegore’s Eye Blast, which we felt made that game so much fun.

Eventually you will reach levels where bubbles will have one or two lines on them, these bubbles require 1 or 2 additional taps to remove. Each time a striped bubble is tapped (or an adjacent like-colored bubble is tapped) one stripe will be removed and the bubble will change to a RANDOM color (which is currently still present on the game board) until the “removing” tap. If you remove 5 bubbles at once, you’ll get a multiplier, if you remove 10 bubbles at once you’ll get another multiple and so on.

Tumbles offers players 4 distinct gameplay modes including Classic, Blitz, Challenge and Multiplayer. Classic mode offers a slower, more strategic game, while the Challenge and Blitz modes are a decidedly more frantic reactionary game. The included tutorial is an excellent place to start, it will quickly run your through the basic gameplay mechanics as well as an introduction to each of the single-player game modes.

  • Classic mode gameplay is just as describe above, with your goal being to clear screen after screen of colored bubbles until you have finally used up all of your 10 allotted single-ball removeals and can no longer make a move. Despite it’s slower pace, there is still some urgency to make moves quickly as the more time you take to move, the lower your score will be. This is because every second, your score is progressively counting down. We should also note that in this mode, you can exit/ re-enter the game at any time and continue exactly where you left off.
  • Challenge mode is totally different animal. Tetris-like elements come into play as new bubbles keep dropping in from the top of the screen. As the game goes on it gets more and more difficult, single and double-striped bubbles will appear, two rows appear, etc. The game is over if the bubblestack touches the top of the screen for three seconds. There is and alert icon in the lower right corner which lights up to warn you. If you manage to remove 5 bubbles at once, one of those bubbles will turn into a rainbow bubble. The rainbow ball matches bubbles of any color when it is directly tapped, but it doesn’t get removed when an adjacent bubble is tapped.

  • Blitz mode sits somewhere in the middle of Classic and Challenge modes. Try to “pop” as many bubbles as you can within a one-minute time limit. It plays pretty much exactly like Classic mode, except that you can earn rainbow colored bubbles and there are no single-bubble removals. Instead, when it looks like you are about to get a orphaned bubble in some color, that bubble will automatically change its color to one that is already present on the gameboard, so you will always be able to match up 2 (or more) bubbles of the same color for removal.
  • Multiplayer mode is played via Bluetooth and it is basically the same as Challenge mode, but for two players competing head to head. Both players get exactly the same layout, and the same bubbles appear at the same time. Here’s the twist…if one player gets a rainbow bubble (by removing 5 bubbles at the same time) the other player gets a “bad” bbubble (a grey ball with a face on it). The bad bubble can only be removed with a rainbow bubble directly touching the bad bubble. A line is visible on the screen where your opponent’s bubblestack is currently at. While we haven’t had an opportunity to try this mode yet for ourselves, we imagine that it makes for a really fun head to head battle!

The game’s graphics are crisp and clean and the developer has thoughtfully included some nice subtle touches like the clouds in the sky rotating in conjunction with the device being tilted, to illustrate the current direction of gravity. There is a cheery little upbeat soundtrack, but if that’s not your thing, you do have the ability to listen to anything from your own music collection instead. Tumbles also features full Plus+ integration with 7 different leader boards and 15 awards that can be achieved.

We had the opportunity to play some of the early builds of Tumbles so we’ve seen it mature into the final game that we have now and saw the dedication to detail and fine tuning that the team at drahtwerk put into crafting and molding this game into the best possible experience. It was a no-brainer day one purchase for us. When it comes to match-3 style games, there seems to be two camps, those that can’t get enough of them and those who played the crap out of Bejewelled and are now sick of them. We urge those in this second camp to give Tumbles a try, we feel that this game really does offer something fresh and exciting to the genre and are sure you’ll get hooked! Between the Plus+ leaderboards and awards, and the game mode variety, not to mention the addictive gameplay, Tumbles offers a huge amount of replay value for its low $0.99 price tag.

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