Time is ticking away, flip, fire, take out ten with a single shot… While it may sound like I’m talking about the latest FPS or action arcade game, I’m actually describing the new puzzle game ‘180’, from indie developer, Headcase Games. It’s part Bejeweled (match-3), part Zuma (marble shooter), with a little Tetris thrown in for good measure, but still a unique experience all its own.

180’s basic rules of engagement are fairly simple, each of the pieces (coins) on the game board have two distinct colored sides. When you tap or slide your finger over one or more of the coins, they flip over to reveal the opposite side. The gameboard is divided into a roughly 8×6 grid which starts off with one row of multi-colored coins spread across the top of the screen. As time goes by, new rows of coins will appear, pushing the existing rows downward toward the bottom of the screen. The goal is to fire a coin from the bottom of the screen up one of the columns to make a horizontal or vertical grouping of three or more coins of the same color. When this happens all adjacent coins of the same color will disappear and the remaining coins will slide up to fill in the gaps left by the removed coins, possibly setting off a chain reaction of additional matches. As you progress through levels the game will get faster and faster, making lightning fast reflexes and quick decisions a necessity, for if a piece completely crosses the threshold of the bottom of the screen, then the game is over.

The full version of the game features three distinct game modes (each with easy and hard difficulty settings): Endless, Score Attack, and Drop Attack. Endless mode is all about endurance. You must last as long as possible, making matches and removing pieces to keep the coins from crossing the bottom of the screen and ending your run. Score Attack mode plays just like Endless mode, except play is limited to 90 seconds, during which you must try to score as many points as possible. Finally there is Drop Attack mode, which I found to be the most challenging of the bunch, since it specifically tests your ability to tempt fate and get out of near-death situation after near-death situation. You have 90 seconds to get the coins to travel the furthest total vertical distance possible. This means you will need to make liberal use of the game’s “add row” button, and subsequently you’ll also need to be quick to remove these extra pieces or you’ll find yourself out well before the 90 seconds has elapsed. here are OpenFeint Leaderboards for each game mode as well as a total of 27 achievements. The free version of 180 is limited to just the Score Attack mode on the easy difficulty setting.

The main aspect that I really love about this game and the reason I keep coming back is the fact that it’s up to the player to find and discover and nurture their own strategy. In the end, 180 is really what you make of it. You may choose to take a brute force approach and just try and make quick match after quick match. On the other hand, since it’s possible for you to flip any visible coin including the one you are about to fire and the one waiting on deck, you can take your time (but not too much) and strategize. Like a chess grand master pondering the challenge, you can plan several moves ahead, carefully lining up a massive series of chain reactions and combos to really rack in the points.

One aspect of the game which seems a bit under utilized is the “characters”. At the beginning of the game you select one of four characters which basically serves no purpose other than to act a cheerleader for you in a box on the bottom of the screen. The problem is that odds are you’ll be so focused on the game that you won’t even see the funny things that character is doing. One way that these (well illustrated) characters could be better employed is if each carried some sort of unique power up, activated by reaching a particular level or number of coins cleared. These could be things like a temporary doubling of points, auto-clear of lowest coins, an indestructible coin which blasts through a complete column or something of this nature. I think this would add a cool twist to the game and give the characters a bit more purpose. Just a thought.

In Conclusion

Don’t let the cute characters and nice colorful graphics fool you, 180 is a much deeper, strategical game than it may first appear to be. The more I play it, the more I get drawn into the game, working to discover a method to the madness, a way to bump my score that little bit more to rise up in the rankings or earn that next achievement. I have no doubt that this game will offer a nice challenge to even the most proficient match-3 game fan. Having had the opportunity to play the game in its infancy, I am impressed with how well 180 has evolved. At the very least, do yourself a favor and give the free version a spin.

BREAKING NEWS: Headcase Games Is Running A Contest, To Award 180’s Top Players

In conjunction with today’s release of the free version of 180, Headcase Games announced that the first person to earn all 27 of 180’s OpenFeint achievements will win either an iPad or the gaming console of their choice. There are also additional iTunes Gift Card prizes for the top scorers on the game’s Endless Mode. More details are available on Headcase Games’ blog.


Gameplay Video