In an App Store packed with arcade match 3 titles, is there really room for yet another? Before playing Retro Dreamer’s Linkoidz, I probably would have said enough’s enough, but I’m certainly glad I didn’t! Linkoidz is an absolutely brilliant game, packed with a huge variety of game modes to excite even the most die hard match 3 naysayers.

You’ve crash landed on an alien planet, and you must fight off the Linkoidz onslaught with only your gravity gun and trusty energy shield. Protected, at least temporarily by the energy shield and above you, Linkoidz are piling up in seven different columns trying to break through and capture/kill you. Using your gravity gun, you move Linkoidz from one (or more columns) to other columns forming vertical groupings of 3 or more, subsequently causing these and all adjacent Linkoidz of the same color to be obliterated. While keeping your attackers at bay, you’ll earn combo and/or chain bonuses for making sequential matches. You’ve got to be quick about clearing out the Linkoidz as more and more will keep coming from the top of the screen and if you let the stacks get too high, then they will break through your energy shield and it’s “Game Over Man”. To add to the difficulty there are also some special glass and stone encrusted Linkoids which will require several adjacent matches to be made in order to crack them open and reveal the Linkoid inside. Finally there are also several different monsters that may appear in the columns of Linkoidz, and these guys are thick skinned, requiring 10 or more adjacent matches destroy.

Linkoidz has 3 different Arcade modes (Zen, Endless, and Sprint) as well as 30 training/challenge missions. In lieu of screenshot after screen shot of instructions, there’s just one, and these 12 training missions teach you the basics of the game. In the remaining 18 missions there are certain scenarios, ranging from getting 1500 points, to “boss battles” where you may need to take out 5 monsters (some of which require 15+ adjacent mataches) all while still keeping your shield from being destroyed by the Linkoidz.

Zen mode is the slowest-paced of the three arcade modes, allowing players to take a leisurely time while trying to clear out all the Linkoidz in a particular level. Endless mode is exactly what it sounds like, putting your endurance and stamina to the test as you try to last the longest amount of time possible and accumulate the highest score before succumbing to the Linkoidz. This mode has some added fun by way of 5 cool power ups that will spawn periodically during game play. The power-ups range from freezing time, to destroying one or more rows of Linkoidz. Finally, for those players who are just in the mood for a quickie, there is Sprint mode. In this mode, you are trying to get the highest score possible within the abbreviated time limit.

The game’s controls are so smooth, gliding you in to a perfect groove as your fingers slide gracefully across the columns of colorful Linkoidz, pulling and popping them quicker than you realize your brain can even process, moving in perfect harmony. I felt almost like Keith Lockhart conducting the Boston Pops in some sort of Futurama-era Forth of July celebration as the explosions and sparkling combo multipliers lit up the screen in front of me.

To move a Linkoid, you simply slide your finger downward on a column to grab the bottom-most Linkoid (or Linkoidz, if there are several of the same type) with your gravity gun. The gun can only hold one color/type of Linkoid at a time, but you can grab Linkoidz from multiple columns if they are all of the same color. To put the collected Linkoidz outside of your shield, its just a swipe of a finger upwards on the column where you want them to go and they’ll slide into the bottom of the column, pushing up the existing Linkoidz in that column. When a series of Linkoidz is destroyed, any remaining Linkoidz in the effected columns will fall down to fill the gap left by the obliterated ones, possibly setting off an explosive chain reaction.

Retro Dreamer has obviously designed this game specifically to take advantage of the great native features the iDevice platforms have to offer. There is OpenFeint and Game Center support for tracking 17 different leaderboards as well as 31 achievements worth 650 points. The only thing lacking here, is a way to view the Game Center stats directly from within the game. It is a universal app, so ithat means Linkoidz will use the native resolution of whatever device you play it on, and as such, will always be looking good. Not to mention, this also means that iPad, iPhone and iPod Touch users can all go head to head in the aforementioned leaderboards and send “beat my score” challenges to one another as well. Finally the game has Retina display support, which really shows off the Linkoidz’s amazing artwork and animations.

I guess if I had to criticize something about the game, I’d say that the difficulty of several of the later missions seems a bit too high. That being said, I’m hopeful that with a bit more practice in the Endless and Zen modes, I can hone my strategy enough to successfully complete these. The only other minor complaint I have is with the music. The loops are a bit short, making the music a bit too repetitive, and while it does fit very well with the game’s futuristic theme, I don’t think it has enough “energy” to it. As it is now, it’s perfect for the more leisurely Zen levels, but the often intense Sprint and Endless modes would benefit from a little faster, adrenaline pumping variation on the theme. You do always have the option of listening to your own music so, as I said this is just a minor gripe.

In Conclusion

Retro Dreamer has really outdone themselves this time. Linkoidz is the studio’s best game yet. It’s native feel, variety, appealing visuals, silky smooth controls and downright addictive gameplay set the new gold standard for arcade match 3 games on the platform. Perhaps it’s no coincidence that Linkoidz has a futuristic theme, as it even makes fan-favorite Bejewelled feel outdated by comparison. From the moment I started playing the game I was hooked, and I have a feeling you will be too. Linkoidz is easily worth the $1.99 price tag.