Every once in a while you stumble upon an interesting looking game figuring you’ll try a level or two, only to find yourself 30 minutes later…still playing! This was the case for me with March Entertainment’s latest title, Cranky Cat. Perhaps the best way to describe the game is Bust-A-Move in the round with a Steampunk sense of style.

With a crazy back-story about top hat and monocle wearing, mustached feline who creates a “maniacal machine” capable of condensing chemical compounds into a potion to restore his youth…well you know you are in for something a little different. Unfortunately you do not actually get to play as Sir Roscoe J. Fluffington III (yes, that’s his name), but his tale does play out in cut-scene fashion during the game’s Story Mode. As for the gameplay, in the center of the screen is a mass of various colored orbs and players must spin the cogwheel to rotate the mass 360 degrees strategically landing the stray orbs coming at them from all sides of the screen. If you make a chain of 3 or more of the same colored orbs, they’ll pop and be removed from the playing field. In addition to their innovative 360 degree approach, the team at March Entertainment have included three distinct game modes and some fun gameplay elements which help Cranky Cat stand out in this somewhat tired genre, cluttered with second-rate clones.

The three modes of play are Story, Puzzle and Infinite (the last of which is unlocked via a 99¢ in-app purchase). Story mode plays as described above, pretty much your traditional Bust-A-Move-style gameplay, with tidbits of the story told in between levels. Depending on how quickly you complete the level you can earn between one and three stars and a better ranking on the OpenFeint leaderboards. As you progress through the levels, you are introduced to a number of cool new orb types (via neat architectural sketches) which have special characteristics and will keep you on your toes.

First and foremost my favorite aspect of the game, and what really hooked me in, is the gravity effect (or lack there of) which occurs when one or more orbs are set loose by a grouping of popped orbs disappearing below them. Instead of just filling in the gaps or completely falling off like in traditional marble shooters, these newly freed orbs float outward giving you time to spin the remaining center mass of orbs around to plan where you want them to land when they decend back inward toward the center of the playing field, hopefully creating a chain reaction of matches. Speaking of which, quite possibly the most brilliant of the Cranky Cat’s game modes is the Puzzle mode. During this mode one colored bubble is launched into the playing field from a random side of the screen and you must use it as the sole catalyst for a series of chain reactions in order to clear out the entire cogs-worth of orbs. It’s is a really fun mode that requires quick reflexes and logical chess-like thinking for you to plan several “reactions” ahead.

Finally there is a third, Infinite mode (which actually comes in three flavors: lightning, random and hot potato) Each of which offers a slightly different challenge and will test your endurance and see how long you can keep those orbs from stacking up, for once an orb crosses over the boundaries of the main cogwheel, it’s game over. Cranky Cat is a universal app which is free to play, starting you off with 24 levels in each of the Story and Puzzle game modes. Infinite mode is available for purchase for 99&cent or you can buy a special bundle for $1.99 which gives you an additional 5 24-level groups in the Story and Puzzle modes and unlocks the Infinite mode.

The game’s controls were for the most part smooth and responsive, and players are given a choice of four different control schemes, so you are bound to find one you’ll like. Cranky Cat is fairly CPU intensive, thus it will not run on the iPhone 3G or 2nd gen Touch. In fact, even on my iPhone 4, I did notice the occasional glitch or stutter when a number of orbs collided, but not enough to take away from my enjoyment of the game. Overall the game’s physics engine did a nice job of producing realistic, natural and expected reactions amongst the orbs.

In Conclusion

Cranky Cat is a creative marble shooting and matching game that is far from just another generic clone. In a genre that is probably already on its ninth life, March Entertainment is certainly living it to the fullest, introducing some new and exciting gameplay elements and a brilliant puzzle mode. In light of the free to play nature of the game there is certainly no reason why you shouldn’t at least give it a spin. I think that even match three and marble shooter naysayers will find the game’s unique puzzle mode particularly stimulating. This one is definitely up to scratch!