Tangram Style

Puzzle games are a little odd to review because much of what you have to talk about with other games is stripped away, laid bare in favor of a central, hopefully addicting and fun, mechanic. It’s especially odd when the games are based on a mechanic that has been around years. Decades. In the case of Tangram Style, literally centuries. It dates back to the Song Dynasty in China, and is one of those easy to understand, yet still somehow mind-boggling, concepts that’s super easy to explain.

For years, tangrams have baffled me. I’m a math oriented person- it’s my minor- and I’ve dealt with shapes, geometry, all sorts of things, but for a long time, tangrams have seemed impossible. What is it about these shapes that make them so that they fit together this way, but completely fall apart this other way? How does moving it over a single millimeter turn it from a baffling array of shapes into a small mosaic, geometrically simple yet made of so many disparate pieces? These small pieces of wood just don’t seem to work in Euclidean space, and it just killed me.

It was with a good deal of trepidation that I started to review Tangram Style then, because I’m usually no good at the puzzles, but I was surprised that this wasn’t the part that kept me from being able to solve the problems. No, the big problem was that the puzzles (of which they say there are 612) have this odd tendency to sort of move around, like they’re snapping to a grid when you let go. Not really a problem of course; that can be used to snap pieces into place and make it easier for you to manage fitting them all into a silhouette. This would be helpful except that it doesn’t seem to actually be fitting in, and instead seems a more arbitrary snap. As a result, the pieces wind up not quite fitting or overlapping a little, and the game can have a hard time figuring out that yes, you’ve actually solved the puzzle, so you have to sort of jiggle every piece until something finally clicks.

It doesn’t happen all the time, so it wouldn’t be much of a problem, except for the puzzle rush mode. In it, you have a set amount of time to finish ten puzzles (for the sake of some unlockable that really doesn’t do anything). In a mode where time is precious, having to waste time because the game wasn’t programmed to understand win conditions a little more loosely can really set you back and keep you from finishing as quickly as possible.

Which is a shame, because that mode’s probably the coolest of the four included. Giving you a set amount to complete in a time limit can be a more fun rush than the main ‘just solve it’ type modes, so I really wish that wasn’t a thing that affected it. It’s also similarly annoying in ‘One Touch’ mode, where you can only touch each piece once- the second you touch another piece, the first one locks into place and position, and you can’t move it again. But if you run into that snapping problem you have to restart, and since there’s no restart BUTTON, it just means backing out a level and selecting the same puzzle from a menu.

What other modes are there? A simple “just solve this take however long you want” regular mode, and a child mode, that shows which shapes are supposed to go where and is basically just a super simple paint-by-numbers type deal.

It’s hard to hold much against it, though, because tangrams are fine on their own, and the game’s by no means terribly made. At the same time, $7 may be a little steep for such a simple concept, especially when there’s a cheaper offering from DSiWare that’s carried over. And the 3D doesn’t add anything, either, so it’s sort of a wash as to which is better for your money.

Still, Tangram Style is a fine game using an age-old concept, and making it a touch-oriented game makes manipulation of the shapes much simpler than if you just had a controller. It’s a shame some of the weird recognition stuff gets in the way, but if you just want to solve some puzzles, it’s more than adequate, and if you can solve them fast enough, even the time trial modes are easily overcome. The price may be a little steep for what you’re actually getting, but at a little over one cent per puzzle, you’re certainly getting a good bit of puzzle mileage.