Instead of piecing together various shapes to construct a square, like you would in a traditional tangram game, Tangram Attack is about slicing and dicing seven shapes from already-assembled asymmetrical designs. Since the outlines of these shapes are often masked by a single colour and a uniform pattern, the challenge comes in trying to distinguish which shapes are placed where and then making the right cut. Sometimes a protruding edge or an obviously-defined shape can make for an instinctive and speedy round, but usually deciphering the placement of each piece takes a little studying. It’s like a slower-paced, more cerebral version of Fruit Ninja, and it can make for an engaging and hard-to-put-down way to pass time, even if it’s not an entirely zen experience.
There are three play modes and even a substantial bundle of training-esque missions to make sure you’re a shape-slicing black belt in no time. None of the modes alter the gameplay very much, as they’re only variations of the rules that govern play. Arcade mode allows you to keep playing until time runs out; successful cuts will increase the time while faulty moves with be penalized. Blitz is about earning the highest score possible within 60 seconds. Then there’s Zen – a laid-back mode that continues until three mistakes are made on any given stage – which, to us, felt the most in-sync with the core gameplay fundamentals due to the lack of pressure to hastily make a move.
For the most part you’re expected to make quick decisions or sacrifice time/points. In many scenarios we wanted to speed up our play to increase our high score, but split-second decisions can lead to mistakes, and mistakes are too costly; therefore we had to learn to slow down and calculate our slices. There are also frequent situations where a shape can be cut symmetrically from multiple directions, yet only one is accepted. The undeserved penalties you’ll incur from these cuts can be heart-crushing when you’ve worked hard — and cautiously — to get your multiplier to the point where it makes a significant difference in scoring. It might sound as if these issues could cripple the game but, luckily, they’re not as detrimental to play as you may think; that’s not to say that they won’t have you muttering an obscenity here and there, though.
Like we previously stated, these modes don’t shake things up dramatically, but with so many comparatively-priced download games that seem content with offering only a single play mode, their addition is appreciated, and they do extend the overall value of the package. The developer even integrated a levelling system into each mode, which uses the points you've scored as XP and tracks your rank. It appeared to be only a superficial additive, but it does work to put a goal in front of the players face, incentivizing another click on the replay icon; if you need other targets to aim for there are 12 accomplishment badges to unlock. These will require that you do things like score 50,000 points in Zen mode or clear 10 puzzles in a row in under three seconds each. Although you shouldn’t expect a lot of depth from any of these elements, we commend their inclusion, as all high-scoring games should incorporate similar components in this day and age.
Unfortunately, a lack of leaderboards does diminish Tangram Attack’s lasting appeal. Budget game or not, leaderboards – especially online – are becoming an essential part of games built around chasing scores. Otherwise, you’re only playing to top yourself, which is fine, but not as captivating as logging into servers to find that an acquaintance of yours has knocked you down a peg or two in the rankings. Also, although it was semi-infrequent, we did run into detection issues when swiping across the touch-screen with the stylus. Occasionally there would be a misinterpreted direction and other times a cut would be made that didn’t coordinate with our action. The latter was very rare, but it did happen a handful of times during our review sessions.
There comes a point when you’ll become familiarized with many of the arranged patterns presented to you, resulting in quicker rounds, which allows for deeper sessions and higher scores. Tangram Attack is the kind of game that you boot up when you’re trying to pass a few minute’s time, but it can also just as easily be a major time-sink. There are some conflicts between the gameplay fundamentals and the game modes, and it’s not uncommon to endure minor issues, but luckily we didn't find them to be substantial enough to keep Tangram Attack from earning a recommendation.
With addictive puzzling and multiple modes of play, Tangram Attack is a quality piece of entertainment that will test your mental alertness and reflexive skills. It's by no means cutting edge, and there are problems here that do devalue the overall worth of the package, but the foundation is largely strong enough to brace against the occasional blow. If you're looking for an inexpensive way to remain sane during that end-of-summer road trip, or you just want an action-focused puzzler to kick back with, consider becoming one with the stylus and slicing away at a bit of geometry.