Review: Tangram Style (3DS eShop)

Lots of tangram, not much style

The game of tangram has made the long journey from ancient China to your 21st century 3DS, and despite roughly one thousand years of technological improvement it’s still pretty much the same thing. Seven pieces of varying sizes and shapes must be crammed into a crude silhouette that may resemble a bird, a sailboat, or various other items. This age-old brainteaser still holds up today, but mostly as a mind-sharpening time killer; not a $7 download. All the same, if you’re itching for a near-limitless selection of tangram puzzles on the 3DS, you’re the target demographic for Tangram Style. The very specific target demographic.

The mixing and matching of pieces couldn’t be simpler: dragging them across the screen with stylus in hand does the trick, tugging at one of four corners gives you full control over rotation and double-tapping a given piece will flip it around. From here on out it’s all about configuring these angular shapes into all manner of geometric designs, oftentimes fitting together in a deceptively large number of ways. Each and every piece must fit smoothly into the play field for victory to be achieved, however, which is both maddening and ultimately satisfying.

A shape will flash red when conflicting with some other object, but the semi-reliable system often requires a fair bit of fiddling. This boils down to jiggling offending pieces several times until the game is quite satisfied you’ve solved the conundrum, slowing down progress just enough to rankle slightly. That isn’t to say the quality bar is low; this is a darn fine game of tangram that checks all the boxes. The problems are small — but then again, so is Tangram Style.

There are four pillars of gameplay to choose from, each of them differing slightly from one another. Classic Mode is straight up tangram, plain and simple. Child Mode color-codes the spaces to help out young players, but the utter lack of difficulty makes it pointless for just about anyone else. You’ll have to act fast in Challenge Mode to complete enough puzzles before the time runs out, either pushing your competitive spirit forward or stressing you the heck out. Lastly, One Touch Mode is for the professional thinking person; you can’t take moves back, forcing you to carefully consider your plan of attack ahead of time.

The more tangram you play, the more tangram totems you’ll unlock, thereby granting you access to more tangram. Seriously, Tangram Style has lots and lots of tangram. This is where the game succeeds: 600+ puzzles will keep even the fervently obsessed occupied for a good long while. Unfortunately, nothing changes from start to far-off finish, and the humble gameplay lacks enough complexity to properly engage. Tangram Style is best played passively and in short bursts, perhaps while listening to a podcast or sitting in a bus or car.

This style of play is reinforced suitably by uncomplicated visuals that present a pleasant (if generic) jungle setting. The standard 3D elements don’t reach the cognitive action on the bottom screen, however, making them rather pointless. The overused Aztec architecture is just as meaningless given the historically Chinese roots of tangram, which probably would have been a better cultural touchstone. And yet, regardless of superficial ethnic window dressing, tangram is still tangram. It’s kind of beautiful in a way, if not terribly exciting.

Conclusion

Solid production values aside, Tangram Style feels like your average smartphone game bundled with all the micro transactions pre-purchased, whether you need a kid-friendly mode and 600 puzzles or not. In truth you’re bound to find products on other formats that rival this 3DS download, and probably for a fraction of the price. That doesn’t make Tangram Style bad; merely irrelevant.