In videogames there is a very fine line between taking inspiration from what has come before and outright stealing an idea and disguising it as your own. The latter hinges on watching somebody catch lightning in a bottle and hoping you can snag a piece for yourself; the former is constructively looking at somebody else’s design and adding your own unique twist to the formula. Even if a game isn’t blatantly a clone of something else, the perception will still lie there if the iteration isn’t strong enough.
There’s no denying that Levels +: Addictive Puzzle Game is unabashedly inspired by mobile hit Threes!. Fortunately, there’s also no denying that it takes the core mechanic and turns it into something that stands on its own and lives up to its subtitle in the process.
Much like in Threes! your goal in Levels+ is to match similar numbers to then make larger numbers in what could be an infinite loop towards toppling a high score. Whereas Threes! just has the player cascading tiles until they can no longer do so, Levels+ has a hierarchy to which you must be mindful of to keep the game going. At its base are yellow tiles which are denoted as treasure; these are key to scoring. You could grab a 1 coin tile for a point, but adding them together multiplies the scoring potential and thus levitates you towards a top tier ranking.
In order to collect said treasure you must likewise combine blue tiles, which look very similar to various types of heroes, in a similarly ascending manner. A level 3 hero can collect anything at or below its rank, but nothing above it. Just to add one more level of complexity to the proceedings there are also red enemy tiles that will block your moves unless your blue tiles are of a level that is at or above the red tile.
While hard to explain in writing, this is actually very easy to pick up after its short tutorial but blossoms into something thoroughly thought-provoking the deeper you dig into its rule set. Being as there's only one mode of play, the motivation is in mastery of what's on offer. You can casually slide tiles around in a more passive manner or plan out each move thanks to being shown what the next tile will be, in something more akin to the intricacy of chess. Regardless of your approach, the odds are you’ll have a blast playing it.
Although its presentation is straightforward, the tiles pop with clever artwork that drives home the adventurer aesthetic that gives it a lot more style than first appears. The music is a catchy chip tune that will layer on new parts as you create bigger tiles that ramp up the tension, in the hopes of perhaps making players stumble into a hasty move. Rounding out the feature set is the game’s auto-save function that lets you pick up where you left off even if you move onto something else, the ability to use the touch screen or buttons to your preference as well as a handful of achievements to strive for and a panel collection page to fill. The only thing that feels like it is missing is an online leaderboard or cross-profile score sharing of any sort, meaning that it truly is one core mode and lacking the sorts of add-ons we often see in puzzle titles.
While Threes! in and of itself was a phenomenon, Levels+: Addictive Puzzle Game not only iterates on the formula in its own unique way but makes it feel like a perfect fit for the Switch. While it is missing some pertinent bells and whistles, like being able to compete against others on any type of leaderboard beyond water cooler talk, what is presented is rock solid and worth your time.