[app url=”https://itunes.apple.com/gb/app/bounce-vortex/id895731695″]

Game design is two things at once: it’s a science, and it’s an art. Both elements need to carry equal weight through the creative process – ignore the science, and your game comes out pretty but vacuous; ignore the art, and you’re left with a heartless tech-demo instead of an immersive gaming experience. In creating Bounce Vortex, developer Wildmouse Animations Ltd shows a solid talent for the coding aspects, but it’s a game which struggles with its artistic identity.

As a reflex-based tap puzzle game, Bounce Vortex brings a few neat ideas to the table, although the core principles are terribly hard to pin down in words. At base level, we’re dealing with a screen filled with floating tiles of various colors, and a ball which needs to be bounced from tile to tile with a simple tap. It sounds dead simple, and it is, at first. In classic action puzzle tradition, Bounce Vortex eases you in with a couple of really easy stages, and then slowly ramps up the difficulty as you progress. This is exactly how this genre needs to be handled – throw us in at the deep end, overwhelm us from the start, and we’ll just lose interest.

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To look a little deeper into the gameplay mechanics here, at the start of each round you are given a target of colored tiles you need to hit before the timer runs out. At first, hitting ten or so red tiles is a breeze, but soon you’ll be dealing with four times that amount, and of various colors – the catch being that different colored tiles have different boosts or complications. Some slow down the timer, others rotate the screen (thereby disorienting you just long enough to lose track of where to tap next), or cause the screen to scroll while you’re still trying to mark your targets. None of the power-ups or tweaks are overly impactful on their own, but when they hit in quick succession things can get quite intense.

The screen soon becomes crowded with flashing colors and tiles and special effects, making it seem rather extravagant, but the underlying game is still a very basic affair: tap the screen with your finger in time with the bounce of your ball. But a basic play mechanic isn’t necessarily a bad thing – as simple as it is, there’s something compelling about it. A Candy Crush Saga-style stage progression map shows the trail of levels you’ve completed and the gargantuan mountain of levels still to come.

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This simple, clever premise struggles to bewitch, though, purely due to the lackluster art direction and presentation. The feel is that of a smart gameplay framework with a tacky, ill-conceived design style draped untidily over it. Consistency was clearly not a priority here: the backdrops and special effects are generic sci-fi, the numbered tiles could have come off of a bingo board, and the star of the show is a soccer ball – there’s just no cohesive theme. The overall effect is of a giant soccer ball bouncing through space. How odd. Throw in some cheesy typography (no one uses Impact anymore) and uninspired menu screens, and that’s the full package. It’s not great to look at.

But let’s not be shallow – it might not be the most sleek game you’ll see on the App Store, but the gameplay itself is strangely addictive. if you can overlook the ragtag approach to art direction, there’s a tense, sometimes frantic action puzzler here that will entrance you if you let it. As is always the problem with indie releases like this, though, it’s important to consider the wealth of options available to you on the App Store, all begging for your dollar… and among the competition, Bounce Vortex will need a serious visual overhaul and polish before it can be a real contender.

Requires iOS 7.0 or later. Compatible with iPhone, iPad, and iPod touch. This app is optimised for iPhone 5.