Game Design, Game Reviews

Game Review: Number Escape – template for a great game

number_escape_iconGame developers everywhere, take notice – this is how you make a mobile puzzle game.

Available on iTunesAvailable on Google PlayNumber Escape was built by SangMoon Joo for both Android and iOS and it basically ticks all the right boxes needed to make a great game.

Here are the elements I believe are key to creating a solid, well-rounded game, which are present in Number Escape: original mechanics, simplicity in both graphics and gameplay, new elements to keep the player interested longer, and game size. This one has it all, but first let’s see what the game is all about.

Mind Trainer

number escape ss 1

Original mechanics are key to success

Number Escape presents the player with either a 4×3, 5×4, 6×5 or 7×6 board, with each tile holding a number. You win the game by moving a rotating red square across all the boards and to the goal. However, moving about is not that simple – the number on each tile represents the number of times the rotating red square can pass over it. That means you need to think a few moves in advance and try the game out a few times before being able to complete the level. Now that we’re acquainted with the game’s basics, let’s look at the individual elements which make the game great:

Original mechanics

Nowadays, it’s hard to come across a completely unique gameplay mechanic. Mobile games are usually made by taking an already known mechanic (color matching, tile matching, pixel hunting, etc) and adding an unusual twist to it. Sometimes, when the developers are lazy, you just get a clone of something you’ve already played. Number Escape offers a completely new and unique puzzle experience, which is among the most important elements a game can have.

New elements introduction to keep the player interested

I’ve spoken about this on multiple occasions before – throwing everything you have at the player from stage one can do more harm than good. Not only will you intimidate the player by forcing him to adapt to numerous elements right off the bat, but you’re also leaving nothing for later. That means the player will get bored of the game much faster than you’d want, so keep your aces in your pocket and pull them out every once in a while. This game does it quite well, by offering higher numbers as the player progresses. At the start, you’ll have small boards with tiles offering one, two moves max. Later on, you’ll start seeing tiles with no moves allowed, as well as those where you need to move three or more times. It adds depth and keeps the player occupied longer.

Simplicity in both graphics and gameplay

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Simplicity works wonders in puzzle games

The screenshot on the right represents the game’s home screen – the first thing you see when you run the app. Pick a tile and head straight into the game. This is a very important aspect as mobile games are usually built to be consumed on the go – while commuting, waiting in line, etc. Most of the time players only have one hand at their disposal. Obviously, there are many examples of comprehensive, deep mobile games that require a player’s full attention and both hands, but still – fast games with short levels and simple, original mechanics are a much safer and more quality way towards success.

Game size

This is especially important when creating a puzzle game. The replay value of such games is usually quite low, so if you want to keep your players in the game for as long as possible, you need to create enough content for them to stick around. Number Escape offers a total of 300 levels, which means you have a ton of gameplay hours ahead of you.

Room for improvement

Even though Number Escape is a great example of how to make a quality puzzle game, it still has room for improvement. There are a couple of things obviously missing that could, if implemented, add an extra challenge to the game, increase player retention and also improve the game’s monetisation.

Here are a couple of things that come to mind:

Levels can be locked

It strikes me as odd that all levels, no matter the difficulty, can be played from day one. Puzzle games usually lock higher levels and new elements, allowing players access only when they have achieved certain success in the game. This creates a sense of achievement and progress, which works wonders for player retention. Gamers that can easily visualise their progress will come back to play more.

Additional challenges like time-limiting levels

number escape ss 3

Levels could be locked to get a better sense of progress

This opens up the game to a completely different dimension. Puzzle games and time-based challenges easily go hand in hand, and with a game like this one, it can work quite nicely. What’s even better, having additional challenges also means you could create an in-game shop, where those challenges can be bought, traded and improved.

In-game shop could offer undo moves, extra time for time-based challenges

Which brings me to my third idea, the in-game shop. Looking at the game the way it is now, there is basically no room for an in-game shop. However, start locking levels to create a better sense of progress, and add a couple of additional challenges, and you have plenty of room. The game could offer undo moves (which are currently lacking), or extra time for time-based challenges. All of this could be, for example, fueled with rewarded ads which, in the end, also means better monetisation for the game.

All in all, this game is an extremely good example of how to make an amazing puzzle game for mobile devices. It’s not perfect, but it is dangerously close.

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