Review Date: Jan 29, 2010
Developer: Smerc Design
Price: $14.99 (Publisher's Site)
Platform: PC, Facebook
The developers have dubbed Decades "the greatest game in history," playing off of the game's era jumping theme. But while it's certainly not the best game ever made, Decades is a surprisingly refreshing puzzle game thanks to a unique take on the well-worn block-matching formula combined with a simple word and trivia game.
Something You've Probably Seen Before
Like many other puzzles games, the core of Decades revolves around falling, colored blocks. Blocks drop down at the front of the grid, which varies in size depending what level you're in, and slide to the back. The goal is to clear a pre-determined number of blocks by matching three or more of the same color. The twist is that game actually takes place in three-dimensions, so blocks can be stacked on top of each other. This helps add an extra layer of strategy to the game, as well as differentiate Decades somewhat from the plethora of falling block puzzle games already available.
But that's not the only twist. Decades also sneaks in a word game centered around the game's main theme: decades. Each stage is dressed up like a particular decade, with an appropriate looking background -- think lots of disco in the 1970's, grunge in the 1990's, etc. -- and accompanying word puzzle. The game presents a hang man style puzzle, giving you a row of empty dashes representing the length of the word and a clue as to what it might be. At any time you can guess the word, which provides an in-game bonus of both points and cleared blocks.
There are also certain blocks with letters on them, and clearing these blocks will slowly reveal the letters in the word, giving you a better chance at guessing the right answer. And when you fail a particular level the game gives you one chance to solve the puzzle in order to avoid having to restart the stage. The combination of the two gameplay elements helps make the game much more engaging than it otherwise would be if it was just a straight-up puzzle game. And, in general, the trivia questions aren't too difficult.
Looks Count For Something
It's just unfortunate that the game doesn't look anywhere near as good as it plays. Each level attempts to emulate the look and feel of a particular decade, but thanks to some lousy art, each falls flat. The still backdrops are just plain ugly and the menus are clunky and plagued with irritating music and sound effects. Thankfully the terrible production values don't really do anything to detract from the actual gameplay other than making the overall experience less appealing visually.
Strangely, in addition to the $15 PC version, a full version of the game is also available to play for free on Facebook. This version of the game is nearly identical to its for-pay counterpart, except for a few minor differences. First, and most importantly, the Facebook version is completely free. And since it's constantly connected you can compare your high-scores with both friends and strangers from around the world adding a social element to the game. The only real drawback to the Facebook version is that it can't be played in full-screen mode and it often runs fairly choppily compared to its PC counterpart.
The Bottom Line
Despite its few shortcomings, Decades really is a fresh take on a traditional puzzle game. It features short, yet challenging levels that make it perfect for both quick play sessions as well as prolonged marathons. And the trivia questions help provide some variety for multiple play-throughs. You just need to get past the terrible art direction first.