Wednesday, 2 November 2011

Call Connect Review

Smartphones are amazing things. Everything from video editing and photography, to internet access and games available on a single device that fits in the palm of your hand. But would you expect some of the most fun you can have on the iPhone to come from a switchboard simulator? Thanks to Call Connect, a new game from Australian developers Walk Through the Clock, you can get a taste of the stressful life of a 1950s telephone operator: probably not high on many people's lists of “dream jobs”, but you might change your mind after this! Taking the form of a fast-paced colour matching puzzler, Call Connect presents you with an intimidating looking switchboard, covered in colour-coded sockets and jacks.

A slow start will ease you in nicely
 A light above a socket will flash when a call is coming through, connect the red jack and a light will flash the corresponding colour for the black jack to connect to. When the call is finished, both sockets will flash, and you tap the jacks to disconnect. Sounds simple enough! And it feels it, at least initially. The game eases you in slowly, throwing you a call at a time, maybe two. The efficiency meter at the top, which indicates how well you're doing, will be a happy yellow, and the score will be increasing steadily. You begin to think you can handle it without problems. But before you know it you'll be facing a wall of tangled cables and flashing sockets, while an angry alarm indicates the meter's sudden slide into the red. Call after call piles up until the switchboard literally explodes under the strain, presumably leaving our hapless operator either injured or in need of a new job.

Oh God how do I even keep track?
 Pacing is key with this game. The first couple of minutes ease you in nicely, and as a result can end up feeling a bit slow. Bonus points are earned by connecting jacks flashing multicoloured, which raises the efficiency meter and can really take off the strain if you're struggling. And you will struggle eventually. It takes a lot of concentration to mentally arrange and keep track of all the calls, and in the end it catches up with you. But, like the best puzzle games, the thought of improving your score, of bettering yourself, drives you to try again and again. The touchscreen control works great, and the way jacks auto-snap into sockets means you never feel as though you have to be 100% accurate with placements. Presentation-wise, Call Connect is lovely. The bright colours and sleek design lend the game a cheery feel, even as your switchboard slides slowly into madness. Everything's clearly indicated, so it's never the fault of the game if you misplace a jack or leave one plugged for too long. The blame can always be laid on your own reflexes, and the limited matching skills of your brain. But it's worth trying again just to see that score go a little higher.

There's an easy mode for the faint-hearted
 At times you can wish there was a bit more to do. Oh sure, it's difficult to imagine what variation can be added to a game about switchboards; but a game like Flight Control (with which this bears a lot of similarity, despite the vast differences you'd imagine exist between playing as a switchboard operator and an air traffic controller) kept players interested with different airfields, each offering a slightly tweeked challenge. Perhaps we can expect something similar from the Walk Through the Clock boys in time. But the bottom line is: Call Connect manages to combine an odd concept, brain bending gameplay, and the “one more go” feeling of the very best puzzle games, and as such it's a winner.

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