This review is based on the iPhone, iPad and Xbox One versions of Threes.
The beauty of a well-made puzzle game is in its immunity to topical concerns: you can play it from launch or sidle in long after release and still have the same sense of discovery and fun. Threes fits into the latter for me, a heralded game that I somehow avoided until recently; it took a slew of 2014 game of the year awards and discussions to finally convince me to try it.
Developer Sirvo has created a brilliant distillation of simple and addictive puzzling with Threes, a game that can be learned in seconds but also endless replay value. In a compact 4×4 square grid, players can combine tiles with values of 1 or 2 into a 3 value tile and then drag them into each other to form ever growing multiples of the game’s namesake. Each horizontal or vertical swipe (or corresponding button/stick press on a controller for the console version) slides the entire board in that direction which can be utilized to make multiple matches in a single action, a necessary tactic to efficiently keep and increase the number of open elements to deal with each turn’s next incoming tile. One of the neat features of the Xbox One version is the ability to play it in the sidebar Snap Mode, a fun diversion to pair with watching video content or other activities on the console without occupying the main display space. It only takes seconds to become comfortable with the basic game mechanics of Threes before entering a flow state of swiping and combining into ever larger tile values, whether you play on a device with a haptic interface or a standard controller.
The game intelligently uses graphical flourishes that are not only visually appealing but also signifiers that gently guide the player into mentally creating numerical associations. The excited bobs of matching tiles when they become adjacent to each other and the cute audio exclamations when creating higher values works with the aw shucks visual sensibility of simple tiles and bubbly sans serif font that feels earnest rather than cloying.
And…that’s pretty much it. There are achievements in each version for creating tile values and reaching other basic thresholds as well as a leaderboard, but there is no multiplayer or any add-on components to think about. Threes is an unapologetic distillation of puzzling fun that newcomers will love and veterans will stick with. There were few experiences in 2014 more exhilarating than playing through each rapid fire session of creating and stacking the namesake Threes, I can’t wait to finish this article so I can dive back into it.
Rating: 5 out of 5 stars