What looks a whole lot like Tetris at first glance, but feels refreshingly different when you sit down and actually play it? Chances are it’s Mark Davies’ physics puzzle debut, Tanglewood (Out Now, $0.99). The goal of stuffing differently shaped blocks into a hollow is quite well worn by now of course, but Tanglewood eschews real-time pressure in favor of satisfyingly tricky engineering challenges. Handed an inventory of blocks in each of seventy levels, the player is free to flick them in and out until the trial-and-error process of fitting them all snugly beneath a dotted line is complete.
While a silently ticking timer challenges the player to have a second or third go at each level and solve it ever faster, lack of an online leaderboard sucks out much of the punch this element could have had. Luckily Tanglewood can stand on its brain taxing difficulty alone. It does something I’ve secretly longed to see in casual puzzlers: the player may call upon hints at any time, but these are expended once used and must be re-earned through level completion. It appears the player is free to harvest hints by completing the simpler levels over and over, but rationing them out is definitely the way to go for maximum fun.
Like the little block castles we used to build as kids, the Tanglewood player’s carefully engineered work-in-progress can quickly turn into a jumbled mess if blocks are jammed into place without due caution. Thankfully the game leaves its physics completely in the player’s hands, so friction and gravity can be tuned up in the middle of a puzzle if the player needs blocks to stay in place more reliably. Summoning and dragging the pieces around works smoothly, my one interface complaint being with the rotation process. Other iOS games have made great use of pinch object rotation, Hysteria Project 2 especially coming to mind in this regard. Tanglewood opts for the less reliable method of holding a piece by one end and swiping to spin it, hoping that the magnitude of the swipe is enough to achieve the desired result. Block rotation plays just as important a role here as it does in Tetris, so suffice it to say I found this a noticeable drag on the experience.
Tanglewood sports an excellently polished aesthetic presentation, making this the most sophisticated game of blocks on iOS. Sadly it misses out on its opportunity to couple its fully fleshed challenge with equally absorbing music, so you’ll want to bring an iTunes playlist along for this one. Its seventy levels spread out over three difficulty modes, Tanglewood should last a good five to seven hours all told — but the player will undoubtedly lap it up in short increments, giving his or her brain a well deserved rest between individual puzzles.
iFanzine Verdict: Tanglewood holds supreme appeal for physics and casual puzzle fans in search of addictive, brain-draining challenge, but multiple difficulty modes make its block building exercises accessible to a wide audience. Its interface could benefit from an update, but in general it’s an excellently polished offering that should enjoy a healthy stay on the iDevices of genre fans.