Feeding Frenzy

Deep sea creatures have developed a range of interesting survival adaptations; why, the anglerfish have grown their own fishing lures and tube worms rely on bacteria to chemosynthesize their nutrients where the sun don’t shine. And then there are the ThingiesTM. These little multi-colored, plankton-like, bug-eyed blobs clump together into enormous columns, hoping their sheer combined weight will be enough to crush any sponge that dare devour them. While strength of numbers makes them nigh invincible to predators, they do have one weakness: should five or more Thingies of the same color become grouped together, they disappear, and any more that were attached to that group become free floating fodder. As action puzzle designers with a bit of a mischievous side, Ivica Aracic and crew thought it would be cool to let the player fiddle around with one column of Thingies in such a way to feed The Greedy Sponge (Out Now for $0.99, Lite)!

At least, that’s what I understood after wrestling with the game for a bit. The Greedy Sponge starts off on the wrong foot (or maybe that’s “the wrong pinacocyte”?) with its static hand-drawn tutorial, which I found too much on the bare-bones side. It informs the player how to shift rows of Thingies well enough, but some critical details could have been clarified with the rules experienced in real-time. What The Greedy Sponge screams for is some kind of live tutorial to make the means of progression abundantly clear to players who haven’t picked up a good Match-5 yet.

If you stick with it long enough to learn the ropes, however, The Greedy Sponge serves up an excellent action puzzle experience. Shaping the Thingie column by sliding rows right or left, attempting to arrange same-color clumps that give way with a quick tap, requires a ton of concentration. Strategy also comes into play: sometimes rows of Thingies become so fragmented that the player can fission clumps off just by shifting a row at a choke point, but on the other hand, the Thingies thus removed might be useful for same-color clumping if they’re kept around for the time being. The game isn’t separated into distinct levels but progresses similarly to Tetris, with the rate of Thingie descent picking up as long as the player holds out.

The many last-second saves the seasoned player will make at higher rates of descent yield an experience that’s unquestionably addictive. On the other hand, the slow rate at which the game’s speed increases means that having to start over once the sponge is crushed takes some of the wind out of the player’s sails; it might take ten or fifteen minutes to reach the same heights of tension that the player felt at the end of the previous try.

In addition to the main Survival Mode, The Greedy Sponge offers a time attack that lets the player test his or her sheer matching prowess without the Thingie column automatically floating downward. The lower pressure here also lowered the fun for me, but this extra mode should be great pickings for veterans of the game who’ve already mastered the Survival Mode leaderboard and are looking for new Game Center-powered competition. What’s really exciting is the fact that developer support has continued as long as it has: Ivica & co. released The Greedy Sponge near the beginning of this year and came back in June with the time attack mode — and it looks like yet another new gameplay mode is on tap for future updates.

The rows of Thingies the player must shift around are a little thinner than the pad of a finger, so mis-firing will happen quite often as the player gets the hang of it. This improves with experience, and the tap-to-release function works perfectly on the clumps of same-color Thingies the player has so carefully arranged. The Greedy Sponge looks gorgeous on Retina Display, a mellow ambient music track maintaining a sense of deep ocean calm despite the life-and-death struggle into which the sponge and Thingies are eternally locked.

iFanzine Verdict: While some will find that its tutorial trips up a bit, and its matching style isn’t immediately intuitive, The Greedy Sponge well rewards action puzzle fans who stick with it. Expect a Tetris-like game of chance, one that progressively mounts real-time pressure on the player rather than evolving in terms of depth.

[xrr rating=3.5/5]