A crash of glass. The glint of diamonds in the moonlight. A flashbulb pops, catching the thief sneaking out the window, and the famous mouse detective Pete begins the chase.
That’s the premise of Fade, an iPad-only puzzle game that makes the most of a simple gesture control scheme. Set in the 1930s, the entire game is presented like an old movie, with Pete pursuing a comely diamond thief through a grey and white brick building. The twist is that when you touch the screen, any white object near your finger fades out of existence.
You can’t control Pete, who always walks in one direction unless blocked by an obstacle. But by fading objects in and out, you can protect and redirect him. Early levels show you how to remove obstacles, drop Pete through the floor, and raise him back up again by moving your finger up as he walks through a set of white bricks.
Shades of gray.
Then the complications begin. Pete can be knocked out of a level by flying bullets and spikes set into the wall and the floor. There are switches that have to be toggled or held in place. There are moving platforms and crates to be moved. The only puzzle elements that are missing are slingshots and liquids, but we suppose that leaves room for a sequel.
The challenges may be familiar, but the fade mechanic keeps everything fresh. Every few levels, the game surprises you with a clever new interaction. Before long, you’ll be fading bullets through walls to trigger switches to keep floor pieces from disappearing just long enough for Pete to walk over them. The game also dips into other genres, presenting its own variants of platformer wall-jumping and push-the-box puzzles.
The difficulty curve is smooth throughout. The game never needs to tell you anything– a level begins, Pete moves forward, and you learn by doing. That kind of intuitive play is a sign of great level design.
So is the tight timing in the levels with moving parts. The flying bullets and moving platforms can look daunting, but the game depends less on reaction speed and more on starting your actions at the right time. Pick the right moment and even those of us with slow fingers will find that Pete has just enough time to dodge the bullet or land in the right spot. The game is constructed to help you, not work against you.
Diamonds are another player-friendly design element. Pete collects them as he moves through the level; gather enough and you unlock the game’s eight bonus levels, which showcase the most difficult twists on the Fade mechanic. Like any good star mechanic, the diamonds add replayability without slowing your progress.
Once you’ve unlocked and beaten the levels, you get three new modes to play around with. Low gravity lets Pete float downwards like he’s on the moon, Grey Haven disguises all the fade-able parts of the level, and the Sepia Filter makes the look even more old-fashioned. The features and Pete’s accompanying headgear are cute, but you’ve already beaten everything in the game by the time they’re unlocked, so they don’t add much entertainment value.
It’s also a little disappointing that there are no Game Center achievements or opportunities to share your progress. These are in no way necessary, but mobile games come and go, and it’s nice to have a few trophies to remember them by.
That’s just a quibble, though. Fade is a smart, fun game that you’ll remember even if it’s not in Game Center. It’s a must-play for any puzzle gamer.