The “Match-3″ genre, where the object is to organize a scrambled field of objects into matching groups, has quickly turned into one of the most overcrowded and generic categories in video gaming. We’ve matched up everything from pieces of fruit to insects; in play fields ranging from the standard grid of squares, to collections of hexagons, to snaking lines of magnetic marbles; in order to harvest jewels, decipher treasure maps, and cast powerful spells. Considering this lineup, one might think that nothing significant remains to be done in the category, but Trism proves otherwise in emphatic fashion.
Superficially, Trism doesn’t appear to be much different than Match-3 staples like Bejeweled or Chuzzle, except for the triangular form of the pieces you’re matching. You manipulate the triangles, or “trisms,” by touching a line of trisms and dragging it in one of six directions (right, left, and the four diagonals) until you make a group of three or more like-colored trisms. At that point, the group disappears, earning you points and leaving a hole for fresh trisms to slide into.
That is very standard-issue behavior for a Match-3 game, but it comes with a unique twist. By tilting your iPhone in one of the same six directions, you can control which of the remaining trisms fall into the empty space. This takes a fair amount of getting used to, but once you have some practice under your belt, it becomes the game’s most compelling feature. Skillful tilting allows you to set up long chains of matches, generating large points bonuses and extending a single play for half a minute or more. In order to get the most out of your matches, you will have to quickly identify your potential hookups and tilt accordingly, sometimes flipping the phone upside-down to facilitate a forward tilt. Producing a long combo like this takes practice and skill, so it’s tremendously satisfying when you pull it off. It’s a thing of beauty, on par with any sick combo you can pull off in a fighting or skateboarding game.
Frequently, a match will leave an empty space behind that nothing can easily slide into. This problem is addressed with special rainbow pieces, which are produced whenever you match five or more triangles at once. The rainbow pieces count as wild cards, and if you use them in a match, all the empty spaces on the board will fill up with that matched color at the end of your combo. Finishing off a combo with one of these babies can wipe away a bunch of the board in a single shot, igniting a fresh chain reaction and sending your points total into the upper atmosphere.
There are three ways to play Trism. The untimed mode, called “Infinism,” allows you to work on your chops without any pressure, while “Terminism” requires you to get a certain number of pieces off the board every so often. The final mode, “Syllogism,” consists of prefabricated puzzles and limits you to tilting; it’s essentially a series of brainteasers. All three modes grow more challenging as you progress, often by adding hazards such as “locked” pieces you can’t budge, or “bomb” pieces you must neutralize within a certain number of moves. The first two modes are kind to newbies, but become fiendishly difficult at later levels for power players, while Syllogism’s puzzles turn positively diabolical around level 20. In a boon for the highly competitive, Terminism and Syllogism also feature online high-score boards that track your combos and points.
Trism is polished to a highly glossy sheen. In fact, it looks and feels more like a premium XBOX Live Arcade title than a typical iPhone game. For instance, the game packs a bunch of unlockable achievements for doing things like passing a million points in Infinism, or keeping the board free of holes for five turns (far more difficult than it sounds), and posts these to your online account. Also, the developer clearly put a lot of thought into the presentation. It may not be fancy, but it’s extremely clean and functional, and has lots of thoughtful touches–there’s even a colorblind mode, and the user interface automatically flips when you turn the phone over. Plus, you can play your own tunes through the iPod.
Trism’s touch and tilt controls are generally pretty good, but not perfect. For example, if you need to drag a line of triangles from one edge of the screen to the other, you’ll need to start from the edge of the screen, or your finger will run out of room halfway through the move. This can be difficult to remember in the middle of a heated game. In addition, tilting does not seem quite sensitive enough. In order to initiate a slide, you may need to turn your phone in such a way that messes with your viewing angle. The game also seems to undergo periodic hiccups in frame rate, although they are not serious.
These are really minor quibbles in the face of Trism’s overall greatness, though. This is the kind of game you will come back to over and over again; the more you play it, the better it gets. At $4.99, buying Trism should be a no-brainer.