Chime Sharp Review

By Jonathan Barnes,
"I want you to teach me how to play this."

My non-gamer wife is watching me play Chime Sharp, the successor to 2010's XBLA puzzle game, Chime.

Maybe it was the Tetris like quality to the mixing and matching of pieces. Maybe it was the pulsing music that pushes your heart rate to move faster, make your quads bigger, and expand your coverage area. Perhaps it was the sheer simplicity of the presentation that brought her back to fond memories of NES classics (the last system she actively played). Regardless, something had grabbed my wife's attention and given her interest.

After a quick explanation of the controls (only three buttons and the thumbstick are needed to play), my wife set off to try her hand at the game. Forty minutes later, she was impressed, frustrated, happy, and ready to hand the controls back.

"It's too fast," she said, lamenting the time limits imposed in standard mode, "I get nervous when the music goes so fast and the countdown starts."

Chime Sharp ScreensBest stay ahead of that clearing line.

My lovely wife's critical analysis aside, one of the things that makes Chime Sharp truly special is its air of disposability; the games move quickly, it's not terribly deep, there's no story, and (in theory) you can pick it up, play for a few minutes and put it back down.

...in theory.

In practice, it's far too easy to find yourself glued to your couch for hours giving it, "just one more try," before setting it aside.

Chime Sharp plays on the tried-and-true Tetris-model of block stacking/arranging with sixteen different boards, some of which will need to be unlocked by mastering previous ones. Each board features its own soundtrack, playable area, and collection of pieces to use. Each board can also be played with five different variants. Practice allows players to get the feel of the game without the pressure of time limits. Standard mode is the basic Chime formula: arranging blocks into solid pattern "Quads" of at least 3 cells by 3 cells with the option of expanding those Quads into larger ones (3x4, 4x4, 4x5, and so on) from there. The larger the pattern, the higher the score multiplier goes. Once a Quad is finished, it "covers" the board. Covering new sections of the board will increase your playtime. Your multiplier is lost when fragments (leftover pieces that are not incorporated into Quads) drop after a period of time.

The game's eponymous Sharp mode removes the time constraint, but introduces lives into the game. Lives are gained by forming perfect Quads with no leftover fragments. Lives are lost when fragments drop. Strike mode tasks players with scoring as many points as they can in 90 seconds. Challenge mode works off of the classic rule set but reduces the variety of pieces in use and introduces a more complex board on which to play.

ChallengeChallenge mode is not for the faint of heart.

One of the few knocks I can levy at Chime Sharp is its often puzzling use of color. There are a few boards where the color schematic is so hard on the eyes that it makes extended play sessions almost impossible. Similarly, there are a few boards where the colors are so close together, it makes identifying what has been covered, what is an active block, and what hasn't been touched almost impossible. Furthermore, gamers with color recognition impairments should most-certainly steer clear.

On the achievement front, Chime Sharp rewards those who invest time in playing and mastering the game. This won't be an easy, short completion. With achievements like creating 1000 perfect Quads, getting 500% coverage, and finishing Sharp mode in under 10 minutes, you'll be keeping the game on your hard drive for quite a while if you want the full completion.

ColorsSome color combinations are hard to read.


Summary

With throwback games being all the rage in independent development, many developers have chosen to go the 8/16-bit, pixelated, "ain't this cute?" route to tap into nostalgia while bringing along more modern systems and mechanics. Chime Sharp goes the opposite route; it may look like a modern game, but it feels like an older game in the best ways possible. With its highly accessible gameplay style and a difficult-to-master level of play, Chime Sharp is an easy endorsement for virtually all gamers.
9 / 10
Chime Sharp
Positives
  • Innovative update on the classic, Tetris formula
  • Incredibly high replay value
  • Easy-to-learn, hard-to-master gameplay
Negatives
  • Some color combinations are hard on the eyes
Ethics
The reviewer spent approximately ten hours putting together quads, popped seven of the seventeen achievements, and relinquished control to his wife for approximately two hours. A digital copy of this game was provided by the developer for the purpose of this review.
Jonathan Barnes
Written by Jonathan Barnes
Jonathan has been a news/views contributor since 2010. When he's not writing reviews, features, and opinion pieces, he spends his days working as an informal science educator and his nights as an international man of mystery.