The question of what to do with the match-three genre is a persistent one.
Gamers continue to lap these simple time-wasters up, but it must be getting harder and harder to find a new twist on stacking three or more coloured blocks together to make them disappear.
It's arguable that Triple Town came up with the last great twist in the genre, and Alien Hive takes this twist and spins an entertaining casual experience out of it.
Unfortunately, much of its good work is spoiled by some overly-exacting systems and requirements.Hive mind
Triple Town added a uniquely strategic element to the match-three puzzler. When you matched three elements, they would form a single evolved element in that class.
You then had to match three of these evolved elements to form something even more advanced, and so on.
Alien Hive follows the same course, only your goal here isn't to build a town - it's to evolve a race of alien creatures.Alien probe
You main target here is to form the various stages of an alien's development, from basic blobs of matter to fully fledged supreme alien beings.
You can also match up crystals and plants (which can also be evolved) to earn you more turns (you start with 100). Finally there are naughty bots, which freeze one adjacent block each turn, but can be matched in threes all the same.
This matching process is achieved in a slightly different way from Triple Town and standard match-three games. Here you have one empty square at all times, and you can slide any number of blocks horizontally or vertically. It works a bit like one of those sliding tile picture puzzles.
It's an interesting twist on the usual block-swapping mechanic, but it's a double-edged sword. While it's certainly challenging, forcing you to think ahead, it can also feel restrictive - especially when things get tougher.Crystal dynamics
Alien Hive starts out very easy, with an apparent surfeit of moves, plenty of crystals to collect, and nicely positioned blocks that are just waiting for a chain to be triggered.
The trouble with this chain system is that it feels more like luck or last minute opportunism when you achieve one. Thanks to the restrictive control system it's extremely tough to engineer one, which becomes increasingly apparent as you level-up.
As you progress through the levels you'll note two things. One - that the number of crystal blocks is decreasing, making it tough to keep bolstering your move count.
Two - that the number of naughty bots deployed is increasing. Any more than two on the screen at one time and the game field gums up frustratingly, thus restricting an already demanding core matching system.Trying for a baby
Unfortunately, Alien Hive stops being fun far too quickly. It's hard to escape the feeling that the core system is just too severe for its own good.
You do make progress in subsequent play-throughs - and running out of turns is trumpeted as a completion rather than a failure - but you'll hit a bit of a wall around the level four or five mark unless you splash out on additional power-ups.
You're given a healthy stash of gold to start with, but it's probably no surprise to hear that you'll soon need to spend some real cash to refill your virtual coffers.
It's a shame that Alien Hive falls back on this IAP-mining approach so quickly, as it starts out as a very playable and subtly different twist on the match-three puzzler. As it stands, it perhaps needed a little longer in the incubator before it was ready to hatch.