If any genre can lay claim to dominating the development of mobile gaming in its fledgling years, it's the action-puzzler. From the iconic Snake to the countless block-pushing maze challenges, when cellphone gaming was black and white, brain-taxing action defined the format.
Many years later, we've got colour but the genre is still as prolific as ever, meaning any new title hoping to cosy up in the pockets of puzzle fans is going to have to be something special. Sadly, where TriBalls is concerned, innovation is in short supply.
The core gameplay mechanic is nice enough: you have to guide the three balls of the title from their mysterious prison. Each of the 24 2D stages takes the shape of a small platform game, resplendent with ledges and various moving parts, and each TriBall has different abilities to overcome the various obstructions to their escape.
Working as a team, you need to move from beginning to end without so much as a scratch, which usually involves a great deal of trial and error, combining the talents of your happy-go-lucky protagonists.
The orange TriBall is light of foot, meaning he can move faster and jump farther than his fellow detainees. His purple friend is slow and cumbersome, but has a moveable shield to block the deadly likes of lasers. The final TriBall is red, and offers you access to a blaster rifle.
While a total lack of story and character is excusable in a game focused on the puzzles, it's a real shame that a release that looks to be overflowing with personality, in fact, has none.
Visually TriBalls is a glorious homage to the golden era of Amiga platformers, such as James Pond, Zool and Silly Putty, but the engaging visuals only function to mask an otherwise empty experience that quickly aggravates into teeth-gritting madness.
The problem comes firstly from the level design, which lazily repeats uninspired puzzles over and over. Climbing up to otherwise unreachable platforms with your nimble orange adventurer before returning home on a lift to collect the others is interesting once, but not a handful of times in each stage.
There are occasional flashes of inspiration in the level design, but major flaws dull them to fading embers.
If you lose just one of your three plucky balls, you have to return to the start of the level to painstakingly repeat the plodding process of moving everyone back into position. Once or twice is bearable, but on the more challenging levels it can become a frustrating nightmare. If TriBalls simply returned your gang of balls to a checkpoint each time you failed, there might be the chance of a glorious sequel in waiting.
As it is, at best, TriBalls's occasional good points merely make for a simple distraction on a bus ride. Sadly its colorful visuals are let down by a near non-existent bank of sounds, and a neat gameplay mechanic, full of potential, is hamstrung by poor execution.