Every year we’re certain we’ve seen everything the match-’em-up puzzle genre has to offer, and every year a game comes along to surprise us with a new angle.
Sphinks is just such a game, offering carefully excavated gameplay, even if its archeological magnificence has been damaged in transit.
Upon loading Story mode, you're presented with a gridded board filled with various coloured squares. Each square can be moved to any position on the board, so long as there are no other coloured squares blocking the path.
Each time you move a square into position, a fresh set of squares gets added to the board. Matching four or more squares causes them to disappear, and achieving subsequent successful matches earns you points and bonuses. In the later levels, the minimum number increases to five.
The aim is to earn enough points to unlock five ankh stones per level. Doing so unlocks the next stage, each of which introduces new colours of square and power-ups to mix up play. Naturally, allowing the board to fill completely results in Game Over.
It’s an extremely simple yet absorbing mechanic, where the challenge is in carefully creating space with each and every move. There are no huge combos or screen-clearing power-ups to be earned, and success is dependent on the consistent judicious placement of squares, with an almost chess-like emphasis on forward planning.
One of the game’s big problems is its considerable difficulty. Dying even once kicks you right back to the start. Despite the presence of a save option (which incidentally would be much more useful if it was of the auto variety), the fact that you can’t just begin again from the start of the most recent level after a Game Over screen is a baffling design decision that causes unnecessary frustration.
Similarly, the leaderboard appears to be strictly local, which is a bit of a let down, especially seeing as the Endurance mode lends itself so well to high-score chasing.
Even so, Sphinks has a unique take on the match-’em-up formula that deserves to be played. Hopefully, it’s just an update or two away from ironing out its few flaws.