Bear Winter is a mash-up of match and survival games, pared down to the bone. The skeletal narrative has you alone in the snowy wilderness, to find 'her'.
You must collect fire to stay warm, grab arrows to take on vicious snow bears, and gather acorns to stay healthy. Presumably, the unseen protagonist is some kind of bear-hating squirrel archer.
Still, this match effort is smarter than the average match effort, bear or squirrel, in providing a fresh take on the genre.
Notably, the area in which you make matches is a claustrophobic three-by-three grid. Above, you get another four rows, giving you a chance to plan ahead.
Against the odds
Naturally, there's an element of randomness to proceedings, and you won't always have a full match in your tiny play area.
Under such circumstances, you can eliminate any horizontal, vertical, or diagonal, but there are consequences to such actions, because Bear Winter's tranquil piano soundtrack and lazy snowfall backdrop barely shield a merciless survival game.
Swipe a row that contains fewer than three bears and one of your four hearts will be taken as they attack.
Three bears, however, results in one being added to your bear tally (one of two primary means of keeping score - the other being how long you survive). But every single move reduces your fire count, and if that hits zero, you freeze to death.
Grabbing three acorns enables you to replenish your health to maximum and matching three arrows initially gives you a kind of bear smart bomb - tap it and all the bears vanish and are added to your count. Only now you need to make two arrow matches to use it again.
One further added complication is that each move increments the time by half an hour. You wake at 8 in the morning and sleep at 8 in the evening. On waking, you'll have a minimum of five 'fire' moves in the bank, but the board will be randomised from when you last saw it.
So really this entire game is a wintry juggling act, where you must think several moves in advance, primarily because everything's out to get you.
At first, it all seems a bit unfair, but eventually you figure out the tactics to survive a few days, even if Bear Winter never entirely escapes from the element of luck and randomness prevalent in every match game.
Chances are, the game will grow on you, but during review there was always that nagging feeling that Bear Winter could have been more than just a quite-good addition to this genre.
The visuals are suitably chilly, but grainy on the iPad. The story (added to each morning) lurches between intriguing and flat. The soundtrack is lovely, but the spot effects are terrible.
But what really stops the game scoring higher is its continue model. Die and you can continue (up to a maximum of three times) for 100 coins.
It's not so much that coins are available via IAP (although you also get one for each bear slain in-game), more that this feels entirely unsuitable for the theme.
When you've heroically survived eight days in the icy wilderness, and finally frozen to death or been bitten by one too many bears, it feels cheap to pay 100 gold coins for a second crack at life.