Game Reviews

Finger Physics: Thumb Wars

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Finger Physics: Thumb Wars

There's a fine line between trial-and-error being frustrating or fun. It's the sort of thing for which games are often criticised, yet nearly all games that threaten failure invoke trial-and-error to some degree.

In this sense, what makes a game good or bad isn't whether it relies on trial-and-error, but whether the context is compelling and the supporting elements make repeatedly attempts fun.

Finger Physics: Thumb Wars has all the right elements for a fun physics puzzler, yet there's a missing layer of polish that prevents its brand of trial-and-error gameplay from being consistently entertaining.

Hard to put your finger on it

The game does more to extend the ideas of the original Finger Physics than present new ones of its own. As such, it's less a full sequel than a standalone expansion pack featuring new levels.

Magnetic blocks, explosive shapes, and tricky block-stacking challenges return in more than 50 new stages. Some levels ask you to arrange blocks of various shapes and sizes on the screen for a short period of time, whereas others involve directing a ball toward a defined target via chain reactions.

While these components make a welcome return, the level design lacks the polish that made the first game a surprise hit. Seemingly straightforward levels require multiple attempts in order to achieve success due to small oversights in the design. Rather than blatantly unfair design or excessive difficulty, it's a vaguer problem.

The accidental war

There's a sense of randomness that makes you feel as though success comes accidentally. Rather than being empowered by skill, you're taught early on that the random nature of the game's physics isn't countered by skilful manipulation of the objects on the screen. A carefully constructed tower may topple, whereas a hasty structure might stand tall.

To be fair, there are few instances in which Finger Physics: Thumb Wars grows frustrating because the levels have been designed in such a way that you're likely to find a solution. The problem is that these often feel accidental, which leaves you with little motivation to craft creative solutions.

Why bother carefully stacking blocks when it's just as easy to throw them together and ace the stage? Not every level is like this, though, and there are some fun stages that pull you back into the game for every mediocre one.

Scored by hand

A clever scoring system does encourage you to invest energy maximising your performance in each level. Local, national, and international scoreboards automatically compile the point totals of individual players.

France versus Ukraine, California against Florida - the aim is to generate high scoring competition between regions. It's a great idea, arguably more exciting than the levels themselves.

Were it not for this scoring system, it's unclear how Finger Physics: Thumb Wars would encourage replay. The random nature of the level design makes outcomes seem accidental, which saps some of the joy from this ephemeral physics puzzler.

Finger Physics: Thumb Wars

A novel combination of physics gameplay and creative online scoring, Finger Physics: Thumb Wars could stand for more polished level design