Puzzling and timers have a long and chequered history.
On the one hand putting a player under time pressure is a great way of injecting some twitchy thrills into an otherwise cerebral genre.
On the other, there's a fundamental clash between setting a satisfying mental challenge and putting a speed bump in the path to the solution.
It can work, but it requires skill and finesse to pull of properly. Unfortunately, these lessons seem to be lost on the designers of Miniverse.
Miniverse is a peculiar abstract puzzler in which your goal is to drag planets around narrow corridors of safety. You're trying to get them close enough so you can teleport their astronaut inhabitants around.
Get all the astronauts into a spaceship and you finish the level.Countdown
There are, of course, a number of fiendish barriers in place to complicate this simple goal. Drag outside a safe area and it's game over. Planets and areas are also commonly embellished with timers, and if one runs out while there are still astronauts in the vicinity, the results are similarly terminal.
It's these timers that provide the bulk of the challenge. There are other obstacles like aliens and orbiting planetoids to complicate the mix, but fundamentally the puzzles aren’t really that hard to solve.
What's difficult is implementing the solution in the right order before a timer puts an end to proceedings.
That could be the basis for a fun, light puzzle game. But sadly, Miniverse blows it at the first hurdle by providing an annoyingly clumsy and unresponsive control system, which renders what should be entertainment into a turgid swamp of frustration.Houston, we have a problem
Guiding your charges through thin pipes of safety with little margin for error requires a sure touch.
But the speed at which the orbs follow your dragging finger feels random. And since you can't rotate the screen you'll commonly find your digit blocking your view of the boundaries, leading to needless fatal mistakes.
It's also worryingly easy to get mixed up with your teleporters. You have to tap on the source planet rather than the destination, but it's easy to forget, especially when you're wilting under the tick of those timers.
Worse is the zoom and pause function. The play area is large, and you'll often need to co-ordinate your efforts across several parts of it at once.
In theory this should be easy - zoom out and the game pauses, allowing you to zoom back in to the right area before the action starts again.
But inexplicably Miniverse chooses to do this with a double-tap, rather than the universally recognised pinch gesture.
It wouldn't be too bad if it actually worked, but about three quarters of the time it doesn't respond. You're left tapping impotently on the screen while the tyrannical timers count down towards your doom.Crash landing
It's still playable in spite of these flaws, but only just. After multiple infuriating failures you'll learn to plan a level before you start. Panic dragging across the screen at critical junctures is also a legitimate tactic.
But you constantly feel you're fighting against the controls to try and enjoy the game beneath.
There are some other appealing aspects to the game. It has three worlds which all end with an intriguing boss level.
And there's a fun mini-game where you unlock new levels by solving a jigsaw puzzle from pieces earned through completing missions.
But ultimately, in spite of its innovations and funky presentation, we can't really recommend a game that provides more in the way of anger than it does amusement.
It's a shame, really. It's possible that Miniverse might have sat on that golden junction between platform and puzzler. But without solid controls, we'll never know.