Whac-A-Mole comparisons are generally unfavourable. If we suspect that an apparently sophisticated game boils down to tapping things quickly, we call it out for the insultingly crude relic that it is.
Omicron can't dress its basic Whac-A-Mole gameplay up. It’s not pretending to be a shoot-'em-up, or a Jedi sim, or a children's cartoon conversion. It's not even elaborate enough to have moles in it.
This is an ultra-stylish, lean, post-modern take on Whac-A-Mole that distils the gameplay down to its very essence and then comes up with a few different ways to arrange it on the plate.
The game presents you with a multicoloured array of hexagonal tiles. Around the edge of the screen is a coloured band, and when you tap the tiles that match it they vanish.
At fixed intervals the tiles all change colour, enabling you to eventually clear the screen entirely, at which point the next round starts, the band changes colour, and the intervals are shorter.A twitch in time
As the rate of change increases it becomes more difficult to tap the tiles on time.
As you play in Classic mode a timer ticks down, and tapping on the wrong tile wipes a few seconds off it. To keep your reserve of seconds in good health you need to make matches and hit combos.
But in the end the rate at which the colours change will make it impossible for you to tap them on time, the penalties will chip away at your timer, and you'll eventually die. Your score simply reflects how long you managed to delay failure.
Helping you to higher scores are power-ups that change surrounding hexagons to the target colour, slow down the timer, double your points, and so on.
Arcade mode is largely the same except the rate of change increases gradually rather than by stages, and you have lives rather than a timer.
And then there's the Versus mode, which involves two people sitting at either end of an iOS device and racing to clear the screen while catapult tiles fly back and forth. It's frantic and fun, and I suspect that it's the mode with the greatest longevity.Simple shape
Omicron looks beautiful - all sharp edges and graduated shades and colours, like a Paul Klee painting or the website Polygon.
It's also accessible and fun, if a little light on content. Whereas spiritual siblings like Pac-Man Championship Edition and Geometry Wars take the essence of a game mechanic and spin it in several ways, Omicron spins it in just three - and you need a friend to enjoy one of those.
You can't deploy tactics beyond reaching for power-ups before tiles without power-ups, and you can't manufacture favourable situations as you can in games like Tetris and Bejeweled - all you can do is twitchily respond to what's in front of you. If you were to tell me that the global high score is currently held by a lizard, I wouldn't be entirely sceptical.
Omicron is a pretty and well-made casual game. The controls are responsive, the layout is clear, and you'll be amazed at how quickly you're able to pull off quick-fire finger-twisting combos, nudging the clock upwards through apparently superhuman reflexes and powers of concentration.
But the thrill doesn't last, and once you come to accept that you can simply move your fingers faster than you thought, the game holds no further revelations. Omicron demonstrates that Whac-A-Mole has the potential to be the foundation of a great casual game, but this isn't quite the one.