Jenga HD in Review – Topp(l)ing Expectations

The fact that there are numerous board game classics on the iPhone and iPad is a testament that recreating the experience in a virtual format is a lucrative affair. Jenga, however, is different, because the selling point of the game is the physical dexterity, speed and accuracy to pull it off. More importantly, Jenga is a game that is ideally played with friends and family. The best part, of course, is the riot that ensues when the whole thing collapses and everyone scrambles to rebuild the fallen tower of blocks to start a new round.

Physics-based gameplay isn’t new for iOS games, nor is the port of popular board game classics, but the true test here is how good an experience Jenga is with a tower of virtual blocks instead of the wooden ones we’ve come to know and love.

Translated into the iOS format, Jenga for the iPad becomes a portable game that is just as good for one as it is for four. There are three game modes: Classic, Arcade, and Pass and Play (the social aspect of the game). You can also choose the “room” in which you play in, a feature that one can also find in games such as Monopoly.

The gameplay is incredibly familiar – there are about 54 wooden blocks stacked up, with three comprising each layer. The objective is to build a tower as high as you can using blocks below the topmost layer, and to build a new layer without the tower toppling over. The trick is to look for blocks easiest to remove (highlighted in white) and carefully (if not gingerly) pull them out with minimal movement.

On the iPad, this is easier said than done. The graphics are excellent and smoothly done, unlike many 3D games. Despite the excellent physics engine behind the game, the touch controls are a bit too sensitive, making gameplay incredibly difficult and unrealistic. Dealing with actual wooden blocks, it’s a given that the first few layers are bound to be easy for the average player, since taking a block, say from the bottom of the tower requires little dexterity since it’s the most stable part of the tower. In Jenga HD, the act of pulling out a ‘safe’ block can already have serious consequences on your tower and early, tentative attempts will dislodge some blocks up in the tower, making the whole thing sway to and fro. It’s also quite difficult to view the whole tower clearly especially when you start from near the bottom to transport the block to the top – the camera doesn’t quite follow all your movements.

Even after so many earnest tries, I have yet to crack into the barest minimum into the top scores. After several failed attempts, playing became rather tedious and frustrating. As soon as I beat the basic towers, I will post my scores on Facebook and Twitter – the closest equivalent to bragging rights since having played the game solo on the go (a nice point to consider), there was no one to shriek with me when the tower came crashing down (which is rather sad).

Fans will no doubt love the prospect of taking Jenga with them anywhere. On my part, the sight of virtual wooden blocks teetering precariously reminded me of the challenges that games, even the good ones, have yet to hurdle. Regardless, once you get used to the controls, the game is still fun, especially when played with a bunch of friends. Jenga HD narrowly beats out a “Tap” to earn itself a Grab It rating.

Jenga is also available on the iPhone and iPod Touch, which can found here on the App Store.
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App Summary
Title:Jenga
Jenga HD
Developer: NaturalMotion
Reviewed Ver:1.0Min OS Req:3.2
Price:$1.99App Size:Size: 35.2 MB
  • Well-done graphics and realistic effects
  • Faithful recreation of the original
  • Excellent physics engine
  • Overly sensitive controls
  • Frustrating/tedious gameplay

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