Disclaimer: The following review is valid as of the release of the game. While it's exceedingly unlikely that any further updates will come, keep in mind that this could be outdated by any further patches to the game.
Chains is a combination physics-based and tile-matching puzzle game, in which the player creates the eponymous “chains” by connecting brightly colored “bubbles” to other, like-colored bubbles. Once a chain of 3 or more is created, it's removed, and the remaining bubbles fall in place. The “physics” portion comes not only from that, but in certain levels that are designed around the weight of each bubble, and thus introduce a new element of strategy.
There is no finite goal to the game; each stage has a different objective the player must reach, with each level changing to reflect the current task. Some tasks require more pause, like “Match the given amount in one chain.” Others are a race against another mechanic, such as, “Clear 200 without losing any.” by which the weight of the balls are pulling on a counter weight that, when overwhelmed, will mean the balls can fall out of the level, and the player fails the current stage.
The game is controlled via the mouse alone, and even if there were controller support, it probably wouldn't be wanted. As is, the mouse isn't terribly precise, and one can fail levels solely due to the fact that the “link” of the chain didn't register one's mouse movement.
There are 20 stages, each with varying difficulty. The player may find one level to be as easy as using the game's core mechanic until the goal is reached, while others prove substantially more challenging, with failure encroaching even before the player has a chance to counteract it. The varying difficulty seems like an odd design choice, as one can also change the difficulty setting of their profile, creating two separate points of variable difficulty. It's also jarring and frustrating to have a difficulty curve that looks less like a steady climb, and more like EKG waves. One is also barred from moving to the next stage until the current one is completed, a perplexing choice given the erratic challenge levels. It would feel less like the levels were simply thrown together if they were ordered, or at least grouped, by relative difficulty.
Further disorientation comes from the rules
also changing for the different stages. For example, the stage to clear a specific amount is very strict about which direction one can go in order to create a chain. This is directly followed by a stage that allows one to clip halfway through another sphere in order to create a link. As a result, the gameplay is left feeling haphazard, as the rules the game teaches the player initially, aren't necessarily the rules for the next level. Mechanics can often feel as if they aren't consistent in-level, either; a notion exacerbated by the fact that connections can be made while the bubbles are still moving.
The sound design is similarly strange: it's not bad, but it seems either too similar or out-of-place. The sound effects for clearing bubbles are fine, and the “fail” noise is also adequate, but the “You're about to fail.” and “Hey, you're #/# of the way there!” are nearly indistinguishable from one another. This is a negative because the more fast-paced levels require the player's utmost attention, and they can't look away to the HUD or text in the corner without losing focus. Further, the music is also not bad, but it's oddly dire for a simple puzzler. It engenders the feel of a Mission Impossible sequence more than it does shiny neon balls rolling around.
I can't recommend Chains. The puzzles don't build off of each other at all, leaving no coherent tie between the stages; the game feels more like a tour of the applications of a game mechanic, rather than a cohesive experience. I also noted a hiccup where I was green-lit to go to the next level, even though I hadn't met the requirements for the stage I was on, and could find no way to replicate it. Collectors will also be disappointed to note that there are no achievements and no cards available for the game. Since there are an abundant amount of games available for absolutely free that satisfy similar qualities to this title, I can't see this appealing to anyone but diehard fans of Meridian4, or those who simply must have this experience in particular.Did I miss something? Have questions I didn't cover? Want to suggest an improvement on the review? Let me know in the comments below.