AR Block Party – Game Review (iOS)

Yesterday I’ve downloaded an augmented reality game called AR Block Party.  AR Block Party is a Jenga-style block-stacking game for one or two players. It seems to be developed for two players playing on the same device with the standard Jenga rules or can be played as a single-player game but trying to build the highest tower possible.

The thing is that the game’s user interface was designed to match that of two local players playing the game, so there is no way for counting how tall the tower is and no leaderboard assigned to the game when you play it alone. At least nothing that I found while playing the game. This is kind of a disappointment because the developer could easily without too much effort add these features and make the game more entertaining when you don’t have anyone to play against. Even in the game’s screenshots on the App Store, there is one screenshot that says: “Pile the highest tower, challenge yourself”, but without the needed single-player unique feature implementation, I find it very unappealing to play it alone.

Gameplay

OK, let’s move on. A bit about the gameplay rules. The rules are very simple. Each user, in each own turn, needs to use a random stick (e.g. banana, fishing hook, etc.) to either push, pull or lift a single block and place it at the top of the tower without dropping the block or making the tower collapse, or else he or she loses.

After the block has been placed, it’s the other player’s turn to do the same. The first player who fails to place a block at the top of the pile loses the game and the other player wins.

AR Block Party is a physics-based game and you can definitely feel it.  Although I liked the physics as it enforces more calculated and precise gameplay, I did found the mechanics to be clunky and buggy at times.

For example, it happened many times that the items that I used to manipulate the block passed through it instead of interacting with it. You can see a blue masked color and you can see that it wasn’t affecting the tile at all.

Sometimes manipulating the block felt loose and jittery. It also happened that the tower fell apart completely while I was far away from it, like the game detected that the stick has interacted with it, which wasn’t the case at all. However, this issue didn’t happen a lot though and I couldn’t replicate it although I tried.

I personally didn’t like the stick selection. I mean, common, playing with a Banana or fishing hook to manipulate blocks felt awkward and not comfortable to control. I can understand that the developer might have wanted to make the game feel more physical, but I personally prefer the precise control as in Wobbly Stack AR and Blocks Tower AR. Still, I think the idea of having an “extending arm” for interaction make the interaction with the blocks more physical, but I think that the implementation wasn’t good.

My analysis why the controls are not optimal.

Pocking the face blocks with a fishing hook
Pocking the face blocks with a fishing hook. You can use shadows to estimate distance, still, the depth perception limitations impair the gameplay.

I think the main problem is that in other block-stacking games that I’ve played, the user can manipulate the tile without the need of getting very close to it. Using the shadows to estimate the distance of the “stick” can be useful, but it depends on your position relative to the blocks. At some angles, you won’t see the shadow. I found myself moving very slowly in order to prevent any undesired collision with the tower.

Yes, this makes the game more physical and precise, but also more slow and awkward to play. Furthermore, because it’s not like holding a physical object in your hand, the angle which you see the object is fixed in place and therefore it’s hard to estimate the distance of the object from the block like that. Usually, with a physical object, you would move your head above the object to see clearly see it’s distance from the blocks, but you can’t do it here.

I think this is the main problem with these unique control system and why the other Jenga-like games that I’ve played felt less physical, but more comfortable to play. AR Block Party leads to more frustration, as you don’t have any control to change the angle which you view the object and approach the blocks with. Designing an AR game requires understanding those unique restrains and design the game controls to create a better experience, rather than going blindly with what seems like a great idea and found out from users, like myself, that it’s not the optimal controls for a game like this in AR.

The idea is good, but I think it is just designed without completely being aware of the issues that it might bring with that particular game control implementation. Even with a clear visual sign of intersection and using shadows, it didn’t entirely solve all issues.

Lovely Presentation

AR Blocky Party Hamburger theme
There are some really cool-looking themes, like this Hamburger one.

AR Block Party has a really nice presentation. I definitely prefer playing a Jenga-style game with colorful and interesting blocks than just plane color blocks like in the other Jenga-style games that I’ve played.

The user can choose between different themes like wood, Eyes, Gold, Money, Burger, Cake, Xmas, Rex and others to come soon. The blocks look nice and detailed.

Chocolate Jenga tower collapses
Mistakes were made, chocolate Jenga tower going down!

One thing that I’ve noticed is that the shadows in this game actually plays an important role because standing at the right angle, you can actually see when your stick is touching the block. Without it, it’s hard to tell when you are about to touch it.

It’s really entertaining looking at how the eyes of the tiles looking at you when you intersect with it and even more fun when you hold and drag them in the air.

By the way, a bit of transparency to the shadows can help, it just opaque black now.

Conclusion

AR Block Party turned out to be much less exciting than I hoped it would be. When I played I think was able to sport the issues with the gameplay controls, aside from the bugs that I’ve encountered. I think the game could have been better with more optimized controls that take some AR game design limitations into account.

The game’s presentation didn’t disappoint and looked great (although I still don’t understand why the shadow change angle when I rotate the device from portrait to landscape mode?!).

I think that there is certainly place to modify the game so it can also be more fun as a single-player game like Wobbly Stack AR and of course optimizing the controls so the player will feel more control over the stick which he uses to interact with the game considering the issue with depth perception in its current build.

You can download AR Block Party from the app store here.