There’s something deadly about the combination of addictive gameplay and online leaderboards. It’s something that we sampled in Rock Band, where grown men would blast out Hannah Montana songs in the hopes of nailing those few extra notes. Surge Deluxe is equally moreish, without ever serving as a gateway to twerking. As such, if you’ve got a taste for strategic puzzle gameplay and don’t mind ignoring your significant other for a few weeks, you should go and start refreshing the PlayStation Store right now.
The game is based upon a formula that goes back decades. There are a number of different coloured blocks on the playing area, and matching two or more of the same shaded bricks prompts them to disappear. Using the touch screen and your index finger, you must draw a line between the various items that you want to blast. There are multipliers and other bonuses, but for the most part you just need to clear a level and move on. Sounds simple, right?
Well, this is one of those titles that’s easy to pick up and difficult to master. You could play for weeks without realising the intricacies of building points, which colours to eradicate first, and how to best employ the bonus blocks. Once you’ve figured out some of the more obvious “moves”, though, your place on the leaderboards will jump, and that's something that will happen again as you become more familiar with the layout of the board. This is a game of experience, then, even if you might not think it from the screenshots.
Another thing that you might not realise from pictures is how tense it gets. Along with the traditional timer, there are two pressure bars down each side of the screen. If you run out of time or if you fail to release the pressure, the level ends and you must begin again from stage one. Time becomes increasingly problematic the further that you progress, although addicts will quickly learn when to call the big score building quits and just finish the level.
It’s the pressure bars that cause the problem. To release the pressure, you must open the coloured vents that line each of the walls. Unlocking the vents has the effect of augmenting you with a little more time to think, but it also increases the point value of the same coloured blocks. Open two of the same coloured vents and a block's value jumps by five times.
So not only are you looking for big scores while working against the clock, but you’ve also got to clear enough bricks to open vents without destroying anything that might have been important for your score. As you get higher scores, you’ll learn that you have only seconds at the beginning of a level in which to evaluate what you have to do and actually get to it. Take too long or blast the wrong coloured blocks and you might as well just go for a smaller score.
And therein resides the drama. Should you take the risk and play for the big points, or play it safe and move onto the next level? Should you destroy all of the blue blocks so that you can open the pink vents and get a decent score, or should you play for the blue vents first so that you can double those points as well? It’s about constant time management, making split decisions, and hoping that they pay off. Sometimes they do, and you’ll feel awesome.
The basic make-up of the game is good enough to keep you going, but the way that it’s packaged is just as important. It’s instantly recognisable as a FuturLab release, with the almost neon-colouring and powerful music providing the backdrop to your addiction. In fact, considering how simple the whole thing is, the title is undeniably beautiful. Electrical effects trace your finger as you draw the all-important currents between blocks, while the manner in which the whole board lights up as you open vents is a nice touch.
Meanwhile, the music is like something from Sonic the Hedgehog or WipEout. There’s a classic feel to it that’ll no doubt get the blood pumping; it’s brilliantly executed, and while it might not necessarily stick in your mind, you’ll always enjoy it while you’re playing. As such, it’s an excellent complement to the high-pressure gameplay, and it’s part of the reason that you’ll keep coming back.
And return to the game you will. There’s only really a single mode to focus on, where you move from one randomly generated level to the next until you run out of time or the pressure builds up too much. Fortunately, if you need a break, then there’s the puzzle section. This component challenges you to beat a certain score with only specific blocks available. It takes a little thought, and it has its own leaderboards, but it’s not going to keep you engaged for anywhere near as long as the main option. In most cases, you’ll probably try it once, and then return to the core game.
And it’s the leaderboards that will play an important part in that pull. Each time that you play – assuming that you’re connected to the Internet – your scores will be uploaded, and you’ll be given a target to beat. It’s difficult to describe how much you’ll want to topple that figure, but the attachment of a username will really unlock your competitive side. You’ll almost feel like you’re being teased at times – especially if you’re only a few thousand points behind.
This adds a lot of replayability to the game, as even if you’re in first place, there’ll be people who will be slowly coming to get you. There’s a communal feel to the whole affair, particularly when you start seeing familiar names popping up again and again – and especially if they’re constantly beating you.
Surge Deluxe is a shockingly enjoyable experience built upon an engaging leaderboard system that constantly encourages you to up your game. The match-three mechanics are deep yet accessible, while the presentation is second to none. The only downside is that the title’s devilishly moreish, meaning that your addiction may land you in a hospital bed or strange social therapy session. Still, we’d argue that the release is worth it.