Underline! (iOS) review

Underline is an iOS game from Albino Pixel. It’s available now as a free download from the App Store, with optional in-app purchases of in-game currency or a one-time unlock of all game content.

Underline is a word puzzle game that combines elements of traditional “falling block” puzzle games with the word-finding gameplay of board games such as Boggle and modern mobile adaptations like Scramble With Friends. Players must score as many points as possible by making words from a grid of letters. This is achieved by tapping and dragging from one letter to the next horizontally, vertically or diagonally, at which point if the word is valid, it will disappear. New letters gradually drop in from the top one at a time, progressing gradually across the columns. After the player has made a certain number of words,  a new “wave” begins, and a large number of letters drop down to fill in the gaps.

The game is a little tricky to play on the small screen of an iPhone or iPod touch as the letters are a bit small and difficult to slide one’s finger over. Anticipating this issue, the developers included an optional “magnify” function, but it’s still a little inaccurate and difficult to make movements at times, particularly diagonally. Since the game can get quite fast-paced at times, this is something of an issue, though it is negated somewhat by playing on the larger screen of an iPad.

The game features four game modes, three of which are initially locked. restricting the player to “Classic Mode.” Classic Mode tasks players with surviving until a column overflows with letter tiles; Time Attack mode requires players to keep a timer topped up by playing words, with longer words adding more time; Wordsearch mode starts with a solid grid and challenges players to find as many words as possible in two minutes, with new letters immediately dropping in when a word is made; finally, Pass and Play mode follows the rules of Classic Mode, but takes the form of a two-player competition. There is no means of asynchronous multiplayer competition, though several modes would lend themselves well to online play.

The game monetizes through in-app purchases of in-game currency, which can be used to unlock the additional game modes or purchase powerups to be used in a single game. These range from the ability to drop a rain of vowels on the play area to freezing the timer or immediately clearing the bottom row of the play area. It’s also possible to unlock all the game content with a single in-app purchase, and the game is also supported by both banner and full-screen ads.

Underline is a very good puzzle game at heart, control issues aside. It features fun mechanics, unobtrusive monetization and the ability to compete against friends using Game Center functionality and the ability to tweet scores. It would be good to see the addition of some direct competitive modes — perhaps using Game Center’s asynchronous multiplayer system — but for now this is a solid addition to the crowded mobile puzzle genre, and worthy of note for being a little more original than the scores of bubble-shooters and match-3 puzzlers.

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A good game that successfully combines elements of falling-block puzzles and Boggle.