It should come as no surprise to anyone that one of Astraware’s first forays into the iTunes App Store is a color matching game. I have often made the point in this space that Astraware has all but mastered the color matching game, with offerings that approach the genre from every angle, and are both traditional and creative. Golden Skull falls into the latter category, with some extremely original elements to the gameplay here. Let’s take a closer look.
The game follows the adventure of our hero, Saeed as he journeys from one city to the next through the Mayan ruins. At each stop, Saeed must find five gold coins, in order to convince his less than scrupulous guide to continue onward to the next stop. If Saeed can make it through all of the stops, then he may just find the golden skull.
OK, honestly, the backstory in this game is pretty much nothing more than a loosely spun excuse for moving from one level to the next. I thought the story was weak and added little to the game. Additionally, once the game starts, there is little to progress the story. It would be nice if you learned more about the backstory of the game or the characters between each level. Instead, there is a repetitive static image of your guide thanking you and moving on to the next level. Really, as much as I enjoyed playing the game, I thought it would have been significantly more entertaining had Astraware just dropped the backstory entirely and made this a straight color matching game like Bejeweled.
Speaking of gameplay, let’s put the story aside and see what this game is all about. in each location, you are faced with a chamber filled with jewels. Your goal is to remove jewels in order to unearth five golden coins. Find five gold coins and you will move on to the next level.
Now, here is why I really liked this game. most color matching games come in two flavors: ones where you have to clear the screen, and ones where the screen refills behind each move you make. Golden skull is something of a hybrid between the two.
In Golden Skull, each level finds you in a chamber filled with jewels and gems. In the beginning, there are only three different colors, however, the variation quickly increases. All you have to do is tap groups of two or more jewels in order to remove them. A group does not need to be linear, as long as each jewel in the group is adjacent to at least one other jewel either vertically or horizontally.
Now, here is where the fun – and the challenge – comes into play. Each time you remove a group of jewel, more jewels will fall from the top, replenishing the field. Unless, that is, one or more columns is already touching the top. If any column is touching the top then no jewels will fall until that column is lowered.
To complicate matters, the gold coins you need to connect are dropped in this maelstrom of jewels. So, if you have a column stuck at the top then the gold coins required to complete the level will not drop.
Which brings us to those valuable gold coins. The faster you move the jewels out of the chamber, the faster those gold coins will fall. Just watch that gold indicator on top of the screen. As you remove jewels, the bar inches closer to the right. Once it reaches the right hand side, a coin will be ready to drop.
The game ends when you run out of moves…which can happen fairly quickly if you get one columns that stays stuck at the top for too long.Then, your game will end as your guide abandons you for a more profitable client.
I have long been a fan of Astraware games, especially their color matching games. I though Golden Skull was not only a worthy addition to their reputation (it really is not new as it has been around for Windows Mobile for some time). I have also been impressed by how well Astraware has been able to transfer their games to the new iPhone platform. I am really looking forward to discovering which games Astraware will bring to the iPhone platform next. Even more importantly, however, I am eager for Astraware to produce a game exclusively for the iPhone platform and really show us what they can do. Until then, I am perfectly happy matching colored jewels along the path to the Golden Skull.
What I Liked:
- Easy to learn gameplay, but additional challenges abound in higher levels
- Good graphics
What Needs Improvement:
The storyline really does not add anything to the game
Name: Golden Skull
Version: 1.0 (iPhone)
Tested on: iPod Touch 2.1
Also available: Windows Mobile, Palm OS
Developer: Astraware (licensed from Deluxeware)
Where to Buy: iTunes App store
Price: $2.99 [Update: I just heard from Astraware that they have reduced the price even further to $1.99]