It sucks you in. Haha! Get it?!?
Vortex, developed internally at Apple, has the distinction of being the only original title available at the launch of the iPod game store. It shows, too. While some of the launch titles are literally a struggle to play, Vortex is wholly elegant experience, and one that I spent a lot more time playing than I strictly needed to for this review. When a game comes along that manages to be a productivity killer for gaming editors, you know it's something special.
The game is essentially a Breakout (or Arkanoid, if you prefer) clone, brought into the third dimension. Your bat rotates 360 degrees around the outside of a well (your perspective is looking "down" the well), and your only goal is to keep the bouncing ball in play and use it to break the bricks that line the well's edges. Once all are destroyed, the level is cleared.
Vortex actually includes a couple of different control options, and both work well. The method I preferred used your finger placement on the clickwheel as a literal guide for the bat. When your thumb is at the top of the wheel, the bat is at the top of the screen. It couldn't be more intuitive. The other method uses relative controls. Place your thumb anywhere on the wheel and slide it left or right to move the bat in that direction.
The game also features all the additional options and depth I've come to expect from more traditional 2D Breakout titles. Bricks come in different varieties, with some requiring 1-3 hits to break, some doling out power-ups, and others explode, taking out surrounding bricks in the process. Power-ups include all the standards, translated competently into the third dimension - multi-ball, multi-bat, sticky bat, wide bat, and others.
Gamers can also choose from five difficulty levels, although this essentially just functions as a level select option. Still, it's a welcome addition. For one, it's no fun playing the same three levels repeatedly when you have just a few minutes to kill. For another, at the expert difficulty level (level 40), the levels are actually generated randomly, adding significant replay value.
The end result is a genuinely new take on a well-worn classic formula that's a lot of fun to play. Apple nailed the intangibles - the ball physics are perfect, and it's just as fun here trying to slip the ball behind the bricks, knocking out a ton at once, as it is in 2D versions. The multitude of options and tracked stats are just icing on top an extremely solid core game experience. For $4.99 it is absolutely a steal.
What's Hot: Excellent, intuitive control options. Great depth.
What's Not: Getting the last few bricks takes forever!