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Game Day: Open Bar

The App Store is running a feature called ‘The best games you’ve never played,’ which is a nice way to promote games that may have slipped under your radar. One game in particular caught my eye: Open Bar by Gingear Studios, which was originally released in early 2016 and went on to win a PAX East Indie Showcase Award.

Open Bar is a classic iOS puzzle game involving color and shape matching on an irregularly-shaped grid. The goal is to form bars of matching colors that reach across the entire board. Bars cannot be finished with just the pieces on the board, however. You have to place pieces from the bottom of the screen onto the board too. What’s tricky is that when you move a piece that is already on the board to another spot, the next available piece on the bottom of the screen automatically takes the original position of the piece you moved.

That may sound a little complex, but it isn’t. Open Bar does an exceptional job of introducing each of the rules of the game gradually through a series of simple levels. If you get stuck, there’s a hint system built in that requires you to spend in-app currency. It isn’t currency bought with an In-App Purchase, though. Coins are earned by completing puzzles and can be used to buy hints or new color themes. Because the coins you earn are limited, it pays to keep some in reserve for when the levels get harder.

Open Bar’s design is excellent. The color schemes are loosely based on classic cocktails. Bubbles rise in the background of each level behind the board that seems to pop off the screen thanks to drop-shadows that create a layered effect among the game’s elements. The visuals are complemented by entertaining animations and sound effects that remind me a little of similar touches used in Letterpress.

Gingear Studios keeps Open Bar fun and low-stress by not telling you how many levels there are in the game. You can go back and retry levels, which is one way to earn coins for hints if you run out, but you can’t skip forward. Each level can be completed in just a few moves, so it’s also the kind of game that can be played in short sessions when you’re bored, which I also appreciate.

There are a lot of puzzle games on the App Store, but Open Bar strikes a unique balance between smart gameplay and a fresh design that makes it stand out from its peers. Open Bar is available on the App Store for $1.99.

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