Simple Physics and Jet-Age Design Get You Home in The Marbians

A physics-based puzzle grading you out on a scale of one to three, by now, might be not a genre but a cliche in mobile gaming, But there are still concepts out there that can keep it fresh and one of them is The Marbians, a cheerfully dressed app for iOS and Android devices that conjures thoughts of nifty billiard trick shots.

The premise of The Marbians, by Osao ApS, is that aliens—the game's titular species—have landed in Roswell, N.M. in 1947. They're a lot smaller than you think. They and their flying saucer end up in someone's attic, and it's your job to liberate them. You do that by flicking the Marbians through a top-down puzzle, trying to collect up to three Moon Rocks along the way and ultimately landing one on the saucer, which frees everyone and sends them home.

The catch: There's one shot per Marbian. The easier puzzles have only one alien on the board, but multiple-Marbian levels require a lot of advanced planning to make sure you've got one guy active and in sight of (or at least can be angled into) the mothership. Obstacles, hazards, moving walls, switches and other dynamic terrain ramp up the challenge as you go.

A lot of levels I faced were reasonably straightforward, and there is a lot of drift in the Marbians' motion. Sometimes, you can just power up a shot, hope for the best, and pull it off. Your advancement is tied to the contrivance of collecting a certain number of Moon Rocks (100 for the third and final "box" of 24 levels) but in many cases, you can't help but pick up at least one on the way to completion.

If there's bad news in this, it's that some of the more difficult levels are not very good at communicating what they expect you to do. Even in some early cases, I saw no possible way to pick up all three Moon Rocks and ace the board, though this didn't stop me from opening up the second crate of challenges.

Flicking a Marbian is as simple as touching and dragging, and the environment and other Marbians respond sensibly to precision aiming, such as trying to sneak a friend past an obstacle with a shallow, obtuse-angle shot. In plotting out your shots, you're given both the means of stopping a Marbian precisely (by touching him in motion) and a variable shot strength that's indicated by the color of the arrow aiming the little guy. But the prolonged drift means that sometimes a Marbian will bank off four surfaces and end up right back where he started. So consider your shot strength.

Supporting all of this is a winning, jet-age visual design that comes through in the illustrated environment and the instrumental soundtrack veering from rockabilly to doo-wop. The Marbians comes free as a six-level demo, with all of the rest of its 72 levels unlockable for 99 cents. That's strong value, and very much worth a try for those who may have maxed out all the stars on their other pick-up-and-play physics puzzlers.

The Marbians [iTunes]