This Confounding, Addictive Counting Game Will Tear Your Brain In HalfS

No no wait, it's a good kind of brain-tearing!

Welome to Nuclien, a new iPhone/iPad game from James Barnard. It will test you. It will push you. It may break you. And if you're like me, you'll get really, really into it.

Nuclien has a distinctive, stark visual style that reminds me of nothing so much as the Bit.Trip games. Here's how it works: As Barnard's chip soundtrack pumps, numbers pop up onto the screen. You have a set amount of time to tap the numbers—if you tap them in the right order, they'll clear, and you'll be on to the next set. Tap them in the wrong order and the timer takes a hit. If the timer runs out, it's game over, man.

The only thing you really have to keep straight is this: Squares count up. Circles count down.

That is, when numbers are in squares, you tap them in ascending order. When they're in circles, you tap them in descending order. This sounds simple. It is not.

It's all well and good when you're doing either squares or circles, but within the space of three levels the game is throwing mixed sets at you, and suddenly you have to identify both the highest and the lowest number of a set. Or, big numbers will vanish to reveal littler numbers, which re-set the way you had been counting. It is insane, and it will make you feel like you're going insane.


On top of that, the timer gets fierce in a hurry—you'll be racing the clock, hitting last-second photo finishes, and restarting levels ten or even twenty times. It may not sound fun, but believe it or not, it is.

It's partly because your brain may not feel meant to move this way, but it is possible to improve at the game, and to force the kind of cognition required to succeed. I'm well aware that all our brains work differently, and it could well be that this particularly sort of spatial/numerical reasoning is a weak point for me. But as I gradually gained mastery over the game and have been slowly working my way through it.

A quick note about Barnard's soundtrack, which is uniformly excellent and refreshingly creative. It's a kicky, chiptuney set of jams, but it's sometimes at odds with the game, or at least it was for me. It's such a visual/reasoning game that I found I had more success when I turned the music off and played using only visual cues. That may not be the case for everyone, and it's certainly more fun to play it with the music on, but for now anyway, I have to play it sans headphones. Hopefully soon I'll get good enough that I can play it with headphones, the way it was intended.

Gird your brain, take a deep breath, and go play it. Just remember:

Squares go up.

Circles go down.

Squares go up.

Circles go down.

Nuclien [App Store, $0.99 on Sale]