Surge Deluxe – Review

Title   Surge Deluxe
Developer  FuturLab
Publisher  FuturLab
Platform  PlayStation Vita
Genre  Puzzle
Release Date  February 5, 2014
Official Site

While the console massive, both next and previous, wait for scraps from the barren release schedules, the PS Vita has recently been ticking along nicely with a steady stream of indie titles that more and more seem to be causing a little bit of pre-release hype. Surge Deluxe, FuturLab’s sequel to Surge (one of those PlayStation Mobile games that you never play), is the latest one and it comes one the back of a well-received trailer that promises to electrify the match-three genre in the same way that Velocity Ultra, by the same devs, did for the shoot ‘em up genre (allegedly).

Every handheld needs good puzzlers. They are, after all, the ultimate pick-up-and-play game when done right, and everyone’s waiting for the next Tetris. While we wait for Zoe Mode to get their shit together and realise that the Vita needs a version of Chime (the world’s best puzzle game), there’s definitely a niche for a really high quality addition to the genre. Whether or not Surge Deluxe delivers is a sticky point. After all, the game is reviewing exceptionally well elsewhere.

This is due in part to the game’s bouncy presentation which combines clean, colourful visuals with a bombastic synth soundtrack to great effect. Sure, a match-three puzzler, which strictly-speaking isn’t actually what this is despite the dev’s claims, is never going to require much ambition in the graphics stakes but it looks nice enough and takes advantage of the Vita’s lovely, bright screen (assuming you’re on the original OLED model).

The game itself is all about matching coloured blocks by running your finger through them. Joining two or more blocks this way will remove them and add to your score and the process of doing this is so easy that for a while Surge Deluxe doesn’t really feel like a game at all. The core gameplay is only marginally trickier than, say, turning the Vita on in the first place and has you wondering when the game is actually going to have a point.

As you progress through the screens (quickly and effortlessly) it becomes apparent that the key to scoring well is to make longer chains and to move through modifiers that increase your multiplier and chaining opportunities. Pretty standard stuff, but that does add a layer of strategy and therefore a bit more of a reason to keep playing.

The condition for failure comes by way of pressure. Pressure, indicated by two red bars at the edges of the screen, builds up and is relieved when you connect vents along a horizontal line which is only possible when you’ve removed the blocks in between. For a while this won’t even be a factor (although removing blocks coloured the same as an open vent adds a point bonus) but eventually the pressure becomes a key factor and you’ll be weighing up higher-scoring opportunities against survival.

The problem is that it takes a while for this to happen and during that time the game is pointless. There’s no challenge, no huge scoring opportunities except for on screens that have frenzy blocks on them, turning everything on the screen into one easily chainable uniform colour. Instead you are just playing until the game gets interesting. When it does, Surge Deluxe is actually pretty good.  The game hits a sweet spot between playing for score and playing to survive but eventually survival becomes everything and you’ll be identifying, and clearing, matched blocks before your mind has a chance to say ‘hey, let’s connect this to that modifier over there and chain it with those orange blocks.’

A more sedate time can be had with the game’s Puzzle mode, which requires you to hit a points target on set screens, and this requires a lot more planning and cunning to pull off. These levels are actually a lot of fun (although the difficulty curve is a bit off with mid-placed levels being harder than some of the following ones) but unfortunately there are only fifteen of these on offer, which is a big shame.

While the game works brilliantly on the Vita, thanks to the responsive touchscreen controls, it feels like Surge Deluxe needs a lot more flesh on its bones gameplay-wise. Trophies aside, there’s no real incentive for play (especially given that most of your online buddies probably won’t even pick this up for leaderboard larks). The game does give you the high score of the next person above you (Geometry Wars style) which normally adds a lot of incentive but it doesn’t update to the next person in-game when you hit it. Nor does it tell you where in the leaderboard you are placed, or what you are aiming for, so basically it’s a big wasted opportunity.

That said, the game is still able to produce pangs of addiction and there’s definitely potential in there somewhere. An update or a sequel could improve things massively with not a huge amount of effort, but for now Surge Deluxe isn’t quite where it needs to be.

  • Sharp visuals and nice music
  • Precise controls
  • Engaging gameplay for at least part of the game's difficulty curve
  • Enjoyable Puzzle Mode levels
  • Reasonably priced
  • Too simple for too long
  • Lacking in modes and variation
  • Poorly-implemented leaderboards
  • Only fifteen Puzzle Mode screens

The Vita still has space for a defining puzzle game. Surge Deluxe has the presentation, confidence and addictive qualities required, to some degree, but it isn't the one. With some additional gameplay modes, beefier leaderboard competition and a lot more puzzles, Surge Deluxe could be a contender. For now, it's just another shallow indie title that thinks it's better than it is.

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