Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov has put his fiendish Russian puzzle-making skills to work again to bring the world System Link, a cerebral new brain-teaser for iOS. Tetris is a hard legacy to live up to, but if there's anyone capable of matching the genius of that seminal work, it's the man who created it.
When it comes to puzzle games, there are three general types— arcade-style, emphasizing speed over thoughtfulness, logic, emphasizing abstract thinking and verbal intelligence, and spatial, emphasizing an understanding of the environment and its pieces. System Link definitely falls into the latter category, presenting players with a field of squares containing paired symbols that you must match by dragging your fingers from one symbol to another. An interesting aspect to System Link's gameplay is how easy it is to pass a level- there are few to no obstacles to speak of- but how challenging it can be to pass a level with a complete score.
As you connect pairs of symbols, the remaining symbols will auto-complete for additional points so long as there are no alternate routes remaining for them, so the challenge becomes for players to complete a level in a way that forces the game to auto-complete as many pairs as possible, thus maximizing your score. It's a neat system, but it's not exactly intuitive. With Tetris, anyone watching can understand what you're doing and what you're trying to accomplish. Anyone watching System Link probably won't see what's so mentally taxing about it. In addition to the standard level type there are variant stages which add additional qualifications for a passing score, like adding a timer or requiring a certain number of moves from the player. These levels provide some welcome variety, but at the same time serve as a stark reminder of how relatively unexciting the gameplay is.
System Link's visuals have a simple, clean aesthetic to them to add to the general sense of conciseness the game gives off. Its music is wonderfully mellow; though there's essentially one long track to the game, the many highs and lows this track takes keep your ears happy. The controls, too, do their job well, although given the lack of complexity to System Link that's not saying much.
While this title is free-to-play, the free-to-play trappings are fairly innocuous and unobtrusive. A small ad bar plays at the bottom of the game at all times, and after beating the free level packs you'll be implored to spend money to get more. However, ads are ads, and even the most unobtrusive of advertising can pull us out of a gaming experience, so most gamers will probably find themselves wishing they could shell out a chunk of money up front for the full, ad-free experience.
While System Link presents an interesting new take on visual puzzlers, and comes to us from the mind of Tetris creator Alexey Pajitnov, most fans of puzzle games will probably find themselves turned off by the lack of complexity and the free-to-play annoyances. With a little more depth and a little less greed, this could have been a title worthy of its creator's name, but as it stands it's simply decent.
This review is based on a digitally purchased copy of Symbol Link for iOS.