Review: Fiasco!

Having ‘game night’ with the family once a week was something to be preserved. Although these evenings rarely included video games, Monopoly, Sorry and the famous Scrabble word game were board games that made a noticeable impact on our American culture.

Unfortunately — as the old story goes — the culture that once embraced these multi-person inclusive, video game alternatives waned as the result of the ever-surging and always triumphant technology. Subsequently, Scrabble is on life support if not already dead. The irony? Zynga’s Words with Friends – a mobile game notorious for integrating social media into the realm of Scrabble-like gameplay in hopes that a network of friends and family will be inclined to keep playing — is headed in the same direction as there seems to be a decline in players. In May of 2012, AppData reported that the game lost 2 million of their players out of their 13.9 million total. Today, AppData’s reports also show that 18 million people have played the game in the past month.

There is no more family game night, and certainly not enough friends willing to go another round with words.

There’s no denying the stagnant irrelevancy of Words with Friends, nor is there any doubt that Zynga could have taken the game’s formula and reworked it for the sake of reviving it to its once addicting, popular status. However, we can’t get enough of our word games; putting words together in such unique ways is enticing. That’s why the developers at Blinking Pixels released Fiasco, where the nostalgic characteristics of Tetris and Scrabble come together. While it doesn’t take more than a glance to find that the game is painstakingly similar to Words With Friends, there are some attributes in here that are worth noting.

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Created by Drew Oblich, the mastermind behind The Fourth Dimension, Fiasco is just as simple to play as Tetris and just as wordy as Scrabble. Players must pit randomly assembled letter blocks in various directions to form a words. The blocks of letters you turn into words become illuminated in bright orange. Touching these boxes shatter them to pieces, making room for more words and give players points. The more points you achieve, the better your score will be against other players. The time limit? Two minutes flat.

Perhaps the main pull for this game are the various, strategic set-ups that can be done. There’s a completely visible mirror of  Tetris mechanics when first booting up a match. In the beginning, most players may find themselves shooting for two to three letter words even though the amount of points rewarded for them are little. Four and five letter words are also hard to come by, but offer bigger points if executed.

In order for these boxes to accumulate in quicker fashion, Fiasco pushes players to adopt both quick thinking and patience strategy just as a veteran Tetris player would implore. Instead of waiting for the blocks to slowly descend, players can set them down quickly in hopes that random words can pop up. The patience plan comes into play when dealing with how to go about breaking the new, orange boxes. A player, for example, could break 3 boxes after the letters B, O and X connect or they could wait until they’ve connected new words to their B, O and/or X for a bigger point payout.

Most importantly, Fiasco doesn’t shy away from helping you play with more people each and every day. Players do have the option to wrestle words with either a random player or by inviting friends from Facebook. Each game with a partner goes through three rounds and whoever has the most points by the end of the third is obviously the victor. In between these rounds, players do have the potential to greatly turn the tables, but only for a price. With every player being given 25 coins, they have the option to lengthen the time for three coins, heighten the points multiplier for four, delete tile blocks for one and choose tiles for five.

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Unfortunately, the coin system marks the first of many issues that make Fiasco a less than remarkable experience. Even if players somehow manage to use up all their coins in one sitting, the coins magically appear in their account once they’ve either waited a day or bought them with real money. With this, it’s hard to decipher the balance between paying for advantages versus playing the game perks-free.

As far as the words that you can string together? Every single one of them becomes easily forgettable, perhaps even a little less than an afterthought. The thing is, when you’re given two minutes to compound as many letter blocks as possible, you’ll take any word that the game deems as an actual word and go with the flow. During my time with Fiasco, I noticed a lot of three to four letter words that I never found to be actual words. Letters put together would sometimes become names and slang words.

You never see exactly how your opponent performed in their game, only the results of the round showing a few words they managed to spell out and the points that they’ve earned and through this, there lies a huge disconnect between how much interactivity could be had between two contenders. Playing with Facebook friends doesn’t help either.

Games can also end very quickly, as salty sore losers can easily ruin the fun. Say you and your opponent are neck and neck in points as both of your first rounds were in the 1,200-1,300 range in points. You score tons more in your second round and then all of a sudden–BOOM–a notification pops up on your device stating that your opponent left the match. Rounds in Fiasco have the potential to be stopped mid match as there’s an option where you can forfeit and eject yourself from playing. There seems to be no evidence of any penalization if a user does so, which can be extremely frustrating for complentionists who have the urge to see things through the end.

While simplicity may be the best solution for mobile games, the baby blue design of the background is atrociously dull and the music and the sounds are laughably annoying and unmemorable. With this in mind, many of Fiasco’s shortcomings start to come full circle. Fiasco comes off as a quick game that someone could power up while sitting in a waiting room or during some quick downtime. Put some blocks together, earn some points, slightly remember the good ol’ Game Boy-Tetris adventures and hope that whoever your opponent is continues to play with you.  Nothing about this game jumps out at you nor does it merit any sort of excitement.

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Closing Comments:

The word “fiasco” is defined as something that is a complete failure. Fiasco doesn’t live up to its definition, but it’s close. A carbon copy of Tetris with Scrabble features, you’ll rarely find yourself playing for a long period of time. Even when you’re playing against friends, the feeling of being able to clash words together, building and destructing tiles of blocks and achieving the highest score over your opponent ends up not being as exciting as it’s cracked up to be. By no means is Fiasco a terrible experience, as it definitely serves the purpose to help pass the time., but there isn’t much to priase it for.  Instead of being charming, it’s plain. Instead of being fun, it’s boring. Down to the wire, Fiasco is vapid.
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Platform: iOS