Critical Mass is another bundle game I got ages ago. I’m a bit tired of adventure games, so I decided to give puzzles a chance and this was the one I picked to play through next.

I’m happy with my decision. Critical Mass is a very fun puzzle game. The goal is to combine cubes in 3D space in groups of four or more. The higher the amount you manage to combine, the more points you get. Cubes are dropped on a central shape with a certain amount of cubes already there. This central shape has a constantly increasing mass, which makes it grow and approach the screen as you progress. The destruction that happens after you combine cubes causes it to recede and gives you more time to destroy them all. If you’re too slow, the mass reaches critical levels and you lose, forced to start back at the beginning.

Critical Mass - Meditation Mode

Meditation is a no-pressure, strategic play mode.

This means there’s a decision you’re constantly making – just combine as fast as possible to push the blocks back a bit, or hold out to get bigger combos, which pushes the blocks back more and fills up your bonus abilities. I have to admit, it was a bit disorienting at first, hard to determine where exactly I’ll be dropping the block and what colour I’m currently dropping, but once you get used to the interface, you realize the game tries very hard to help you see everything clearly and then it becomes much easier. The bonus abilities are also there to help. There are three of those and they unlock progressively, as you accumulate more and more points. The next one is always the more powerful one, so that’s another decision you have to make – use the currently available ability, or take the risk and wait for the one that’s more powerful and more helpful.

There are four modes in the game. I’ve played through all of them, but the classical mode is where the level progression is at. As far as I can remember, there are nine or ten total levels, which I completed in much less than an hour. You earn points and based on the total amount you get, you are ranked, globally. There’s also Survival, where you have to stay afloat for as long as possible. For every group of blocks you destroy, more random blocks are added to the field, so you are eventually forced to create longer combos just as fast as you would usually create basic combos, just to stay alive. Every minute, the critical mass resets, which helps a bit, but eventually isn’t enough to keep you alive by itself.

The last two modes are Rush and Meditation. In Rush, you just have to clear a single level as fast as possible. You lose points for ever second spent, so the amount left is your final score. Mediation has not time pressure of any kind. You get a limited amount of blocks which you need to place around the central grey cube. You have to use these limited blocks to get as many points as you can by arranging them into the longest possible combos.

As I said, I’ve played through all of the modes and enjoyed all of them as well. The thing I like the most is the global ranking system, which is based on the skill points you accumulate. The thing is, the skill points aren’t something you just get more and more off. If you do worse in one of the modes, compared to how you did previously, you actually lose these points, meaning that, apart from playing against the world, you’re also sort of playing against yourself.

In short, Critical Mass is a pretty good puzzle game, with a system in place that makes you go back to it every once in a while. I’ve completed the Classic mode, which has levels, so I’m counting it as completed on my list. I’ve also completed all the other modes at least once, but as far as achievements go, they’re designed in a way that discourages a rush to get them, so I won’t aim for 100% completion any time soon. I’ll keep the game on my hard drive, though, just so I can return to it every now and then, and perhaps get an achievement or two that way.