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September 04, 2014

Game Review: 2048

More often than not, simplicity is the defining aspect of a critically-acclaimed puzzle game, whether it's well known or a cult classic. From the trios of jewels in Columns to the light-up floors of Kurushi, it's often just a directional pad and a button for a bit of variety.

With 2048, however, all you need to do is swipe. This wonderfully basic game was developed in just one weekend by 19-year-old Italian web developer Gabriele Cirulli, whose dedication to open source code meant he didn't profit from what went on to become a huge success.

The goal is simple: create the 2048 tile. You start with a couple of tiles – usually a pair of twos – and your goal is to combine them via swiping. Each time you swipe a pair of like-for-like tiles together, they create one of double the value, and you score points valued on the tiles you create. Each move also throws in another new number – which, without fail, is always a two or a four. This means each move, you have to continually start new chains.

Obviously, the longer you play, the quicker your score rises: two, four, eight, 16, 32, 64, 128, 256, 512, 1024, 2048. Simple, right?

Well… yeah. It is. But for every stage, you need double the preceding number to get there. Obviously, this makes a game quite a long, often-arduous experience. Just to reach 2048, a game can last around half an hour, but you won't realise it. You're locked in, you're focused. And that's even if you get to 2048 – in 500 plays, you may only do it two or three times.

It's all about getting a chain developing, where one double can slide effortlessly into the one above, then again, then again. The problem is that once you have, say, a 512, you need another – but the rest of the board may only have a 64, a couple of eights, and a fresh two. Once you spend five or ten minutes getting that next 512, you then have to get it next to the other one – a challenge in itself – and then you have a benign 1024 waiting for a partner.

But you'll find a way. You'll always find a way. And if you don't, you'll curse yourself and restart. You'll see your high score and know you can do better.

The problem is, once you start getting good at 2048, it can really feel like a bit of a slog to get started. Once you set a top score above 7,000 or so, games can start extremely slowly. You see, as the point-scoring system is exponential, the opening few minutes of a new puzzle can feel like a lifetime, and just reaching 4,000 can take ten minutes. Three minutes later, you may have double that. It lures you into a false sense of security.

But you know what the worst thing is? When you reach 2048 (and this isn't a spoiler alert – there's nothing to spoil), you have the option to go further. It's like the game is laughing at you, mocking you for not having the same time for 2048 as it always does for you. And you'll continue, and you'll hate yourself, but you'll also love it.

Our verdict? 2048 is an absolutely indispensable (and free) addition to any mobile, but it's a puzzle of sado-masochistic proportions – the gaming equivalent of only listening to the Glee covers of your favourite songs. You know you shouldn't, and you know there's no benefit to doing it, and you hate yourself for it, but sometimes you just can't help yourself.