Dash & Dot’s iOS offering – Virus Wars (Out Now, $0.99; RRP: $1.99) – is a rendition of one of those graph paper games that kids used to play in study hall together when they were bored out of their minds. Such games were played by kids back in the day because doing almost anything was a better form of entertainment, at least when you’re stuck in study hall, than trying to will yourself into developing psychic powers so that you could make the clock move faster. The problem with playing such a game on an iPod/iPhone is that you already have in your hands a device capable of doing far more interesting things than a game such as this, and even worse is that the classical piece of paper at least offered far less buggy controls (more on that later).
For those of you who aren’t already aware of how this study hall graph paper game plays, each player starts by choosing a corner on a piece of graph paper where their virus army will start. Then – taking turns back and forth – each player, both armed with a different colored pencil, will put an x mark in three different squares. At the beginning of the game they either put an x mark in a square directly touching their corner, or touching one of the sides/corners of a square that already has one of their x’s in it.
The real ‘gameplay’ begins when two x’s of different colors are touching each other, because at that point the person whose turn it is can use one of his three moves to capture the other player’s x and turn it into a wall. A wall is a solid square of the color belonging to the player who did the capturing, and once created can never be recaptured back by the other player. So long as a wall is either directly touching one of its own player’s x’s, or at least touching an unbroken chain of walls that is touching a same colored x somewhere, then that wall is considered active and may be treated as if it too was an x.
The goal then quickly becomes for the other player to try and eliminate the x’s keeping a wall chain active before said wall can grow so large that it no longer becomes feasible to sneak around. Some things in life are said to sound only like a good idea when on paper, but this idea unfortunately only sounds like a plausible idea when described entirely off of paper itself. You will discover that – most of the time – whoever starts successfully making wall squares first will win each and every game, as the game very quickly hits a critical mass that the tables are not going to be turned back from.
What’s worse about this rendition of the game is that the controls are fatally inaccurate, and you will often find that your move will be read as a square other than the one you were actually trying to tap. With the way victory spirals out of control in this game, even a single misplaced x can either leave a perfect opening for the other player or slam closed the tiny window of opportunity you had to meaningfully deactivate a wall chain that your opponent was already growing. This leaves the fact that this game isn’t available for iPad to be extremely puzzling, as one can’t help but wonder that perhaps the iPad’s larger screen would have permitted for larger squares that could have gone a long way to remedying this problem.
The game does feature online random matchmaking software, but I left the matchmaking software open for a long time and it never once found anyone else playing during that period. I wouldn’t be surprised if I were to learn that I am the first person to actually install and play this app, seeing as how the game was first released sometime back in 2011 and its iTunes store page doesn’t have a single review yet. Furthermore, odds are that if you do get this game you aren’t going to find people in real life to play this with – either through single unit multiplayer, or local wireless – as you will probably be going out of your way to warn others against this game as if it was a plague of actual viruses.
You can – however – also play this game completely by yourself against an AI controlled player, but I should warn you that the AI is brutally adept at how best to play the game. I have almost always seen the AI draw first blood in every single match I played against it, and – as I pointed out earlier – this game is usually decided by whoever gets that first kill. The AI furthermore knows how to efficiently shut down any wall chains you might manage to start before they can truly take off, something you normally never see happen quite so frequently in real world matches.
However, the worst part about playing with the AI has to be how it doesn’t understand when it’s lost and will force you to take the game all the way to the ultimate conclusion before you are declared the victor. Normally no match is ever truly finished when the game is played in real life, as the losing player concedes their defeat once the infinite victory spiral starts rapidly growing out of control. The AI, however, has no such concept of futility; so – by the time you finally run it off the entire board – your victory will be empty due to how monotonously long the AI will delay the foregone conclusion with stall tactics.
iFanzine Verdict: The fact that you have to play this game on an iPod means you already have, compared to the study hall scenario where this game used to traditionally be handled, a million better things you could be doing to keep yourself occupied. Worse yet, the imprecise controls mean that – if you absolutely must play this with someone – that you are better served to just get out an actual sheet of grid paper and play it the old fashioned way. Finally, winning against the AI feels positively pyrrhic due to the stall tactics it will pull if you ever do manage to outwit its brutal efficiency.