Review: I Heart Geeks!

I Heart Geeks is the sort of game which illustrates the contempt Nintendo, and probably a fair amount of developers for portable gaming systems, must really have for the rise of iOS and Android devices. The mere existence of those devices, as well as their libraries, changes how a game like this comes across in some pretty stark ways – and it’s not a positive reappraisal. I’m bringing this up right away because it’s an important lens through which to view a portable game nowadays, and it’s a lens I (and I feel, many other reviewers) am going to bring out for each portable title that ends up in my hands. Let’s begin.

I won’t say much about the story for I <3 Geeks, because there isn’t all that much to tell. It’s pretty thin on details – help the geeks, thwart the bullies – and this scant level of setting and background is pretty standard for the genre. The story isn’t there to entice so much as to justify the sprites used for the graphics: “Oh, geeks are involved? We’re building contraptions? Alright, then all these wheels and cogs and balloons make a little more sense.” It does the job that can be reasonably expected of it, and what more can anyone ask than that?

[singlepic id=5602 w=320 h=240 float=right]As a matter of fact, “It does the job you’d expect” can be applied to all parts of I Heart Geeks. The in-game instructions, the general gameplay, the graphics, the audio… if you’re the sort of person who’s into puzzle games, particularly if you’ve enjoyed them in their Flash or iOS/Android varieties, you know what to expect when it comes to an offering like this. Big variety of puzzles? Over 100, so check. Do the graphics make some vague amount of sense for what you’re doing? Check. Are said graphics well-drawn? Not quite Popcap level polish, but overall, check. Are objectives clear? Check. Go down the list of fundamentals and I Heart Geeks has a checkmark next to just about all of them. Except one.

Before I get into where I Heart Geeks becomes a little problematic, let me explain the basic gameplay you can expect here. You may or may not be familiar with The Incredible Machine – if so, it’s in that general direction of title. If not, I’ll try another way to explain it: Rube Goldberg Devices. Each puzzle presents you with a particular, simple goal you need to reach in a circuitously indirect way. So you use your assigned mix of devices to move target object X where it needs to be, assembling your contraption and then turning the whole thing on to watch the entire thing either achieve the desired goal, or gum up at a certain point in its operation. If it gums up, well, back to the drawing board to fix that problem. It’s done well enough, and the puzzle fan in me enjoyed the experience – even if some of the puzzles got a little repetitive.

[singlepic id=5601 w=320 h=240 float=left]The controls are adequate and the puzzles are relatively abundant. What about the difficulty? This is a little more difficult for me to estimate, because I have a thing for puzzle games in general, particularly of the contraption style. There were some times while playing I Heart Geeks where I would have liked more of a hint than the game seems willing to give, but overall the puzzles seemed to ramp up nicely in terms of challenge. Some people may get a little frustrated on the timed levels, but by and large if you like this sort of game you’re going to enjoy the I Heart Geeks iteration of it.

So if everything is at least adequate, if the puzzle variety is respectable, and if the puzzle game itself is fun, what’s the glaring flaw? Easy: the price. At launch, this game was around thirty dollars. It’s come down since then I’m sure, but there’s no possible way it’s come down to the price it should really be at: 99 cents to 2.99. And this brings us back to what the rise of iOS and Android apps have done to the portable gaming market: they’ve made otherwise fair quality titles like I Heart Geeks very hard to justify. Nothing about I <3 Geeks can justify its initial price. Not anymore.

[singlepic id=5600 w=320 h=240 float=right]And I want to be clear about the standard I’m using here. It’s not that merely making a game portable suffices to price it at 99 cents to $2.99. Plenty of portable games could justify a 20$, even 30$ price tag. It’s that I Heart Geeks happens to be exactly the sort of game you can find in quantity, and in quality, on the iOS and Android devices. Nothing about it makes special, rather than pragmatic, use of the DS hardware. It’s not a tremendously original game. It doesn’t have the levels of polish you can find with some other puzzle games, like Bejeweled or most of the Popcap lineup. It’s the sort of game – I’m even willing to call it an above average example – you can find commonly in the App store. That doesn’t make I Heart Geeks a bad game. But it absolutely makes it a sub-5$ one.

Which leads me to my final judgment on this game. It’s good, it’s solid, but the price can’t be ignored. If you want this kind of game and if you have access to an iPhone, iPad or Android device, hit their respective app stores – your money will be better spent. And if you wait long enough, with the way things are going, I Heart Geeks may end up in those same stores at a reduced price after a while.

Victor Grunn has been a gamer since the days of single-button joysticks and the Atari 800XL. When not lamenting the loss of the Ultima series or setting people on fire in Team Fortress 2, he's an aspiring indie game developer and freelance writer.
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