App Review: Jenga

Build (v.): to form by ordering and uniting materials by gradual means into a composite whole. This is the definition supplied by Merriam-Webster’s dictionary. Every language has their own word for build: opbygge in Danish, bouwen in Dutch, in Tagalog it’s pronounced magtoya, constuire is used in France, membira in Malay, stavat’ in Slovak, and in Swahili it’s pronounced jenga. In the game Jenga, $0.99†, you do just that, you build a tower by removing blocks on the tower and moving them up to the top. Based off the original Jenga game, by Leslie Scott and distributed by Parker Brothers, the iPhone version has you removing blocks on your own or with a friend. Many developers have tried to make board games for the iOS platform, EA being the most notable. Like EA, many have been successful in doing this. Does Jenga have the great gameplay, graphics, audio, replay value, and value for the money to make it successful? Will it be able to fill in for, even replace, the original Jenga game? Or, will it fall to the mercy of the physical tower that we all know and love?

Gameplay and Controls

Natural Motion has been known for creating games with great gameplay and controls. Games like Backbreaker have become must-have games for the iOS platform because of their quality, addictive gameplay, and controls.

In Jenga, players remove blocks from a tower and move them to the top. They move 3 blocks to create layers, and after 3 blocks create a layer, they can then start on the next layer. Traditionally, players would take turns removing blocks and moving them to the top, whoever’s actions caused the tower to collapse would be declared the loser. However, in the iPhone version, there is support for single player game. In traditional rules, you’d lose every time playing on your own. Since no one wants this, single player has some twists and turns that make Jenga even more challenging than ever.

The iPhone version of Jenga has 3 modes of play, 2 single player modes and 1 multiplayer mode:

Classic Play:

In this single-player mode, you remove blocks and place them on the top traditionally following all the rules. The object, however, is to get as many layers possible. The game ends when your tower collapses. This is the easier of the single player modes.

Arcade Play:

This single player mode is timed and comes with plenty of twists and turns. This mode is great for a quick play, or exciting, fast-paced gameplay. Players get 2 minutes to move blocks from the top, creating layers. You get points for moving individual blocks, creating layers, combos, and bonuses. Unlike classic mode, speed is important as you get more points for combos. You build your combo by removing blocks quickly. Also unlike classic mode, the blocks are multicolored. When you create a layer of blocks of the same color, you get a bonus of points as well.

To add to the excitement, players can use power-ups called boost to help you out. These are gained by spending boost points you get by posting your scores to Facebook, reviewing the app in the App Store, or by getting local high scores. However, you cannot purchase boost points as in-app purchases. This may be a downer for most people, but it evens out the playing field as you have to work to get high scores. It won’t just be the rich people on top. Boosts are consumables, so you must purchase them time and time again. You have four possible boosts you can use:

  • Wild Card: 1 block that can be used as any color.
  • Extra Time: 1 block that if removed and placed on a new layer will increase your time limit by 30 seconds.
  • Combo Bonus: this increases your bonus for a combo by 2.
  • Rewind: if the tower collapses, you get another try at it by rewinding to the previous move.

This mode ends when you run out of time or the tower collapses.

The four boosts you can use in Arcade Mode

Pass ‘n’ Play:

This is the traditional Jenga game. There is support for up to 4 players. You take your turn and pass it down to the next player. Don’t knock down the tower or you lose.

The three modes of gameplay in Jenga

The game is missing a tradition mode where you play against the computer. Although the classic and arcade are fun, this would make it a little more fun and traditional.

The controls in the game are simple. You select a block by tapping it. While it is selected, you can tap the block to nudge it a little, or touch and drag the block to pull it out. If you swipe around at any point, it will rotate you around the tower. Pinching actions can zoom in and out of the tower as well. If you don’t like swiping to look around the tower, you can turn on gyro-mode where you use the gyroscope to navigate around the tower. However, the major downfall is that you can’t use the gyroscope to remove the block like the demo of a similar game that was shown in the Apple Keynote. The controls in this game are great and work well. This is normal for Natural Motion as they are known for their simplistic controls that make sense.

The controls are shown to you before you play

Except for the missing traditional play against artificial intelligence (AI or computer) and the unfinished gyroscope controls, the gameplay and controls are sound. This is something that I’d expect from Natural Motion though, as all of their games seem to have very little problems in this area.

Gameplay and Controls: ★★★★

Presentation and Graphics

When you start the app up, you are prompted with a menu. The menu items pop into place. These items are the 3 modes of play that were shown earlier. The menus in this game are not complex at all. They are actually clean and simple. Most game menus are clean, but more complex. The simplicity of the organization of the menus makes navigation snappy and lightning fast.

If Natural Motion isn’t well known for their gameplay, they are known for their superb graphics that are just eye-popping. If you look at Backbreaker 2, you’ll see what I mean. The graphics are just amazing. This game is no different.

As with most board games, not only does the board have to be detailed and clear, but so does the background. In Jenga, not only are the blocks detailed down to the woodgrain, but so are the surroundings. The background is detailed deeply and it is just eye-pleasing. The picture is perfect to the touch in Jenga.

The graphics in Jenga are detailed down to the woodgrain

Natural Motion has always kept up with top-notch graphics. They have always gone above and beyond with them. Jenga is just another example of this. The great menus and eye-pleasing, detailed graphics earn this game a perfect 5 in this category.

The backgrounds in Jenga are pleasing to the eye

Presentation and Graphics: ★★★★★


Abundant. That is the one word that describes the sound effects in this game. There are sound effects for everything in this game. You can hear as the blocks slide past one another. The sounds of blocks dropping can also be heard. There are also sounds for selecting blocks so you know something was selected. However, there are sound effects that you don’t want to hear, for example the sound of the tower crumbling. Not only are the sounds abundant, they are accurate as they sound like they should and aren’t over exaggerated.

Besides sound effects, the game also has background music (BGM). Better phrased, it has a background song. The song is calm and smooth. This makes sense for the type of game you are playing. This song, however, can get really annoying and irritating, old if I may say so, after a while. I highly recommend you play your own music before starting the game to build to your own music.

The audio in this game is splendid. It complements the gameplay well. It is abundant and accurate, but the BGM song can get annoying after a while.

Audio: ★★★★½

Replay Value

Natural Motion really didn’t add that much replay value into this game. There are a total of 21 achievements to get. However, I can care less about these. Besides achievements there is a local multiplayer mode, but that’s about it. They could add online multiplayer where you can play Jenga against others around the world. That is something that the physical version of the game can’t do. Natural Motion needs to add more to this game. It isn’t that addicting, but does grow on you. However, I’d rather pull out a physical Jenga set and play with that as it is much more fun.

There are 21 total achievements for Jenga

Replay Value: ★★★½

Value For Money

At 99 cents†, this is the cheapest Jenga set you’ll ever see. However, this virtual set will never replace a physical game. Natural Motion made a high-quality game with amazing graphics. The replay value in the game isn’t sufficient enough though. Jenga is just a game that you have to play with the physical blocks in order to get the full experience from it. The game is worth the price for a portable version, but no replacement for the physical version of the game.

Value For Money: ★★★★

Final Thoughts

Jenga for the iPhone is a quality, well-built game. The attention to detail and physics are just great. The control scheme is natural from the touch to the swipe. Although the game is lacking in replay value, it is still great. The iPhone version of the game is no reason to toss your Jenga set out the window as it just doesn’t give the unique gameplay the original physical game does. For a virtual version, you can’t pass it up.

Final Scores:

  • Gameplay and Controls: ★★★★
  • Presentation and Graphics: ★★★★★
  • Audio: ★★★★½
  • Replay Value: ★★★½
  • Value for your Money: ★★★★

Overall Score:

† All prices are in US currency unless stated otherwise.
This review was written by the Review Team. Overall scores are rounded to the nearest half or full star.
All applications and accessories were purchased at their respective prices unless stated otherwise.

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