Okay, so if you’ve been around the block a few times in the mobile or flash game scenes, you’ve almost certainly come across a time management game before. Going back as far as Activision’s Pressure Cooker, this puzzle sub-genre typically requires you to match pieces of things just right while under a time limit. It’s enjoyed a bit of a comeback in recent years thanks to games like Diner Dash (Free) and Cook, Serve, Delicious! ($4.99), and you can find dozens if not hundreds of games in the genre on the App Store, covering a wide variety of jobs or tasks. The difficult thing, then, for a new time management game is to differentiate itself from the enormous pack. Twisty Hollow ($2.99) opts for a more abstract view of the action, and from there it finds a few tricks to call its own.
Rather than restrict itself to a single theme like cooking, Twisty Hollow sets itself around a strange town and its even stranger mayor, a perpetually absent fellow whose random rules cause no end of trouble for the townsfolk. You have to play each stage, chasing him down through the town, the woods, a spooky graveyard, and a laboratory, eventually making your way to his home. Hey, I give the developers credit for trying something interesting with the story, at least. There are fifty stages in total, with new gimmicks and obstacles introduced fairly regularly throughout. Each stage takes one or two minutes to finish, so you’re looking at an hour or two if you sit down and play start to end. There’s a bit of replay value in there, as most of the stages theoretically allow for higher scores if you’re good enough, but without Game Center leaderboards, any competition with friends is going to have to be carried out the old-fashioned way.
Speaking of old-fashioned, who out there remembers code wheels? I know some of you do. Back in the day, there were a million and one ways developers and publishers tried to keep people from copying that floppy, and one of those silly methods involved including a special code wheel in the box. There were a number of variants, but it would usually show you some kind of picture that you had to make by turning different rings of the wheel, revealing the special word that you had to type in to play. That’s what Twisty Hollow reminds me of, though not in a bad way. You have a little wheel with three different rings, with one that contains various people, one that has tools in it, and the last with some type of ingredient or product. Arranging the rings such that certain pieces line up will give you different products, which can then be distributed to demanding customers. So if you line up butcher with knife and pig, you’ll get some delicious bacon to give to the sweaty guy making faces. Deliver his bacon, and he’ll leave some cash on the wheel that you can collect. It gets more complicated as you go on, so for example you might have already done fisherwoman with rod and worm to get a fish, but now you have to go chef with knife and fish to produce sushi.
The stage goals vary somewhat, especially early on, but eventually the game mostly settles into a timed challenge to serve as many customers as possible. Your pieces are limited by the number of spaces you have on the wheel, so it’s important to keep things moving and make sure you’re collecting your coins to free up spaces. You’ll also have to contend with certain obstacles or handicaps, such as having one of your rings moving on its own. Additionally, if you don’t serve the customers fast enough, they’ll start a fire on the way out, because holy cow, this is an awesome town. If that happens, you’ll have to put out the fire on that spot before a customer can sidle up there again. Naturally, you’ll be given a rank of up to three stars for each stage, generally based on how much money you earn. Occasionally, you’ll have something that resembles a boss stage, where the goal is to whack the enemy as often as you can. The core gameplay is about as basic as it comes for the genre, but the presentation and gradual ramp-up in challenge that comes from a steady flow of new tricks makes for a pretty fun take on things.
Twisty Hollow has a cute, cartoony graphical style, so you don’t have to worry about the kids seeing a pig get violently eviscerated like it’s God Of War or something. It’s reasonably stylish, with plenty of bright colors and charming characters, though it’s not terribly distinct. The music follows in the footsteps of the visuals, with bouncy, jazzy tunes that fit the game’s pace nicely. You get new background music with each of the four areas, lending a bit of variety that keeps any one tune from getting annoying through repetition. The game doesn’t support leaderboards, but it does have a list of fun achievements to shoot for in Game Center. There aren’t IAPs of any kind to be found in the game, so you get the whole thing with the initial purchase price.
If you dislike time management games, this one isn’t far enough from the tree to convince you, I’d imagine. If you’ve enjoyed the genre in the past, but found new entries were getting a little too familiar, you might want to give Twisty Hollow a look. It has plenty of interesting twists on the concept without abandoning the basic hooks of the genre that admittedly work quite well. The challenge ramps up pretty slowly in the beginning, but it soon picks up, hitting a pleasing slope of escalation that carries through to the end of the game. That end comes a little bit too soon and perhaps too easily, but it’s a good ride while it lasts. It’s also got a nice sense of humor about itself, which is something I always appreciate in games. You probably won’t want to set down roots in Twisty Hollow, but it’s a heck of a good place to visit for an afternoon.