Knotmania ($2.99) is the kind of game that’s best enjoyed by people who get satisfaction from untangling complicated wire tangles. I don’t know how headphone cords get so magically knotted up with no difficulty like that, but at least in Knotmania, you’re dealing with living worm-like creatures that tangle themselves up of their own volition. Your goal: untangle those suckers. Frankly, it’s the only hypothesis I’ve seen that makes sense. Wires are alive, and Knotmania is training for the great wire war that lies ahead of us.
And yeah, completing a level in Knotmania feels amazing in the same way getting a complicated knot untangled feels amazing. You don’t know how they got all bunched up like that, but you analyzed the situation, made crucial pulls, kept the suckers from tying each other back up, and boom. It’s a unique kind of satisfaction because there’s such a clear real-world analogue. Plus, you’re not just fighting a static challenge, you’re defeating the challenge posed by artificial creatures with their own behaviors.
The levels have very fast timers to play through them. They can feel too fast, and it can be frustrating, but I think this a good thing, in reality. You’re forced to formulate a plan, you can’t just dawdle around and let worms do their thing. Definitive action must be taken. It teaches you to be good, because even early on you have to work against quick time limits. It means you can’t just sit back and be inefficient. You will be glad in later levels, where worms will get tangled up in ways that are rage-inducing. You think you’ve untied those suckers, but they keep coming up with new ways to get tangled.
Controls-wise, you can manipulate the worms from any point on their bodies or their heads by tapping on them, with multitouch available to manipulate multiple parts of the worm at once, or multiple worms. You can hold a worm in one place while pulling the rest of its body out of a knot. It generally works well no matter what, but the game works a lot better on iPad than on iPhone, mostly because having more room means it is easier to do multitouch moves. It’s possible on a large phone, but sometimes the key is to get one worm to stay in place while you’re messing with another worm. An 8, 10, or maybe 13 inch canvas is easier than an iPhone-sized one. There is painless iCloud support so you don’t have to choose which device to play on.
Thematically, the game gives into its weird and whimsical side. There are tangled-up worms, you kind of have to give in to the icky factor of it. The game is colorful in ways that aren’t always coordinated, but still look good for what the game is trying to do. The fonts and their bouncy text convey the game’s theme quite well, as does the music. The interface icons can be a bit difficult to decipher, but they’re a minor issue. At least the game lets you quickly go to the next level, and retries automatically, being a seamless experience.
Knotmania winds up being a bit of a sloppy game by design, because the worms are living creatures and kind of do their own things. But you can predict and learn how they will typically operate and prepare from there. Sometimes, what seems like the snakes being untangled might still count as tangled if the clock is running out, and I’ve beaten some levels when I thought I wasn’t quite there. I guess “untangle these worms" is a bit of an imperfect goal, so it makes sense that the criteria for untangling would be imperfect itself.
The only core problem with Knotmania is that it kind of tends to be a bit repetitive over time. Like, untangling masses of snakes can only really be done in so many ways, and the game limiting itself to a single screen winds up meaning that you kind of wind up with only a certain number of scenarios that seem technically possible. Like, I’d love to try and untangle a hundred worms at once, just to say that I did, but I could see where it’d be difficult in the constraints of the game.
Knotmania regardless is a fun idea that manifests itself into a solid, well-made game. It’s certainly a unique experience to behold, and can be quite satisfying when you tackle a tricky level. It’s a messy game by design, but still well worth playing.