Best iPhone games: ASYNC Corp.

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Best iPhone games: ASYNC Corp.

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Bad puzzle games feel like hard work, but ASYNC Corp. is a great puzzle game disguised as hard work. New York City studio Powerhead Games has wrapped up its clever colour-matching puzzler inside a narrative (of sorts) which casts you as the wage slave at the eponymous ASYNC Corp.

"Your job not only benefits ASYNC Corporation, it benefits you and the larger world beyond the confines of this terminal," explains the tutorial, not fully explaining why. Your 'job' is to create and send Packets by matching blocks of the same colour. Swapping blocks between the two grids on screen to make 2x2 Packets is a good start, but making larger ones is the real aim. Tapping Packets removes them from the grid and sends them off to their mysterious recipient, allowing room for more blocks to enter the field of play.

Your total score amounts to your 'career' at ASYNC. Unseen corporate overlords send little gameplay tips to your inbox, and promotions mean new and different colour schemes for ARCS, your work terminal. A message from human resources entitled 'Where do my packets go?' explains that you are "helping ASYNC Corporation meet its goals", and that ARCS is "changing the way we think about work, for all of us." Powerhead's cheeky swipe at that culture of vague, upbeat, touchy-feely corporate talk is pitched perfectly.

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Quota mode asks you to build and send Packets against the clock, rewarding larger ones with more breathing space. But even failure is met with encouragement - the Game Over screen reads: "You lose. Good job. Through your work, ASYNC Corp. is helping to make our world a better place."

ASYNC mode is slower, and requires far greater strategy. It dispenses with time limits and asks the player to build four Packets the size of an entire grid, one for each colour. Zoning mode is much more frantic - sending Packets pushes up a bar in the middle of the screen, which begins to erode if you slow down. Free Play is exactly that. Like putting in overtime.

The visual design is a thing of beauty, right down to the game's cute, minimal App Store icon. Powerhead Games' clean, functional look might have ended up a little drab and corporate were it not for its bright colour schemes and the winking, smiling faces on each and every Packet. Special praise must go to the soundtrack, too - an '80s teen movie end credits sequence played on fuzzy retro keyboards. The insistent beats inject the kind of urgency your bosses would approve of.

The iPhone is home to thousands of good puzzle games, but this is one of a handful of great puzzle games. A cheerily subversive, fantastically enjoyable second career at ASYNC Corp. is an opportunity not to be missed.

ASYNC Corp is £0.69p on the App Store. Download it here.