Concrete Jungle Review
A challenging puzzle game about city planning
Concrete Jungle is a unique take on the puzzle gaming genre. You are tasked with building a city throughout various stages which you achieve by collecting points in rows on the game map. Your building tools come in the form of cards that you select prior to each stage and can add on to during the game. There is even a talent type system that offers you special cards or bonus effects. Despite its unique mechanics though, Concrete Jungle could have used a little more planning itself.
The gameplay is fairly straightforward and engaging. From your deck, you place buildings like schools, chemical plants, and houses in your city. The puzzle is figuring out the placement of those buildings to achieve a certain number of points in each row of the map. Points are like housing value. For example, a house next to a school is a desirable place to live, so that gets you a point, whereas a house facing a giant, nude statue of the town mayor (yes, that building actually exists in the game) is not a desirable place to live, so that costs you points. If you can’t earn enough points in a row to advance, you can clear the row at the cost of a life. If you run out of lives, you fail the stage and have to try again.
The campaign mode starts off with some easy tutorial stages and introduces you to a colorful cast of characters including your mentor Laney, the aforementioned mayor, and several aspiring city planners. Each character has voice overs for their lines which gives them personality and brings them to life. The witty banter between characters makes it feel like you could be working in an office with these people. After being victorious in a city planning duel against them, you unlock them as playable characters. These duels are where some players will run into problems though.
The early stages of the game are simple enough that you can solve them without knowing any of the deeper strategies besides build houses on positive numbers and avoid the negative numbers. Once you are introduced to the versus mode and go against computer controlled opponents, the difficulty ramps up quickly. A little too quickly.
In versus mode, your main goal is still to capture points from your rows, but it is also possible for your opponent to steal those points from you. The player with the most points in a row, past the row’s minimum requirement, gets all the points. So if you control 3 points in a row, but your opponent uses a buff card and controls 4 points in that row, when the row clears, they get all 7 points. If you control the most points, you capture them all, but the strategy and other mechanics are not very intuitive. After spending 15 minutes ahead in a duel, then losing that duel in the last 10 turns because the computer used mechanics you don’t understand, many players will probably throw their hands up in disgust and simply walk away.
The game’s graphics could have been utilized to help players understand game mechanics as well, but weren’t. Each building you place looks wonderful, with nice art and even little cars driving around making the game board feel like a thriving city. While the graphics look great, it’s also very easy to lose track of things once the game board becomes crowded. Keeping track of buildings is important because of a vital mechanic (which is only glossed over in the tutorial), the “city block.”
Four buildings of the same type, designated by the background color of their card, can form a block. The game highlights city blocks when you have a building that can be added, but after that, you have to remember where they are. This is made more difficult because after a row has reached its point goal, it disappears from the map. Keeping all potential city blocks highlighted would greatly improve visibility and give players a better idea of how to use them.
Beyond the campaign, there are several custom modes. You can play a solo match, either with cards you pick or a random set, similar to the solo campaign stages. You can also play the versus mode, but this is where the game truly misses its potential. As it currently exists, you can play versus mode against a computer controlled opponent, or you can play against a “local player.” Local player must mean someone else in the room with you or LAN play as there is no online matchmaking.
If there is one thing that this game truly shines in, it’s depth. If you can fight your way past the frustrating losses and vaguely explained game mechanics, you will be rewarded with a game that makes you think three moves ahead and rewards skillful plays. If online matchmaking was available, it’s easy to imagine a competitive scene rising up around this game. Unfortunately, that’s not the case right now.
CONCRETE JUNGLE VERDICT
If you are a hardcore puzzle gamer looking for a new challenge, this game is for you. With all the various building cards and strategy that goes into winning a stage, each victory will feel satisfying no matter how many defeats it took to get. For the average gamer, superior computer opponents and mechanics that are important but poorly explained will have you looking for less frustrating ways to spend your time. Online matchmaking to pit human players of equal skill against each other would give more people a reason to pick up this game.
TOP GAME MOMENT
Stealing a huge amount of points from your computer opponent in versus mode after having lost points several times to them. Justice is served.
Good vs Bad
- Great voice acting and funny banter between characters in campaign mode.
- Depth of strategies and cards makes winning rewarding.
- No online multiplayer.
- Losing to computer controlled opponents because you don't know the mechanics is frustrating.