The best puzzle games are elegant, simple, and challenging all at once. Tetris, Drop7, Bejeweled, Peggle, and Picross all share this quality, testing your ability and working your brain no matter whether you’re a total newbie or a seasoned expert.
Abstract Connect Four lookalike 7×7 does an admirable job emulating these classics in an innovative and visually-polished package, but it falls at the last hurdle. It hooks you instantly and holds your interest, yet never quite captures the magic you expect it to.
7×7 is a variant of the four-in-a-row puzzle format. You make horizontal, vertical, or diagonal rows of the same color by dragging the square pieces around a 7×7 grid. Pieces may only be dragged into empty squares, while a piece cannot be moved to a place that is impeded by other blocks.
The grid fills up quickly, barricading some pieces into tiny areas.
Once a move is made, the three-to-six pieces in the Up Next queue randomly pop up in empty spaces — unless you complete a row with that move, in which case you earn some breathing room.
It’s intuitive and straightforward, thanks to visual feedback. Whenever you select a piece, it glows, and any inaccessible empty squares are crossed out. As you drag the piece around the board, a path gets sketched out behind it, so that you can easily see where it came from and how it reaches its destination.
Sometimes there’ll be a clear path; other times it’ll be quite a scenic route.
There’s also a high-contrast mode for colorblind players, which you can turn on via the Theme option under the More menu.
This is doubly helpful in learning 7×7’s strategies. It soon becomes clear that certain approaches yield more success and fewer headaches as the board fills up. You want to keep clear channels from one side to the other, and to aim for longer rows and successive row completions. Otherwise you end up shooting yourself in the foot, unable to drag blocks where you need them to be.
Pieces disappear when they form a completed row, and you get bonus points if you can manage a chain of these — a purple row immediately followed by a yellow row and then a red row, for instance. These bonuses increase exponentially as your combo grows, so you can score huge points with a bit of patient strategizing.
Know When To Hold ‘Em
7×7 makes you gamble on the Up Next queue working in your favor. You can see what blocks will pop onto the board after you next non-row-completing move, but you can’t see where they’ll appear. There’s no consistent method to the madness; you never know when a wayward piece will ruin your best-laid plans.
This keeps 7×7 feeling fresh, but the unpredictability gets demoralizing. The Up Next queue grows as you progress — after a certain number of lines, it balloons out to four, then five, and finally six blocks. Every move at these higher levels is fraught with immeasurable risk. A seemingly “safe” setup goes awry as the new pieces form a barricade between a blue block and a nearby row of three.
Luck sometimes bails you out, but it only goes so far.
You feel so helpless as the board spins wildly beyond your control. The saving grace stands just beyond your means to achieve, even with the limited number of special Undo or Move Anywhere moves. Your only hope is that the appearing pieces coalesce into a valid row or two, staving off the madness for a brief respite.
Maybe if you played smart early on, earning extra Move Anywheres by making double rows — like a diagonal and horizontal that are completed by the same piece — you’ll last a bit longer. But the Up Next queue relentlessly piles on the pressure. You will lose, and you’ll try again. And eventually you’ll quit out of frustration, because control is ripped away too soon.
The gamble doesn’t pay off. It never will. You might think you got lucky, but you always overreach. An innocent, sensible move early on turns out to be a mistake — not through poor strategy, but because chance vowed it so.
Slick and Elegant
7×7 wows with a slick design and elegant concept, and it drags you into a vortex of all-consuming pattern-forming, but the game stumbles when it compromises your sense of agency, breaking the unspoken agreement that you hold your fate in your own hands.
It’s fun, it’s gorgeous, and it’s easy to pick up and play. Yet 7×7 sells its depth of strategy for an inconsistent, aggressive Up Next queue. It could have been so much more than it is, but even with its failings 7×7’s simple, polished, elegant four-in-a-row puzzling stand it apart from the pack.