I never knew that sorting and counting change could be so engaging. That is, at least, before I tried ChangeReaction and got hooked on its unique twist on the match-three formula. It’s an audio game — a video game without graphics — designed with blind people in mind, although sighted folks can certainly enjoy themselves too.
Unlike a regular video game, where you act on both visual and auditory stimuli, ChangeReaction is entirely predicated on what you can hear. You piece together the scene and gauge your progress, and do pretty much everything, solely by listening to sound effects and voice samples and pressing keys on your keyboard.
There are three game modes on offer. The main mode, ChangeReaction Classic, involves nine stacks of coins. Your goal is to get rid of all the coins on the board, which requires that you make them explode. Seriously, that’s how it works. Put three coins of the same denomination together, either stacked one atop the other or all in a row, and they explode. Who knew money sorting could be so fraught with peril?
The challenge comes from the fact that you have to play by ear, tracking back and forth along the tops of the stacks in search of a coin that is the same as the one in your hand. A synthesized voice calls out the denomination atop each stack, with its pitch modulated according to the size of the stack (more coins means higher pitch). If your coin type is nowhere to be found, you can drop it down on whichever stack you choose. You can also throw away the coin in your hand, with its value deducted from your score, if things are taking too long.
Dwelling on where to place a coin is bad for an extra reason. Bombs appear randomly on the coin stacks. If you’re on top of a bomb when it explodes, you lose 10 seconds. On the flipside, if you manage to drop a coin on a bomb that is of the same denomination as the coin beneath said bomb, all coins of that value in the stack explode. This is ChangeReaction’s idea of a combo. The effect is that a thrilling game of cat and mouse gets piled on top of a quirky twist on match three.
ChangeReaction is hard. You’ll find yourself concentrating far more intently than you normally would when playing a game. Time is limited, ticking away in the background and daring you to play faster — to listen and comprehend beyond your normal rate, and to remember the layout of the board. That’s just on Easy difficulty of the Classic game mode.
If you’re really up for a mental workout, you can bump up the challenge to Hard or Insane — which reduce your time and pile on more bombs — or switch to one of the other game modes.
LooseChange changes the rules for how bombs behave. Bomb explosions stop being contained to a single stack, affecting only coins of a single denomination. Instead, they scatter the entirety of a stack across the board, continually reconfiguring the layout of coins.
PayDay turns Classic mode on its head, asking you to keep the board from being cleared as coins disappear beneath you. With just five stacks, one for each day of the work week, you’re constantly at the whim of stacks changing with people coming on and off the clock. It’s thoroughly confusing in practice, and in theory too — at least as it’s described in the Learn to Play section.
Fresh, But Underripe
ChangeReaction wins on its novelty value. For sighted people, it’s different because it has no graphics. For the blind and partially sighted, it’s notable because it’s an action-oriented puzzle game — something unusual as I understand the scene. In both cases, it’s competently executed, though hardly stunning, and lacking polish.
The rules are confusing — even after repeated listenings to the tutorial and a few dozen attempts at the game, I’m still not sure I understand everything. The sound design gets muddy at times, compromising your ability to localize audio in 3D space — especially if you leave the background music on. And player feedback seems inadequate — it’s hard to know how you’re going at any given moment.
But I had a great time playing Classic mode, and it’s hard not to recommend ChangeReaction purely on merit of its quirky audio-only twist on the likes of Bejeweled and Connect Four. This genre is ripe for the picking. Hopefully we’ll see more polished action-puzzle audio games soon.