Imagine a ruthlessly stripped-back SimCity played at relative speed, but with buildings ushered into being by way of a deck of cards.
Now imagine a game gleefully happy to smash your brains out with a planning regulations binder. That’s Concrete Jungle, which somehow still manages to be the best mobile puzzler in ages.
You start out as a city architect attempting to bring sanity to Caribou City, a land full of potential (and empty space) but lumbered with a thick-as-bricks mayor and a sinister burger chain hell-bent on unhindered expansion. Through solo and head-to-head challenges, you work your way through a campaign, learning the ropes, and figuring out how to build a city.
The mechanics are odd, unique and cleverly designed. You fill your city's grid with buildings, but at any given point, your options are limited to the cards you hold - and each one might affect surrounding tiles.
For example, a green card will increase the points value of an adjacent house, whereas a nearby chemical plant will have very much the opposite effect.
Points are important. To access more empty space for buildings, you must fill an entire row and earn enough points. Only then will it vanish; mess up and you’ll have to sacrifice one of your three lives. Complicating matters further, the game lobs economic and expenditure factors into the mix, the latter of which increase how many points are needed to clear a row.
And then there’s the semi-random nature of the cards you get given.
If your brain is already making fizzing noises from reading this, it may hit meltdown during your first few games. There’s a lot to take in, and it’s heavy on the planning element.
You soon realise plonking down buildings willy nilly is the path to failure, with moves coming back to bite you as space becomes limited.
But as everything starts to click, Concrete Jungle settles in for the long haul. The game rewards investment, gradually revealing further depth by way of new characters, cards, skills and modes. And it properly makes you think.
In an era of relatively throwaway mobile puzzlers keen to hand-hold and always have you ‘win’, a much tougher prospect where you have to work for a victory is welcome – even if you’ll sometimes want to brick the thing up on suffering yet another defeat to the vicious computer AI in the head-to-head mode.