Typically, matching games are based on memory. You flip over two cards at a time, gradually building a mental map of what lies where until you can match pony with pony or parakeet with parakeet. Rotal, a simple game for Android smartphones, takes the same basic setup–a grid of objects, each with one mate–and presents a different sort of cognitive challenge. Instead of keeping them hidden, all the objects are out in the open, but figuring out which is identical to which is complicated by one thing: You’re dealing with 3-D objects on a 2-D screen.
If that description is already making your brain a little bit sore, well, it’s supposed to. In fact, it’s likely that you’ve encountered a similar exercise at some point before. These types of mental rotation puzzles are commonly found on IQ tests, designed to gauge individuals’ spatial reasoning abilities. The main challenge for the game’s developers–a four-person, Budapest-based tech and design collective called Binaura–was trying to come up with a way to tip the scale from frustrating to fun.
The primary mechanic they added was a small bit of interactivity. Players can drag their fingers on their smartphone screens to get a slightly different view of the various 3-D objects–a tiny bit of perspectival latitude that goes a long way to helping sort out the pairs before the time is up (there’s a timer–of course there’s a timer).
Bence Samu and Agsonton Nagy, two members of Binura, said they knew straight away that they were hovering around that coveted intersection of totally maddening and totally addicting. “The prototype was made in less than a day,” they explained via email, and “it turned out immediately that the idea was interesting enough to continue working on it.”