Threes! is many things. But mainly, it’s a cheery Rorschach test that will show you what sort of person you truly are.
Tetris or chess are the easy comparisons, but neither are specific enough to impart that in Threes!, you are your own undoing. What comes to mind more is an old Mitch Hedberg joke: “The depressing thing about tennis is that no matter how good I get, I’ll never be as good as a wall.”
“Depression” and mood disorders at large are perhaps the best window into understanding Threes!, but especially OCD. In Threes!, your only goal is to keep a 3×4 grid nice and tidy. The grid is filled with tiles bearing numerical values. Tiles can only “disappear” by merging with others, and that can only happen when they match: 3s with 3s, 6s with 6s, 12s with 12s, and so on to infinity or whatever multiple of three is closest to that concept. When a 3 and 3 go together, they become a 6. Basic arithmetic. Should be easy, right?
Wrong. The main hitch in this pursuit are those hateful 1s and 2s, which only go together to make, yes, threes.
And therein lies the madness. Those stupid fucking digits will be the death of you every single time.
How you survive and for how long is entirely up to you. However, we are so hard-wired to put pairs together as a species (socks, knives and forks, etc.) that that instinct becomes diametrically opposed to something else we all have less and less of thanks to devices like the iPhone: patience. Because every move you make ushers in a new tile, there is no such thing as an empty or non-crucial move. Do you put a 3 with a 3? A 6 with a 6? What do you do with that 192? That was a trophy of your past accomplishments and conquests as a number-moving warrior, but the only thing you have close to it is a 48 and now you only have four tiles left to play with and you’re obviously going to lose because these 1s and 2s on there are no where near one another and what are you going to do now? In Threes!, it’s funny how quickly and invisibly the feeling of being in control can slip into completely losing it.
All this anxiety and dread is offset by the upbeat music (which can best be described as something you’d hear in a French elevator to a Gap in the cosmos) and the tiles themselves, which are characters in their own rights. Literally. They have names and bios that “unlock” every time you’re able to finagle higher numbers together. Some of them love DJs, others are “too young to play sports.” But they all have fighting-game manual-worthy bios (remember how Dhalsim dislikes sweet foods?) and are all truly characters. For example, if you linger too long on making a move, one of them will inevitably spout off at you to get going a la Bubsy checking his watch or other old-school action/platformers where your character would grow weary of holding still too long.
They also acknowledge you and how you play. One of the best parts about Threes! is how ably it demonstrates how terrible you are at it: You can preview moves before you make them by slowly dragging your finger in any direction. If you’re stuck or can’t combine tiles in that direction, one of them, very sweetly, will say: “Nope!”
And that sweetness is some of what makes that inevitable defeat easier to accept in the end. Words like “addictive” are easy to lob around to describe a game, but they’re reductive. Threes! is proof. It’s a masterclass in not only demonstrating your own manicness and OCD, but then helping you slip into a Zen-like state of acceptance. These are the modes we all live our lives in, anyway: trying to control things and then realizing we truly can’t control anything.