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If you still haven’t played the mobile game Duet, you should. It’s a rare gem – simultaneously easy to learn and infuriatingly difficult to complete.
Sometimes a game’s core concept is so simple, yet so engaging, it feels like it always existed. Tetris is a good example of this, as is Minecraft. I’d put Duet in that same category. The core idea: you’re steering two circles, attached to a ring, through obstacles.
If one of the circles hits an obstacle, splat: you immediately restart the level. And you’re going to restart. A lot. Duet features levels named after various stages of grief, and it doesn’t take long to figure out why: this game is brutal (but never feels unfair).
A Great Concept Executed Well
Duet is unique. I could compare it to endless runner games, but only in the sense that you’re constantly moving and trying to avoid obstacles.
The controls couldn’t be simpler, meaning common frustrations aren’t an issue. Touch one side of the screen to turn one way, another side of the screen to turn the other – that’s it. Spin the ring to guide your circles through obstacles.
It sounds simple, it looks simple, and then you try it. It seems impossible at first, but the level restarts so quickly that you try again. For most levels, you’ll need try a few times. You might yell. But you’ll learn a little bit every attempt, until you finish a level and then immediately start the next.
The monochrome levels become more colourful as you fail – every splat leaves a record on the otherwise white obstacles, showing you all the places you’ve failed so far.
The soundtrack, by Gotye collaborator Tim Shiel, sets the mood and provides a useful rhythm to play by. We’ve eveb featured the music in a free soundtracks edition of Sound Sunday, if you want to check it out.
Every chapter in the game begins with a piece of narration – sometimes dismissive, sometimes downright discouraging:
It’s usually pretty funny, and the voice actor makes it even better. Little touches like this go a long way.
So Much Content
There are a lot of levels to play through here. The main “story” spans 49 levels and an “epilogue” provides 48 more. There’s also a “Challenge” screen with an “Endless” mode you can try, along with a “Daily Challenge” that presents three new stages every day.
That’s a lot to do, so if you like this game it’s going to take a long time until you “finish”.
I’m far from the first person to notice this game. Joshua Rothman, writing for The New Yorker, called it one of the best iOS games of 2013.
I’ve been more frustrated by Duet than by any other game this year; on the flip side, few other games are as fun when you succeed. Its unique circular controls require a complete shift in thinking. That’s what’s so rewarding: watching your malleable little brain slowly comprehend what’s going on.
Get Duet Now
Ready to play? You can download Duet for iPhone and iPad for $3. The Android version is free, but comes with 8 chapters. You’ll need to make an in-app purchase to play the rest, and to access the Survival and Daily Challenge modes
If you’re hungry for more well-crafted yet challenging games, I suggest you check out Joel’s list of crazy difficult games on Steam. You won’t be disappointed (you’ll be infuriated). Or, you could check out the comments below. I’m sure your fellow readers will highlight all sorts of difficult yet rewarding games to try out.
Is Duet the hardest mobile game you’ve ever played? Tell us all about it below…