Coined in 2000, the frankly horrible portmanteau “advergame” describes any videogame used to promote a brand. Yet the phenomenon predates the term: back in the early '90s, the likes of Mick and Mack: Global Gladiators and Cool Spot were convincing innocent kids to buy McDonalds and 7-Up, thus helping to kickstart the global obesity epidemic we’re always reading about. Ah, videogames.
Yet advergames are getting subtler these days. Following the success of chewing-gum-promoting space horror The Nightjar, Swarovski Refract is another free title with less ostentatious sales tactics, as an interactive musical plaything that happens to fit the brand rather well.
Refract is a kind of abstract music creation tool, where you create and manipulate crystal facets. Tapping the touchscreen creates a facet point, with the third connecting the three in a pulsing, chiming triangle. You can drag any of the corners to change the shape and sound it makes -- and the colour of the facet will change for more dramatic adjustments.
The facets respond to one another, pulsing more quickly or slowly depending on their position in relation to the rest. There are several pre-built compositions in the library to inspire you: one is shaped like a swan, while another resembles stained glass.
A trio of hastily-unlocked modifiers allow you to add an echo effect, a persistent high-pitched ‘background atmosphere’ sound that you’ll use once and never again, and -– best of all -– a choice of three different backbeats to make your work feel more like a song than a random collections of strange, crystalline sounds.
The Swarovski swan and logo might be ever-present in the top-left and bottom-right of the screen, but unlike plenty of freemium titles Refract doesn’t interrupt your idle tinkering with constant nudges to buy stuff. The three unlockables are all themed around items which can be purchased from the Swarovski homepage, but that’s as far as the hard sell goes.
Otherwise, it’s just an entertaining plaything that can help you create some beautiful abstract soundscapes. Add a thudding techno beat and you’ll be convinced that you’ve managed to compose an electronica masterpiece.
A further neat touch allows you to share your creations via email or Facebook, or you can enter them into a competition to win an iPad 2 and a Swarovski case to keep it in. The competition closes in three days mind, so you’ll have to hurry.
Swarovski Refract is free on the iTunes App Store and is available for iPhone and iPad. [iTunes]