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Every year, Christmas at the in-laws is a blast. There’s a ton of good Italian cooking (anyone know the tradition of the seven fishes?), children jacked up on sugary desserts and a mind-blowing display of wrapping-paper shrapnel hurled and splayed into the air. But as fun as this is, after a while, my over-stimulated senses need some relief.

I retreat into a darkened room, with iPhone at the ready, and bask in the glorious full-color illumination from my 3+ inches of screen. I swipe myself into another world, where people are avatars and timing is the only thing that matters.

I’m talking games, people.

My latest obsession is Trace. Don’t be fooled by the child-like graphics. The simple scratchpad sketches may have an almost Zen-like simplicity, but this game is plenty sophisticated, requiring nimble fingers and a basic grasp of physics. Too cool for words — so here are some pictures below.








Players, drawing their own courses on the touchscreen, navigate multi-colored obstacles to reach the goal (a cheery, bright yellow sunburst). There are 6 different worlds to navigate, with 20 levels each to complete.

I’m a Mario Brothers fan from way back (and now a Mario Galaxy nerd on the Wii), and this evokes a similar spirit of gameplay. Dare I say it? It might even be better. I love doodling my own path through thorns, comets, lava, and other obstacles, both static and kinetic. “Space” may be my favorite world: Each jump is magnified as though moving though the zero-gravity environs of outerspace.

The only downsides are that the controllers, which allow you to move forward and backward as well as jump, can get a little sticky during fast-paced actions, and a few of the levels seem to rely more on luck than skill. Drawing accurate lines can also be tough, especially for people who have wide fingerprints, and there are no options for downloading additional worlds or user-generated levels at this time. Still, even though the game has a limited number of challenges, at least I can revisit levels and try to beat my previous times.

For a free game that delivers hours of mind- and finger-bending amusement, it’s tough to beat. In fact, I would gladly pay for this, especially if the developers would create more worlds. (Hint!) But for now, I’m content with being a hero in the eyes of my 6-year-old niece Hazel, who loves the look of this game and thinks it’s awesome that I mastered it.

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