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Estiman (Switch) artwork

Estiman (Switch) review

"Estiman presents players with gaming's equivalent to a sheet of bubble wrap."

Not terribly long ago, I obtained a fancy noise machine for my bedroom. I can repeatedly press a button to cycle through various sounds that are supposed to help me sleep, including a gurgling brook with faint birdsong, a thunderstorm, waves crashing against the shore and so forth. One of the options I skip right over is "zen," which just sounds like an unpleasant ringing in my ears. I guess it's supposed to be soothing, but it pushes me toward a headache in a hurry. The reason I mention all of this is that Estiman, a somewhat recent Switch release from Kool2Play, features a looping soundtrack that reminds me a bit of that noise machine.

The aural similarity probably shouldn't come as a surprise, since Estiman is a puzzle game with the apparent goal of soothing and relaxing people. Apparently, someone out there likes taking hearing tests. I don't get the attraction, but okay. Thankfully, there's no real explanation needed to understand how the game functions. You start playing and are immediately told to identify the most common shape presented on the screen and eliminate it. You do this by selecting it with the analog stick and pressing the A button, or by tapping it on the screen with your finger if you are playing in handheld mode. The corresponding pieces disappear if you chose properly, and then you need to select the next most populous bunch and so on, until every last object has been tended to and you get to advance to the next stage. Thanks to a pleasant audio effect, it feels quite satisfying, like popping air pockets on a sheet of bubble wrap.

Estiman (Switch) image

With an analog stick, your task is quite manageable but a bit on the awkward side. The control method actually works better than I would have expected, since mostly you just need to keep pressing left to select different groupings until the one you want to remove is highlighted. In handheld mode, though, everything is much easier and you're able to make hasty choices that leave you with more time to count or guesstimate. Plus you can play in bed to wind down or whatever. Occasionally as I played, I would tap a shape and simply nudge it aside and then I would have to chase it down with a few more types, but such instances are uncommon and not really a big deal even when they occur.

The game's early stages are very easy, since you'll see groupings of 4, 3, 2 and 1 of whatever shape is on the menu. As your point multiplier reaches 10 or so, however, those groupings get a bit more haphazard and then you have to devote more time to your choices (but not too much, or your score drops... or worse). Things get more difficult because--for instance--the triangles might bump up against each other and make themselves harder to count, or a bunch of smaller ones could raise the count without being obvious about it. Hurry too much and you're bound to lose sooner rather than later.

Estiman (Switch) image

When you make a bad selection, assuming you got far enough into a run, you will have the chance to spend 5 cents in virtual currency to continue, though you can do so only once per play. You gain additional currency by eliminating shapes with funds attached, and the virtual loot becomes increasingly common the further into a run you progress. So there are old-fashioned incentives to keep playing and getting better, even while you strive to relax. There just aren't any leaderboards that would make it easy to brag to your friends about your competitive relaxing skills.

Besides allowing you to continue, the in-game currency can be applied toward new skins. You have the choice of numerous alternate backdrops that make it easier or sometimes more difficult to discern some shapes, or which just look cool or trippy. The shapes you have access to at first--which resemble the four face buttons on a PlayStation controller--can be swapped out for what resemble glass hearts, or glowing cells of light, or (if you're feeling especially masochistic) number outlines that really can mess with your head. When I first loaded the game, I was given the generous gift of 500 credits to get me started, which actually goes a long way toward the most expensive in-game purchase. It only took me perhaps a couple of hours of play to unlock every skin, and I appreciate that the developers weren't unnecessarily stingy with the rewards.

Estiman (Switch) image

Unfortunately, there's no option to invest in alternate background music, which is the one thing I would probably have liked most. Even Tetris on the Game Boy gave me the choice of three great tunes, and a lot of games such as Lumines and Tetris Effect add a lot of value by providing a more robust selection of compositions, so that feels like an oversight. But you can disable the ruckus if you like, or the sound effects, or both. I suppose that's better than nothing.

Not every game needs to offer players the chance to save the world, or to score the winning touchdown, or whatever else we tend to do in games. And not every game even needs to feel much like a traditional game, provided it capably serves some other purpose. Estiman actually does a very nice job of straddling that line, since it works best as an aid for relaxation but also challenges players who can't flip off the competitive switch in their heads. I only very rarely found myself getting frustrated, and mostly the experience was remarkably soothing. A $3.99 price tag at launch feels quite reasonable, as long as you're looking for an experience that helps you relax and unwind, rather than pumping up your adrenaline.


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Staff review by Jason Venter (May 21, 2019)

Jason Venter has been playing games for 30 years, since discovering the Apple IIe version of Mario Bros. in his elementary school days. Now he writes about them, here at HonestGamers and also at other sites that agree to pay him for his words.

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