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Pipe Dream (NES) artwork

Pipe Dream (NES) review

"I'm usually not a big fan of puzzlers, but Pipe Dream nevertheless enthralled me thanks to its simple designs and a totally intuitive game play. As you may have guessed, this game revolves around pipes, your main objective being to build consistent pipelines to allow a white sticky liquid to flow through it. The core principles are really that simple, but of course, the game itself is challenging and very tough (near the end) while never losing its charm. "

I'm usually not a big fan of puzzlers, but Pipe Dream nevertheless enthralled me thanks to its simple designs and a totally intuitive game play. As you may have guessed, this game revolves around pipes, your main objective being to build consistent pipelines to allow a white sticky liquid to flow through it. The core principles are really that simple, but of course, the game itself is challenging and very tough (near the end) while never losing its charm.

The levels present themselves as grids consisting of smaller squares onto which you then place the pipe parts. These pieces exist in seven forms, with each connecting the pipes in different ways. If you played Tetris (and let us face it, everybody has), it should be quite easy to guess how these pieces look like as most bear a strange resemblance to the parts found in the Russian masterpiece. You have the plain horizontal and vertical parts, and others that allow the pipes to connect in logical ways (top to left, bottom to right, etc…). The last piece is the cross one, which enables the flooze to pass twice at the same location with the proper setup. This double-edged pipe also has a more preponderant place in the game, as it enables you to rack up bonus points more easily and cover the entire grid.

The way the pipes are themselves built should be obvious since it's really a matter of real life events. The pipeline must not contain any blocked paths such that the liquid will be able to flow without encountering any obstacle. Now, it should be noted that the fact that the pathway is suddenly blocked does not automatically warrant the loss of a life (represented in the form of wrenches in the game). Instead, you need to perform in such a way that you break a certain point limit. Once this objective has finally been reached, you can do any of the following two actions: either keep laying pipes until you find yourself at a loss to move on, or press the Select button to have the current stage end quickly.

In the first case, you of course have the opportunity to rack up more points since you should be able to build a longer pipeline. However, this is not necessarily true. In a Tetris-like manner, a few of the ensuing pieces are shown in a small menu so you know what to expect next, and can thus build in consequence. If you find yourself with a part you don't need, you obviously have to get rid of it either by laying it on a remote square, or placing it on another unused pipe (one through which the liquid hasn't flown yet). Here's the catch though: each unused part on the grid will cause your score to decrease, and placing a part on top of another will reduce both the time left and the score. Of course, you may think that randomly placing the piece somewhere is the better option, but this is not always true.

Should you press Select during play, the liquid then flows much more quickly through the pipes, as you lose the ability to place more pipes. However, you'll earn double points for everything that occurs (including bonuses) as the liquid whizzes across your work. Whenever you see you cannot do anything to prolong your lay-out, this is obviously the most sensible thing to do. However, this feature uses its utility in the later stages. At that point, it's wiser to just keep on building unless you are definitely blocked since the point requirement is logically much higher.

Pipe Dream, while not primarily a game focusing on high scores, nevertheless has a multitude of bonuses. As mentioned earlier, the cross piece is the most important out of the lot in this aspect. By allowing the flooze to flow through the same grid twice, you'll gain more points. Of course, in order to do so, you must know how to build in such a way that this indeed occurs, but the principle behind this feat becomes easy and instinctive after some time. To keep up the challenge though, the pieces you'll need to accomplish this rarely come up during the last stages such that you are doomed to relying on simple lay-outs.

The regular scoring scheme is simple. Points are awarded for each square the liquid successfully flows through, in addition to the mega bonuses loops attract. After the first few stages, 'items' also come into play. Pumps will cause the liquid to flow faster while reservoirs, on the other hand, will slow it down and give you time to plan more carefully. There are also neat tricks involving these that are exciting to try, but these pertain strictly to points. They are nevertheless very stylish, and the reward of finally being able to use these so efficiently is more than enough. It's not really necessary to rely on all the tricks in the game, but the sense of satisfaction while playing Pipe Dreams is extraordinary. Very few games achieve this, and I guess that's what makes this unknown title so charming.

You will also need to trudge through bonus stages after every four grids (which make a complete stage). Unfortunately, these bonus stages, which are blatantly here to help you attain a better high-score, suffer from a lack of coherence and an irritating learning curve. Again, the allusion to Tetris springs to mind, specially in this case where the pieces move at the top of the screen (in the form of green bricks) until you cause them to drop down with a tap on the directional pad. Now, they cannot be rotated, but you do have the option to quickly change an undesirable piece by tapping on the A button as soon as it appears. While you now have to create the pipeline with bricks, the principle remains the same; let the liquid flow through. These bonus games do earn major points even if you barely manage to build a three-part pipe, but I have yet to verify whether it is actually possible to complete these mini-tortures.

Pipe Dream is the perfect game for those who are keen to test their devising capabilities. Although the first levels are ludicrously easy, the difficulty curve is very noticeable as you progress. The liquid itself shatters all the concepts of viscosity and starts to flow more rapidly. The pipe pieces themselves fail to show up when you desperately need specific ones, forcing you to pile pieces upon pieces while frenetically wondering when the required one will at last show up. It will no longer be about merely surveying the entire grid and planning in advance; you will be asked to be able to adapt to close situations and to have a scalable and flexible strategy. And while it may seem impossible to successfully cover the entire grid with the pipes, you will eventually be able to perform this feat with time and dedication. Or with sheer luck.

Given the nature of the game and its release date, Pipe Dream is sober in presentation, yet pleasant. The tiles change in color after every four stages while retaining good palettes. They manage to emphasize the thick white of the liquid itself such that you will have no problem analyzing and evaluating its path. The pipes themselves are nicely drawn, but again don't expect artsy designs here. On the other hand, the bricks used during the bonus stages are horribly colored. The dark green color used makes for a weary presentation, and the dark background makes things even more irritating. But yes, if score is the last of your concern, it is indeed possible to end these sub-games as soon as they start.

On the other hand, I was pleasantly surprised with Pipe Dream's sparse music. There are only three tracks in the whole game, and the first one, which is also the music you'll hear the most, is truly memorable. Its way of quickly rising in tone to fall back again devilishly suits the nature of the game, and manages to sweep away the remaining tunes, which are nevertheless of decent quality.

Pipe Dream manages to present the gamer many alternatives on how to play it. You can go for high-scores, you can try to get over with it quickly, or you can strive to build overly-complex lines. In the last case, credit must go to the developer for being able to make so much out of so little. It's quite amazing how such genuine fun can be derived from such a simple engine. The excitement of watching the liquid effortlessly flow through a maze of pipes, something which you just built, conveys Pipe Dream a unique appeal. In addition, it is a very beginner-friendly title thanks to its learning curve, which allows anybody to get used to the title and to develop the skills necessary to beat it.

It is not often that I endorse a puzzle game. Yet, Pipe Dream managed to make me put aside my aversion to the genre and spend countless hours trying to devise the perfect lay-out. And truthfully, even now, I'm still trying. Herein lies its value; herein lies an overrated title any NES owner should check out.

siegfried's avatar
Community review by siegfried (January 22, 2004)

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