Kwirk (Game Boy) review
"It's hard for puzzle games without much resolution to have the flair that helps make a game addictive, so the creators generally go in for a weird title. Kwirk tries for this, but it drops the Q, which is much weirder than stuffy old K. Oh yes, the game's a bit dull too, being a modification of the old box-push that you could have written in BASIC. It's only got thirty levels in main mode, but the later ones are extremely nasty. "
It's hard for puzzle games without much resolution to have the flair that helps make a game addictive, so the creators generally go in for a weird title. Kwirk tries for this, but it drops the Q, which is much weirder than stuffy old K. Oh yes, the game's a bit dull too, being a modification of the old box-push that you could have written in BASIC. It's only got thirty levels in main mode, but the later ones are extremely nasty.
And it's not just because you control a tomato. You have several obstacles that block his way to a ladder which leads to the next level. There are, first of all, blocks you can push by running into them. They are any size from 1x1 to 3x3. Blocks can be pushed into pits, which you can't step on, although blocks dissolve if each square is over a pit, leaving floor for you to walk on. You can often push a block that's partially on a pit if you don't wind up falling into one yourself. Then there are turnstiles. These can have four prongs, and if you push one, it rotates ninety degrees as long as nothing's in its way. Turnstiles are what make the game truly exasperating, as if you could just this once get behind one and flip it over, the level would be so much easier. Also, if a prong is behind you, one can catch you up as you spin, running you by that space you need to get to. Turnstiles often get wedged together to block your way for good, and other times they seem steadfast, but you may need to flip several in succession.
Flipping the wrong turnstile can kill level progress, but you can also run a needed block into the side wall, or you can flat out misjudge which blocks you need to fill in a pit that guards a stair. In many cases you'll need to bring one block from one side of the board to the other, passing others that you need to junk to the side. Fortunately while executing these big-picture moves, you can reverse any manual slips easily with a 'back' feature or just reset the board too. And if you get sick of one level in main mode, which is called 'Going Up,' then you can try any other. This completely destroys any story but allows people to glimpse the next puzzle that might frustrate them. And some of the later ones are rather clever. You often have to analyze which pits guards the exit, which blocks are best dropped in them, and how to bring the blocks over. Some puzzles can take at least five hundred moves. Others feature you with a presumably nutritious friend or even three. You must alternate friends, pushing blocks around and leaving people in crevasses to tap the final block from what seems to be a sideline, to bring everyone across safely. The difficulty increases exponentially, so the final group of ten puzzles can really be recommended only to puzzle game addicts. The puzzle rooms, confined to one screen, slowly get bigger until you reach the final level, with stairs hid by a pit covering half the screen. Along the way you watch 1x1 blocks turn into 1x4's that must be pushed back and forth, a 3x3 box you must continually wiggle around a 4x4 area, or you have a succession of six 1x1 pits to cover, where common sense seems to indicate only four can be filled. You feel as though you attack all the elements, so an abstract story seems to pop out of it all.
Sadly, though, puzzler addicts will notice that the game, despite being simple, isn't really succinct. For a moment, when you figure out a tougher level, the 'a-ha' that results only lasts fifteen seconds. Having to circle around and push the boxes, or go through turnstiles, requires such continuous looping that you aren't really grateful for the ability to undo a move if you mess up. And you probably will. For many puzzle games there's a delightful pedantry that serves as a denouement once you've completed a chore, but in Kwirk the busy work pops up consistently. Moving a box around requires considerable patience, and while solving a level takes under ten minutes when you know what to do, the swoops of brilliance to perform are less spontaneous than you'd hope.
A side mode, called 'Heading Out,' tries to condense these jumps of logic. If 'Going Up' didn't make you feel dumb, 'Heading Out' will. The levels here take place in a play field half the size of 'Going Up,' and the game sends a slew of random levels at you, up to 99 based on your selection. The object is just to get to the other side and through a tunnel, and you have a time-bonus that decreases rapidly. There's no undo feature; you have to reset the level. And the first time through you will be lucky to score any points on the hard level, which is rather mean of Kwirk. If you play a large number of levels, though, the game starts spitting mirror images out at you by number thirty. Then you get flat out repetitions. Despite some levels with individual tricks, you recognize the game only has so much to give, and it's curious why it gives you the option to repeat so many small scenes. The easy and medium levels are too breezy, and the hard level becomes doable.
Kwirk in general suffers from the nasty too hard/too easy dichotomy that kills puzzle games. Worse, once you figure out the too-hard stuff, it's too pedantic. Watching an idea unfold, or figuring out what you have to do, can make you feel brilliant. Then the controls slip up, and you need to backtrack. It all gets done, but the cleverness is lost.
And Kwirk isn't exactly aesthetic, either. You get the choice between a bird's-eye view, which is practical, or diagonal view, which just serves to distract from what needs to go where. Your pals, one of which is a pineapple, don't appear enough. The looping background music isn't much better, either; 'Heading Out' features a pseudo-military march which seemed to make me want to go to the bathroom and underscored that my bonus, the one I wanted to avoid getting shut out on and feeling stupid about, was ticking down even faster than I thought. 'Going Up' features elevator-music fare which, along with a high piercing E, reminds me of some truly dreadful saxophone buskers. Your tomato also constantly squelches around, which is disturbing, because most tomatos that go splat, or something like it, only do so once. Puzzle games are of course supposed to hurt your head a little, but not via their peripherals.
If you want a definite intellectual accomplishment without taking too much time, Kwirk may be a good game. Or if not solving a game doesn't bug you, get your feet wet with the first two levels and chuck the final bit. But as a complete game, Kwirk, despite forcing you to think, doesn't leave you enjoying the brain-mashing or offer cerebral rushes in clumps. And that's what puzzle games are for.
Community review by aschultz (April 26, 2004)
Andrew Schultz used to write a lot of reviews and game guides but made the transition to writing games a while back. He still comes back, wiser and more forgiving of design errors, to write about games he loved, or appreciates more, now.
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