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Polarium (DS) artwork

Polarium (DS) review


"You’re in the middle of a long string that will clear all visible blocks at once. As you whip your stylus over the top row to put the final touches on your combo, suddenly you find that the on-screen detonator has not followed. Why? Because in a second, blocks will fill that space you passed through. You already knew that. It’s the reason you were in such a hurry."



Good puzzle games are simple. You pick them up, you play them and you understand how they work within minutes. Polarium, a new puzzle title for the DS, follows this basic progression. However, one extremely irritating snag prevents it from being the true classic you might wish for.

Basically, Polarium just asks you to trace tiles. To picture the game, imagine twenty-five blocks of equal size, piled in five stacks of five across the center of the bottom screen on your DS. The first of these stacks is black, while the following four are all white. What do you do in such a case? You sweep your stylus swiftly over that first stack. A golden trail forms in your wake, and when you’ve covered all of the tiles, you click the end point (I call it the detonator, just for simplicity’s sake). Instantly, the tiles flip so that they’re suddenly white. Now that each visible tile is white, they all vanish in a flash of light.

That’s what Polarium is all about. Of course, complications arise. You won’t always just brush your stylus in a straight line. More often, you’ll have to snake through a tricky pattern to set things right. Always, the goal is to set it up so that all of your visible tiles within a given row are either white or black.

Both of the game’s two main modes rely on this concept. In ‘Challenge’ mode, you trace furiously to keep your stack low as more blocks rain from above in mass quantities. There’s no time to think. Instead, you’ll need lightning-fast reflexes as you trace patterns one after another, never pausing. You also need a keen eye. One pattern might have you aiming to eliminate all of the white squares, while the next might more easily be completed if you get rid of everything black. The color you tackle is your choice. There’s only one rule: work quickly. For me, this exercise provides the most enjoyment. It also happens to be where that snag I mentioned shows its ugly face.

Imagine that you’re racing to trace a pattern as more blocks slide from the top screen into the touchable play area. You’re in the middle of a long string that will clear all visible blocks at once. As you whip your stylus over the top row to put the final touches on your combo, suddenly you find that the on-screen detonator has not followed. Why? Because in a second, blocks will fill that space you passed through. You already knew that. It’s the reason you were in such a hurry. But even though no obstacle is there yet, you suddenly find your progress at a dead halt. You don’t get a massive boost to your score and now your game is in jeopardy because you have to act quickly in order to recover.

This is a flaw, pure and simple. The developers should have allowed you to finish such last-minute combos so that you could play in a natural sense. Now, you’re constantly forced to ask yourself: “Do I have enough time to sneak through, or will the game just decide to hang me up and screw my chances at victory?” It’s not a fun position at all, and it should have been easy for the developer to avoid.

Fortunately, this irritation doesn’t pop up in the ‘Puzzle’ mode, as you have all the time in the world to make your move. Falling blocks are nowhere in sight. Instead, you’re asked to clear the whole screen using only one detonation.

At this point, the game throws tricky patterns your way. As an example, you might see a spidery design. To win, you’ll have to carefully wind your way throughout the pattern, switching around tiles both black and white so that when you finally click and set the play into motion, the screen is wiped clear. If you’re sick of running into the ‘Challenge’ mode’s uncooperative detonator, these quick little challenges provide a welcome alternative. There are one hundred of them in all, and you’ll probably find yourself scratching your head after solving the first five or six. They only get more difficult from there.

Despite the two modes, though, Polarium can get old rather quickly. Perhaps it’s the simple play, or maybe it’s just the frustration that comes out of struggling against the detonator. Maybe it’s even the irritating music, which sounds like elevator music stuck on ‘repeat’ mode. Regardless, this is a game best played in small spurts or when you’re linked with a friend so that you can verbally antagonize each other. Borrow it from a buddy and see if you like it. There’s a good chance that you will.

Rating: 7/10

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Staff review by Jason Venter (July 21, 2005)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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