Polarium (DS) review
"Youíre 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. Itís 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 youíve covered all of the tiles, you click the end point (I call it the detonator, just for simplicityís sake). Instantly, the tiles flip so that theyíre suddenly white. Now that each visible tile is white, they all vanish in a flash of light.
Thatís what Polarium is all about. Of course, complications arise. You wonít always just brush your stylus in a straight line. More often, youíll 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 gameís two main modes rely on this concept. In ĎChallengeí mode, you trace furiously to keep your stack low as more blocks rain from above in mass quantities. Thereís no time to think. Instead, youíll 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. Thereís 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 youíre racing to trace a pattern as more blocks slide from the top screen into the touchable play area. Youíre 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. Itís 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 donít 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, youíre constantly forced to ask yourself: ďDo I have enough time to sneak through, or will the game just decide to hang me up and screw my chances at victory?Ē Itís not a fun position at all, and it should have been easy for the developer to avoid.
Fortunately, this irritation doesnít pop up in the ĎPuzzleí mode, as you have all the time in the world to make your move. Falling blocks are nowhere in sight. Instead, youíre 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, youíll 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 youíre sick of running into the ĎChallengeí modeís uncooperative detonator, these quick little challenges provide a welcome alternative. There are one hundred of them in all, and youíll 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 itís the simple play, or maybe itís just the frustration that comes out of struggling against the detonator. Maybe itís even the irritating music, which sounds like elevator music stuck on Ďrepeatí mode. Regardless, this is a game best played in small spurts or when youíre linked with a friend so that you can verbally antagonize each other. Borrow it from a buddy and see if you like it. Thereís a good chance that you will.
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 21, 2005)
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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