Puzzle Scape (PSP) review
"Itís neat that you can move pieces around at will, but the fact that vertical movement isnít possible really stinks. Sometimes, youíll see a killer move but you canít execute it because thereís nothing available on your row. Other times, everything is moving quickly as the stage is about to wind down, and the only block you can use to finish your combination is on the opposite side of the screen."
Puzzle Scape sounds quite a bit like Lumines when you first hear the objective. Your goal is to line up four blocks in a square formation to make them disappear as additional debris slowly comes down from the top of the screen. There are some key differences, however, and those differences are what ultimately will determine how much you like the game and how long it holds your interest.
The first difference is that new blocks come all at once, in lines that stretch across the entire field. This means that you can play for awhile without fear of a new arrival, but it also means that a new row of blocks can be that much more devastating if your stack of rubble is nearing the fatal top of the screen. In later stages, things simply move so fast that if you find yourself right near the breaking point, you either need to be on the brink of pulling a massive combo, or you may as well just restart the stage.
The second difference Puzzle Scape has from something like Lumines is that you can move blocks even after theyíve fallen into place. In fact, you absolutely must do so if you want to survive. This difference is key because it almost completely changes the way the game is played.
A typical round begins with a few blocks lined up near the bottom of the screen. As you stare at the mesmerizing backgrounds and listen to the variety of songs available on the soundtrack--none as memorable as the stuff youíve heard in games like Tetris and Lumines, but none of them offensive--youíll look to the right side of the screen and see an objective you must complete. The way a stage works is that you will have somewhere around 10 to 12 objectives as a stage begins, and you have to complete all of them within the time limit in order to clear it. Then you get to start over for the next zone, which can be selected from a menu.
Blocks will start to fall, and itís up to you to arrange them so that they complete the listed objectives. To give an example, one objective might ask you to chain together 12 blocks of a certain color without clearing them. You can grab two square spaces at a time, hold them, and move them either to the left or right. So you might have rows at several tiers, and then drag a set of blocks along it to fill in gaps and pave the way to move an important chunk over to the place where it can do the most good.
Thatís where Puzzle Scape either gels for you or doesnít. Itís neat that you can move pieces around at will, but the fact that vertical movement isnít possible really stinks. Sometimes, youíll see a killer move but you canít execute it because thereís nothing available on your row. Other times, everything is moving quickly as the stage is about to wind down, and the only block you can use to finish your combination is on the opposite side of the screen. Moving your cursor all the way from one side of the screen to grab just one useful block, then dragging said block all the way back to where you just were is time-consuming and not particularly enjoyable.
Another issue is that sometimes youíll try to grab a block and start sliding across the screen, only to find it hung up as a combo overhead triggers some flashing and prevents you from proceeding. Then you have to pick it up again and resume your dull trip across the screen. Again, that simply isnít fun.
Sometimes, it even ends your game prematurely. While youíre worrying about manipulating blocks, things could very well be piling up overhead. Youíll hear a sound that lets you know that the end is near, but by then itís usually too late to do anything but shuffle pieces around and hope you get lucky. Fun? Not quite.
There are some other gameplay features, of course. For example, you are timed and will be given various different medals according to how you perform. If you get gold medals, you can win extra stuff. For example, thereís a ĎPaintí upgrade that you can use to paint blocks a different color, once youíve filled up your meter. Even if you donít do that well, though, youíll be able to unlock one of forty skins when you finish a given level the first time. Then you can re-attempt the stage to improve your time and perhaps snag a better medal.
The problem, of course, is that not everyone will care to do so. Puzzle Scape isnít a bad game, but it also isnít as accessible as peers like Tetris or Lumines. For the most part, it feels like a budget release that was made by people who couldnít quite afford to design a finished product. If youíre a puzzle addict, youíll likely enjoy yourself for a time and then move on to something else that feels more polished. Casual puzzle fans or those who donít buy any game unless theyíre certain itís a blockbuster or a hidden gem would do better to skip it altogether.
Staff review by Jason Venter (June 26, 2007)
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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