Puchi Puchi Virus (DS) review
"Of course, let's also not forget the fact that swiping the stylus around the screen in a flurry of quick pokes is likely to lead to some moments where you can't see much because your hand or wrist is briefly in the way. You'd think the developers would account for the natural phenomenon of non-transparent limbs, but they didn't. Indeed, they did quite the opposite; not only do viruses soon congeal too quickly, but they also move."
NIS America has been known for a few years as an exemplary publisher of role-playing titles. Now the company has decided to expand on that success by branching out its publishing efforts to include casual games aimed at people who support fluffy fare like Bust-A-Move, Tetris and Bejeweled. The company's first such offering is Puchi Puchi Virus. As a puzzle fan myself, I wondered if the title offered anything new and if it was capable of addicting me like so many others of its kind. The answers, respectively, were 'yes' and 'no.'
The way things work in Puchi Puchi Virus is that the bottom screen becomes a grid where viruses pop into place like pimples on prom night. Once they've materialized, they can be poked with your stylus to cause them discomfort, but they'll only go away if you follow that up by quickly prodding two of their fellows (of the same color) to form a triangular area that then must be tapped one final time. If you take too long, single virus nodes or even entire triangles can congeal into a nearly untouchable substance you can only destroy with power-up pills or by trapping them within a larger field of your devising.
This intriguing mechanic of course offers the possibility of chains, a genre staple. If you create one glowing triangle with deft stylus taps, you can then connect two more outlying bits to link two glowing areas. Destroying one then takes the other along for the ride, netting you more points and reducing a meter along the left side of the screen that causes problems to arise more frequently if you let its rise continue unabated. You can chain together numerous triangles for really big points, which feels rewarding until the moment you are forced to do it to avoid the 'Game Over' screen.
Then it just stinks.
Puchi Puchi Virus falls apart both because it demands too much of the gamer and because it doesn't do enough interesting things with its promising premise. One stage might ask you to reach a score of 3500 points within a 3-minute time period. So you start tapping like crazy, chaining those cleansing triangles and really racking up a great score. With 30 seconds to spare, you finish. Then the next stage begins, where you start over at 0 points and now are asked to amass 3550 points within 3 minutes. This is apparently supposed to feel fresh, but it really doesn't.
The game developers, no doubt realizing this, did at least throw in mixed objectives (and even let you select the order in which you tackle them, up to a point). Other stages ask you to destroy a certain number of the virus nodes--300, for example--within the time limit. So yeah, you're basically still just tapping and chaining as fast as you can. Then there's another objective that seems to have been designed to test your patience. It's the reason I finally had to stop playing.
Consider file number 62 (out of 102 that you can replay whenever you like once they have initially been completed), which asks you to put together three 5-chain moves within the 3-minute time limit. That might not sound so bad, but it really is. At that stage in the game, your triangles don't remain active for long before they begin to congeal, so you have to move very quickly. The problem, of course, is that doing so is all but guaranteed to produce a mistake on your part. If you miss a node you tried to tap, you could very well be forced to start over on creating that triangle. Worse, you might have just botched your chance at a chain you spent several frantic seconds trying to create. This is worsened by the fact that sometimes it looks like you tapped a virus just fine but you actually didn't according to the game's hit detection system. Sometimes you also tapped out a quick string before even noticing that one of your pokes didn't take, and then you're well and truly out of luck as triangles either start congealing or you furiously remove them to prevent that occurrence... but also don't get credit for the chain that rightfully was yours.
Of course, let's also not forget the fact that swiping the stylus around the screen in a flurry of quick pokes is likely to lead to some moments where you can't see much because your hand or wrist is briefly in the way. You'd think the developers would account for the natural phenomenon of non-transparent limbs, but they didn't. Indeed, they did quite the opposite; not only do viruses soon congeal too quickly, but they also move. So if you're planning an attack and you start swiping out a triangle and your wrist gets in the way for even a split second, you might swing the stylus over to make the final move and find that your target has relocated. It usually only takes the briefest moment to find the new position, but by then the previous pieces of your precious triangle may have congealed.
When forming chains, you also have to remember where you started. As triangles begin to overlay one another, they all start flashing. From there they tend to blur together until figuring out which one will trigger a full chain reaction becomes guesswork. Of course, usually you have to move so quickly that you can't possibly make a note of which triangle you'll eventually need to disable; if you stop to think, you're going to run out of time. Once that situation has arisen a few times, all but the most creative of you will also find that you've exhausted a week's supply of swear words.
Puchi Puchi Virus does at least feature a multi-player mode for the possibility of some lasting value. It's available if you can find either a local DS owner or someone playing online. One opponent or the other is almost certainly going to be the better virus masher, though, and uneven matches just aren't amusing for either individual. It doesn't take too terribly long before practice stops making a person improve and just becomes annoying and repetitive, so that difference in skill levels will quite possibly remain for all eternity.
You likely agree that the best puzzle titles catch you up almost immediately in their charm, then continue to amuse you for days or even weeks with the same addictive play that captured you in those first five minutes. Puchi Puchi Virus gets the first part right but really drops the ball on the second. The only reason most people will keep playing is to unlock more levels and wacky character descriptions (love the puns!) or to achieve higher rankings on levels they've already cleared, but those pursuits can only carry a game like this so far. It was a nice try, but this is one puzzle title that didn't quite congeal.
Staff review by Jason Venter (March 20, 2008)
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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