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Lot Lot (NES) artwork

Lot Lot (NES) review

"If this sounds a bit more like a drawn-out chore than an actual puzzle, it is. You’re merely switching contents around and waiting for membranes to give way as you keep one square completely cleared to avoid losing. Keep swinging contents further from the bottom left toward the top right, or toward gaps that lead to scoring channels and rid the problem with immediacy. Worse, this is all done at an agonizingly slow pace. Like most any puzzle game, lather-rinse-repeat applies."

Great puzzle games are renowned for balancing skill and luck, rhythm and timing. They require strategy. They’re typically fast-paced, frenetic affairs. They often challenge their entranced players to make smart, quick-thinking decisions on the fly.

They captivate. They engage. They evolve.

For a puzzle game, Lot Lot does not do a lot of the above.

Picture a structured 4x4 grid of sixteen chambers. Above rests a mass of colored balls in a pit spanning its width. Beneath the 4x4 grid are five gutters for the balls to eventually fall into; the left of the grid is aligned with a gutter marked “out” while the next four gutters are allotted point totals: 0, 10, 30 and 50 respectively. The fifty-point gutter rests askew, not aligned with the chambers, catching balls that escape along the grid’s right exits.

The player manipulates two cursors, an orange arrow that responds in real-time to inputs and a green one that mimics its movements with a four second lag. By pressing the ‘A” Button, the contents of the chamber that the orange cursor hovers over is switched with the chamber where the trailing green cursor lies. So if I wanted to switch two chambers, I would move the orange cursor over the source, then over the destination, and wait for the green cursor to reach the source before pressing ‘A’, successfully switching the two.

If four seconds seems like a long wait (and it is), know that the cursors move at a grueling pace; it will take almost the entirety of that four seconds to move from the top left to the bottom right. Movement is painstakingly slow, but the timing appropriate.

The walls of the structured grid soon begin giving way, seemingly randomly to the new player. Barriers along the top will flash and within the same second become porous, allowing a slew of balls from the pit up top to come rushing in before sealing up (how long it stays open will vary). Right side barriers will give way, allowing you to switch the balls in the top chambers with right-side chambers, where the contents will flood into the fifty-point gully. As this goes on, inner walls will become temporarily permeable, flowing the balls to the other escape gullies as you attempt to redirect them to the maximum.

Levels end in one of two ways. Success comes via achieving a designated high score given at the beginning of the stage; shortly after, the game will progress you to the next quota. Failure occurs when the bottom, leftmost chamber of the grid houses balls long enough for a crab to crawl from the “out” gutter and grab them. Your primary objective should be not only scoring but keeping this area clear; when filled it needs resolution immediately (within six to seven seconds, and remember it takes a minimum of four to move anything, even if your cursor is already in position).

If this sounds a bit more like a drawn-out chore than an actual puzzle, it is. You’re merely switching contents around and waiting for membranes to give way as you keep one square completely cleared to avoid losing. Keep swinging contents further from the bottom left toward the top right, or toward gaps that lead to scoring channels and rid the problem with immediacy. Worse, this is all done at an agonizingly slow pace. Like most any puzzle game, lather-rinse-repeat applies.

Because barriers flash and give way within the same second, there’s no obvious way to be one-step ahead, making the whole delayed cursor aspect a debacle. When first tackling a level you can’t be prognostic; you have to maintain the same strategy as always and stay alert to suddenly developing trouble.

You can be a step ahead with practice, however; the levees don’t give way randomly.

Here is the beginning sequence of events from the first stage: the top row’s rightmost barrier will disappear, followed by each of the three rows under it, allowing you to score in the fifty-point gutter from any of four spots. Next, balls will start to come down from the pit. On the top row, the first chamber fills three consecutive times (if you don’t empty it, it can only fill once though). Now the top row’s right barrier closes, while the others remain open. The fourth chamber’s top correspondingly opens to drop in balls, followed by chambers: 2, 1 and 3, 2, 4, 3, 4, 4, 2, and finally 1 and 2 at the same time. Then this chain reaction occurs: the whole left-side of levees gives way in series, leaving a set of balls precariously in the bottom leftmost chamber as the crab begins to crawl out.

This will happen, without fail. The only puzzle is deciphering the sequence of events and honing an algorithm that will lead to its solution. No chance is actually involved, no skill or quick thinking necessary. It’s merely trial and error and memorization.

So really then, just what is the point of all this.

In round three, when the top rightmost chamber’s levees gave way to produce a steady stream of balls flowing from the pit into the fifty-point gutter, I felt lucky. As slow as the game was, it felt like there was an element of randomness, like there was a reason to keep coming back for more and working so diligently at a rather mundane task. It served as affirmation that good things would happen. Upon further investigation, it was nothing more than a contrived series of events. This dull, monotonous, memorization-based puzzler will deliver the same dreary uninspired game each and every time. It’s a memory game where the matches never switch.

But if you like that a lot, you might like Lot Lot.

drella's avatar
Staff review by Jackie Curtis (December 23, 2008)

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Felix_Arabia posted December 23, 2008:

Awesome, I didn't think anyone would write about Lot Lot. Thanks for doing this, it sounds like a rather boring puzzler the way you describe it. I read elsewhere that it was pretty good, especially for being such an old NES title. Sorry it didn't turn out that way for you, Drella!
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overdrive posted December 23, 2008:

And this is where Overdrive says, "HOLY SHIT!!!!! It really is thisclose to Christmas!!!! I better get to moving if I'm going to have anything up for this!!!!! Gotta go!!!!!"*

* probably without all the exclaimation marks, as I'm really not that flabbergasted about how it's really that close to Christmas.

Oh, this was a good review to read. You did a good job of capturing just how mundane this puzzle title is. I'm reading and thinking...."Man, this doesn't sound like a fun one to play." which means your review served its purpose.

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