Droplitz (Xbox 360) review
"Even on the introductory levels, water drains too quickly from too many locations. It's easy to build up a solid chain of beautiful paths, only to watch it disappear in a flash as you're left scrambling to construct new paths while a steady stream of liquid trickles down through what formerly was a beautiful labyrinth but now is a complete mess. The obvious solution is to chain together new paths more quickly than they can disappear (an effort that has the added benefit of boosting your all-important score while also buying you precious seconds with which to plot your next move), but there's seldom sufficient time."
I don't know about you, but when I decide to play a puzzle game, I'm generally in the mood to relax. Maybe I've had a hard day at work or perhaps I just have a few minutes to kill while I contemplate weighty matters such as Megan Fox in a tight t-shirt or the latest Brangelina rumors. I don't generally have the time or the patience for a demanding campaign. If I did, I would go slaughter virtual demons or something instead. That makes me fairly normal and it also explains why there are so many puzzle games available these days that don't get truly difficult except right at the end with a handful of optional challenges that almost no one ever even cares about.
Droplitz, the first Xbox Live Arcade title from niche publisher Atlus, bucks that trend. When I play the game, I can't help but picture a board room full of guys in tuxedos. There's a cart in the corner with donuts resting on it--maple bars, mostly, since maple bars rock--but the treats lie untouched because someone is talking. He's saying that the company needs to produce a game simple enough to avoid chasing off the casual gamers for whom it is largely being developed.
"Screw that!" says one of the guys, younger than the others. He's wearing tattered clothes and a 'Hi, my name is JOE' name tag. "I say we cater to the hardcore minority instead. Let's make it make them cry!"
Somehow, against what I can only imagine were tremendous odds, Joe got his way.
Droplitz is difficult, just the way some sick people like things. There are a few simpler levels where you don't have to think particularly hard or quickly, but they are the short-lived exception. Once those diversions are conquered, you're left with the majority of the game and charred ashes where once there was optimism and perhaps a lovely mental image of Megan Fox washing your car.
The game's premise is clean and simple. Forget about the fateful board room for a moment and instead picture your television screen. On it, a panel is filled with bubbles from top to bottom. These depict different forks in a constantly evolving set of paths, such as a 'T' or an 'X' or even a dead end. Each bubble can be highlighted and then rotated left or right in one of four total positions. Along the top of the panel are a number of valves that produce droplets of water. These liquid bits flow down along the paths until they either reach a cap or one of the valves at the bottom of the area--very good outcomes--or a break in the path (bad, bad, bad!). A meter just to the left indicates how much water you can lose before failing spectacularly. Your supply increases slightly whenever you map out an unbroken path that leads from the valves at the top to those on the bottom, plus you can really keep things going by using the resulting delay to chain together more routes.
So that's the general concept, but how does it go? Thanks to our fictional friend Joe and his hardcore difficulty settings, things aren't always as enjoyable as the rules could have allowed.
The main issue is that the timer is too harsh. Even on the introductory levels, water drains too quickly from too many locations. It's easy to build up a solid chain of beautiful paths, only to watch it disappear in a flash as you're left scrambling to construct new paths while a steady stream of liquid trickles down through what formerly was a beautiful labyrinth but now is a complete mess. The obvious solution is to chain together new paths more quickly than they can disappear (an effort that has the added benefit of boosting your all-important score while also buying you precious seconds with which to plot your next move), but there's seldom sufficient time. Droplitz is anything but relaxing and is likely to prove too demanding for all but the most practiced of puzzle game veterans. If things are going right it's because you are rotating pieces and zipping all over the panel like a man possessed. Let your attention wander for even a second and you could be toast.
Droplitz can be so absorbing at times that the developers even felt the need to remind you to blink. That sort of pointer sounds like a load of rubbish to pretty much any gamer who has seen enough glossy magazine ads for games that failed to deliver the promised intensity. Here, though, it's not just hype. There were a few times while playing where I suddenly realized that my eyes were tearing up because I hadn't recently blinked. In a sense, the game is so demanding that it made me cry. Call me a wuss if you must.
Of course, you'd sort of be right. I played Droplitz for most of 10 hours. That's a lot of time to spend with the game. You'd think that by now I would have mastered every stage. You'd be wrong, though, like the time you maybe thought that I had stopped making Megan Fox references in this review and then I snuck in another one just now. One of the reasons for my failure is the manner in which things are doled out to players. You start with only one mode available. Within that mode you'll find one out of nine challenges available on a 3x3 field. Clearing one with a sufficiently high score lets you tackle one or two adjacent ones. Get a high enough score there and you'll unlock a new mode with the same setup and slightly different rules (such as an "endurance" mode that makes everything faster and gives you no break at all, or a "power up" mode where you can make regular use of items that freeze time or remove unwanted bubbles to make way for new ones).
Unlockable themes and modes sound neat at first, but they don't really switch things up as much as some might like. Whether you're a master of unlocking or not, there are essentially three real reasons to keep playing Droplitz: 1) you want to snag the achievements; 2) you want to climb to the top of the online leaderboards; 3) you don't want a game about bubbles and water drops to be the one that strips you of your "badass gamer" label. Alone, any one of those points should keep you busy for a few hours. Combined, they could keep you engaged for longer still. Once you've unlocked everything, though, you're pretty much done; there's no local or online versus mode, just the endless pursuit of that slightly higher score and any prestige that comes along with it.
If that's the sort of hardcore puzzle game experience that you're looking for, Droplitz could be your game. As I said at the start of this review, I play puzzle games more to wind down or to fill smaller chunks of time. If you're like me, the game is probably best avoided despite its quality concept and reasonable price tag. There was a lot of potential here but Joe and his insistence on difficulty wound up ruining it for us slackers. I'd give the fabricated fellow a virtual beatdown in retaliation but I'm too lazy. Instead, I think I'll just eat his donuts.
Staff review by Jason Venter (July 09, 2009)
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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