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Groovin' Blocks (Wii) artwork

Groovin' Blocks (Wii) review


"Multipliers aren't exactly a new concept, but getting them in Groovin' Blocks requires rhythm. As you move a piece left or right and rotate it so that the color configuration you have in mind can materialize, you have two options: you can either let the block drift downward at the speed the current stage dictates—for no multiplier whatsoever—or you can press the 'down' button to drop it. What's important is that when you press that button, you do so in time with the music's beat."



The question a gamer is asking himself whenever he approaches a new puzzle game is "What makes this one worth my time?" There's no shortage of solid titles within the genre, from Tetris to Lumines and beyond. We all have a limited amount of time on this planet, so the games we use to waste that time need to offer something that we can't find elsewhere. Otherwise, there's not really much point in playing them.

Groovin' Blocks meets that criteria, but it doesn't call attention to the fact. If you skip the instructions on how to play, you might not notice any worthwhile differences and could wind up dismissing the game as "one more Tetris clone." That would be understandable since your overall objective is so typical: move falling blocks so that they form vertical or horizontal rows of three or more pieces of the same color (or shape, if you prefer) and disappear. Clearing your space allows you to maneuver new pieces as the onslaught continues. When the song playing in the background reaches its conclusion, that's the end of the stage and you can select another one. Pretty simple, right?

What the above summary ignores, however, is the all-important multiplier system. Your goal in Groovin' Blocks isn't just to reach the end of a song, but to do so with the most points possible. Only then can you hope to snag tokens that grant access to more songs. If you play through a stage without boosting your score, you'll quite probably reach the end in decent shape but you'll never unlock the full soundtrack and you'll never understand what makes the game unique.

Multipliers aren't exactly a new concept, but getting them in Groovin' Blocks requires rhythm. As you move a piece left or right and rotate it so that the color configuration you have in mind can materialize, you have two options: you can either let the block drift downward at the speed the current stage dictates--for no multiplier whatsoever--or you can press the 'down' button to drop it. What's important is that when you press that button, you do so in time with the music's beat. This adds energy to your meter, which eventually allows you to double or even quadruple your score. Each drop is risky, though; if you mess up even once, your meter resets and you have to start fresh. Every second spent without a multiplier intact is time wasted, since you'll almost certainly fall short of the top rankings in the more advanced stages.

While it's possible to overlook the rhythm side of things, there are some other tweaks to the old puzzle formula that are obvious even if you choose to ignore score multipliers. The most transparent of these is an inability to actually rotate column-shaped pieces. Columns are comprised of three blocks, but you can't turn them on their side the way you might in Tetris. Instead, pressing the appropriate button cycles through the colors like heads switching positions on a totem pole. This vertical orientation can take awhile to adapt to, plus it's joined by larger pieces that follow standard rotation rules on the higher difficulty settings. It's worth spending time mastering all of that, but you'll never get anywhere important if you're not willing and able to get in the groove.

To that end, Groovin' Blocks is filled with a broad selection of electronica tracks. Many of them do tend to blur together if you're not familiar with the genre, but as you replay stages you'll find yourself growing to appreciate the intricacies present in the individual selections. After all, your score depends on such attention to detail. While nothing here really competes with the best the puzzle genre has to offer--a shame, given the way music is so seamlessly integrated into the experience--there's definitely some aural excellence. You'll probably find several songs that quickly will become your favorites.

While the soundtrack gets high marks, though, the visuals do not. Groovin' Blocks was originally developed as a download-only title for WiiWare and its roots definitely show. Menus are functional and easy to navigate, but that's all that can be said in their favor. They lack flair. Elsewhere, visual effects when you clear pieces are kept minimal at best, plus the field can sometimes be difficult to see if your performance in a given stage is poor. That's a design decision, not a technical one, but it can make for an ugly experience unless you're tackling some of the easier challenges. Even when things are at their best, there's not a lot to see. Distinct themes would have gone a long way. Even Lumines Plus for PlayStation 2 offered that.

At least there's a multi-player mode, though the amount of fun it provides will depend on your chosen opponent's skill. Constantly winning isn't much fun, but that's exactly what you'll do if you've taken the time to master the game's rhythm-based nuances and your rival has not. If two people go head-to-head without understanding some of the finer points, it can feel like luck has more to do with the eventual outcome than skill.

None of the technical shortcomings take anything from the fact that Groovin' Blocks has brought a fresh idea to the table and executed it with sufficient style to make it work. Stronger musical selections and more visual polish would have been nice even at the budget price point, but the strength of the concept is sufficient to make this one project that puzzle fans will want to give a shot. We all have a limited amount of time on this planet. Why not spend it finding our groove?

Rating: 7/10

honestgamer's avatar
Staff review by Jason Venter (September 05, 2009)

Jason Venter founded HonestGamers in 1998, and since then has written hundreds of reviews as the site's editor-in-chief. He also is a prolific freelancer with game reviews, articles and fiction available around the Internet.

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