Kirby's Avalanche (SNES) review
"Among puzzle games, there is a king, Tetris. But there are others that vie for that position. One is fairly popular in Japan, and also popular among those weird elite hardcore gamers that you occasionally find. It is said to be more challenging than the king, more cerebral, and deeper. Its name is Puyo Puyo, but has gone by many incarnations. Sega called it Dr Robotnikís Mean Bean Machine. And on the SNES, it too took the form of a popular franchise. It became Kirbyís Avalanche. "
Among puzzle games, there is a king, Tetris. But there are others that vie for that position. One is fairly popular in Japan, and also popular among those weird elite hardcore gamers that you occasionally find. It is said to be more challenging than the king, more cerebral, and deeper. Its name is Puyo Puyo, but has gone by many incarnations. Sega called it Dr Robotnikís Mean Bean Machine. And on the SNES, it too took the form of a popular franchise. It became Kirbyís Avalanche.
Avalanche can best be described as making a game centering around one of the arguably lesser aspects of the Tetris clones - junk. As you know, getting a combo in two player games like, say, Dr Mario, sends junk pieces to your opponentís screen, hopefully destroying his chances of winning. Here, itís taken to extreme. Two blocks fall, each one of five colors, and you must get four (or more) of them of the same color to connect. The four blocks can come together in any shape - all that matters is that they are touching each other. And then, of course, they disappear. There is no overhang (blocks will disconnect from each other if one is hanging over an edge), so there are no holes like Tetris. Thatís the simple part. However, when you get combos, you send over neutral blocks to your opponent (you must always play against someone, even if it is the computer). You get rid of these only by continuing to connect your colored blocks together. Any neutral block that is touching the pieces that disappear will disappear as well. For instance, if you have three red blocks in a row with two neutral ones on top, and you get a fourth red piece in there, those two neutral blocks will also disappear. The junk you send over (and the junk that gets sent to you) multiplies exponentially with respect to the combo. A combo of two may send over a few blocks, but string four combos together and a few rows will be sent over. And those can be deadly.
Integrating this concept with Kirby wasnít too hard. Naturally, you play the game as Kirby, who organizes a Dreamland-wide competition in Avalanche. And he intends to win it all. Our good friend faces off against your favorite enemies, culminating in, quite naturally, King Dedede. Not much of a story, is it? Despite Kirbyís presence as being there to gain a few extra sales, I still canít complain. You wouldn't believe the pathetically cute "insults" thrown around in this game ("I feel like some apple pie!"), quite funny in their own right. The graphics look good enough for a puzzle game, and all of the characters look and animate like they should. The music is bright and happy and catchy of course, and is exactly what you would expect from a Kirby game. Unfortunately, the bizarre popping sound that occurs when blocks disappear can get annoying, but I still wouldnít recommend muting the game. After all, they are useful for knowing what to expect from your opponent.
As I said earlier, many people consider Avalanche and its like to be among the best puzzle games out there. I for one donít see it that way. There may not be anything technically wrong with it, but I feel the design itself is flawed. Iíve never particularly liked most games that focus to much on one particular element; they usually feel like gimmicks. That is the case here, as the combo system is simply emphasized too much. Rather than playing well for a steady period of time to win, the game moves along as a draw until one player gets a massive combo, throwing hordes of junk on the opponent. For all extensive purposes, that is the only way to win. Speed doesnít matter, strategy doesnít matter, nothing matters but the combos. Even a novice player will be able to clean up small amounts of junk and keep his columns low, but 4 or 5 rows of junk will destroy pretty much anyone. Moreover, because anyone with lots of junk is forced to focus on cleaning up rather than setting up his own combos, once you start to lose you will probably keep on losing. Itís not like Tetris, where it is possible to get out of a rut while your opponent gets into one. Seems like a pretty stupid way to run a game.
And the strategy involved in setting up these combos wears a bit thin as well. Setting up a two set combo is obviously easy, three is fairly simple as well, and even four or more can be created with relative ease after a few hours of practice. This would all be true if you didnít have an opponent to worry about. Why? Because a few well placed pieces of junk can completely screw up everything that you are doing. So now you have to worry about whether you should unleash your combo now or try to build it up some more. Thatís not an element of strategy; itís dumb luck if a small piece of your opponentís junk lands in the wrong place or your opponent gets the piece heís been waiting for before you get yours. So basically, what youíre stuck with is a game that forces you to look for combos, a concept I donít particularly enjoy, and then makes you worry about small mishaps ruining you, further ruining the game.
Can you see why I didnít particularly enjoy this game? It is too close-minded, taking one small concept of the puzzle genre and turning that into the total focus. In doing so, it cuts off everyone except those who enjoy and are quite adept at making combos. Unlike the great puzzle games like Tetris Attack, this one does not support a wide range of players. Either youíre a novice or an expert- no in between. With only one way to play, you donít always feel like you have a chance at winning. You have to rely on luck and your opponents lack of skill in order to win, not your own speed and skill. I canít in good faith give this game too low of a score, as some people might enjoy the concept of this game. After all, itís not like the game is too slow, is buggy, feels rushed, has horrendous AI, or anything like that. Itís a good conversion of the game. Itís just the game itself is not my cup of tea. And it may not be yours, so be sure to take all of its praise with a grain of salt.
Community review by mariner (July 24, 2005)
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