Friday, February 5, 2010

XBL Indie Games Review -- Kaotik Puzzle

Mash-ups can either be the coolest thing in the world or will cause you to lose faith in humanity. Example of the former being the Super Smash Bros. games and Capcom's Versus series, while an example of the latter would look something like this. Somewhere inbetween is probably where this gem goes. This week's review is of a mash-up that I'm surprised hasn't been done more: competitive puzzle games.

Silvermax Studio's Kaotik Puzzle is essentially a competitive collection of four of the most recognized rising block puzzle games (Bejeweled, Bejeweled Twist, Puzzle League, and half of Yoshi's Cookie) along with one original. Right there is enough to perk the ears up of nearly any puzzle fan. However, the unique part of the game is the ability to pit these different modes against each other. Think your Bejeweled Twist skills are better than your friend's Puzzle League abilities? Well, here's your chance. Sure, it's not as epic as, say, a fictional showdown between Mighty Mouse and Superman, but it's definitely something new and interesting as far as mash-ups are concerned.

The presentation, unlike the game itself, is about as far from interesting as you can get. This isn't really as much of a discredit toward the game as it is toward the genre itself. There really are only so many ways you can display blocks, and though this game does so very professionally there isn't really anything else to it. The characters you pick look like disembodied LEGO heads from pirate, ninja, and colonial playsets. And there's only one song during play which might prompt you to throw your iPod (or, in my nerdy case, Zune) on the 360 for your own tunes. I recommend some Iron Maiden or Coheed, because the battles seem to go on for a lot longer than I remember in other puzzle games and, for such epic battles, you need epic music. It might sound like I'm bashing the presentation but, in all honesty, it's very polished and up to par with most any XBLA puzzle game out there. It's just not what you're here for and not what they concentrated on, it feels.

No, what you're here for is the gameplay and that is where the game shines. Single player modes are always against the computer with one of five difficulties ranging from Very Easy (this is essentially solitare) to Extreme (this is essentially suicide while someone rams a wooden dowel up your bum). Normal felt like the way to go for a good challenge and I assume that those adept with their respective puzzle styles might opt for Hard. You may choose to have everyone use the same mode for each stage, you use a different mode for each stage (whatever the computer is using), or you use one particular style and the computer uses whatever they wish. Each mode has, in addition to its own movement and requirement for clearing blocks, a certain attack that it sends over whenever you clear more blocks than needed or clear them in a chain reaction. This is a pretty standard thing for puzzle games but, when you're sending specific attacks over and they're sending a different one, the game feels like it has a personality to it, like with a fighting game or an arcade-y kart racer.

Multiplayer is almost exactly the same as single player in its setup. Either you each use the same mode or each use their own. There is, however, a "Custom" mode where you can pick the attacks and requirements for whatever movement you choose. Sure, this means you can pick the requirement to be 2 blocks and the attack to be your favorite (or just the best) one, but I'd like to think that Silvermax put this mode in for the purpose of balance. If you and your friends think a certain mode shouldn't have the attack it has based on it being too strong or too weak, give it a different one. Or make the requirement more strict. You could also use it to handicap the resident puzzle nerd so they actually have to try against you. Or make the game easier for your little brother when he plays against you. Or maybe you just thought Puzzle League would've been cooler with Puzzle Fighter's timer block attacks. You can do all that with this one mode, adding a replay value to the game that feels almost like theft when you realize the game is only three bucks. And, lastly, there's online play, though I imagine it'll be limited to people you know as I haven't had any luck trying to find a random opponent.

I've yet to find a game without flaws and, though this game is no exception, it has a few minor ones. One, the song. Not a bad tune but it's the only one. It would've been nice and added to the personality of each mode if they were all given their own unique soundtrack. It's a minor gripe but it's still there. Two, the lack of an "endless"-type mode in single player. Something that most, if not all, puzzle games have these days which makes this feel lacking in the single player department. It's also something that would've helped players get a good feel for each different movement. Three, the movement type where you have a horizontal bar. It feels horrible compared to the rest of the types and, though I know you can change the requirements and attacks in the Custom mode, it's just too difficult and awkward to be useful otherwise. (This is something that upsets me because it feels like half of Yoshi's Cookie and, dammit, I love me some Yoshi's Cookie.) And, four, an explanation of what the heck the diamonds do. I'm pretty sure I know now after a little while of play time (put four in a row/column, get rid of everything around them) but there's no mention of them in the tutorial.

All in all, some very minor quibbles aside, it's difficult to not recommend Kaotik Puzzle to anyone who likes the rising block style puzzle games, especially with a 240 MS Point price tag. I would, however, try the demo out first if you don't plan on playing multiplayer as it really feels like that's what the game was made for.

Kaotik Puzzle was made by Silvermax Studios and is available on the XBox 360 for 240 MS Points. The reviewer played single player on each difficulty for a little bit, got bored with the first two difficulties, felt comfortable on Normal, and walked funny after the others. He also played his best friend and she proceeded to beat the living crap out of him and mop the floor with him afterward, soaking his hair with his own tears and blood. None of this mattered though as he was too busy laughing at the announcer who sounds like Ned from South Park.

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