Friday, February 12, 2010
XBLA Review -- Chime
A little over three years ago I bought Lumines Plus for the PS2 and probably put more hours into that game than nearly any other single player game I've purchased. Yes, the game had multiplayer, but it didn't hold a candle to the zone-out-for-an-hour gameplay of the single player mode. The depth of the seemingly simple game paired with the way your play affected the soundtrack provided the most entertaining and rewarding puzzle game I've ever played. So when Zoe Mode's Chime was being compared to Lumines I couldn't resist.
As with most puzzle games, the idea behind Chime is pretty simple. Place five-block pieces on the field and try to make rectangles within a limited amount of time. For a small amount of time you can add onto the rectangles to make them larger and, by doing so, earn more points and field coverage. Every 10% of the field that you cover earns you more time, and getting 50% of the field covered unlocks the next stage for play later. Covering the whole field restarts the stage with a nice score bonus. The music both affects and is affected by how well you do. The song starts with only some of the instruments playing. The more you cover the field, the more the song becomes complete. Faster songs make play a little more difficult, however, as they make keeping your multiplier more challenging with unused segments of blocks disappearing quicker.
Also like most puzzle games, visuals take a backseat to everything else. Though they get the job done there is definitely nothing here that impresses or even sticks with you as you play. Some sort of background image or series of images would've made the presentation feel a little less bland. Even some of the color schemes (most noticeable in the first stage) make seeing what blocks are about to disappear somewhat difficult. Luckily the music makes up for a lot of this with some decent artist choices, my favorite being Orbital. Though, with only five songs, this too can be a drawback as anyone who isn't a fan of electronic tunes may find the songs to be a burden after a while. I suppose that can go for nearly any soundtrack of any game but, since it's a part of Chime's gameplay, it can hit harder here.
Chime's controls are as spot-on as they are simple. Pad or stick moves, two buttons to rotate one way or the other and a button to place your piece. The 'Y' button hides all your pieces to show what areas you have covered for as long as you hold it. Usually not necessary to even use but something that comes in handy when you're trying to complete the entire level and might have some blocks hiding unclaimed area.
The depth to the gameplay itself is surprisingly deep. At the beginning it's just a race to place blocks and try to cover as much area as possible. When you start caring about your score, however, you need to balance this with keeping your multiplier alive, which involves some careful placement and the ability to keep your attention on a few different areas at once or not be able to spread out. This keeps you coming back for more like a good puzzle game should and makes things interesting every time you play. The obligatory leaderboards, though in practically every game imaginable if it's on XBox Live, definitely help that "one more game" syndrome take hold and, before you know it, it's 2:00 in the morning.
I wish I could sing this little game's praises all day, but there are some problems that need to be addressed. One, Chime suffers some seriously bad design decisions. The notifications you receive for either "Coverage Bonus" or "Multiplier Lost" appear large and right in the middle of the screen, making it difficult to see what you're doing. Add to that the bright flash that accompanies having a large multiplier or some notifications and you have a recipe for unneeded frustration. Two, there's some occasional skipping. I had more than a few times where a simple XBox Live notification slowed the game down and other times where the game skipped for half a second by itself and my cursor ended up all the way across the screen. I imagine the latter is from when the song is starting to loop during longer sessions but, regardless why it happens, it still makes for some aggravating moments. And three, how bare bones the game is. It's difficult to knock a game for that when I know I'll put hours upon hours of joyous play into it, especially when I only paid five bucks for it and three of that went to charity. However, I feel that even two or three more songs or maybe some sort of cooperative mode would've gone a long way toward making the game feel more full. All these little things can add up and though none of them would ever cause me to say "don't buy this game" they do hold the game back from becoming the next Lumines.
Also, I hate Moby's "Ooh Yeah". Just saying.
When it comes down to it I can't imagine a reason why Lumines fans or puzzle nuts in general wouldn't download Chime outside of an allergic reaction to techno. It's fun, it's cheap, and you donate to charity in the process. It's just a shame that a few little things keep it from being amazing and I truly hope the idea has a future beyond this one title.
Chime was made by Zoe Mode for the charity initiative OneBigGame. It is available on the XBox 360 Live Arcade for 400 MS Points. The reviewer played each level in Time Mode and Free Mode, must've listened to Orbital's "For Silence" a total of four hours trying to 100% that level, got 41st on Philip Glass (3 Minute) as of this review, and wishes there was some BT on here. Like, a lot of it.