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Droplitz

Score: 90%
ESRB: Everyone
Publisher: Atlus
Developer: Blitz Games
Media: Download/1
Players: 1
Genre: Puzzle

Graphics & Sound:

Droplitz is an unusual entry from JRPG publisher Atlus Games, since it is a puzzle game through and through (not even a Puzzle Quest-like genre-blend). But just because Atlus is stepping out of its comfort zone a bit, Droplitz shows the company can still pick solid titles to back.

At first glance, the game appears to be another hex-based tile-swapping game, and as far as appearances are concerned, that's about right. Hex-tiles will have one of several types of pipes running across them and rotating the tiles of course changes the orientation of these pipes. Since the goal of the game is to build channels from the top of the game board to the bottom, this simple design works really well for Droplitz. Outside of the tiles themselves, there is also the visual style of the levels. There are about a dozen different themes that have drastically different moods and color schemes associated with them. Where one will be bright red with high-energy music associated with it, another is filled with deep blues and has a much more soothing tone.

Besides these various background tunes, the player is also treated to reasonably well sounding effects. Events like rotating tiles and using power ups, while there, tend to be overpowered by the theme's music, which isn't bad. In fact, for this game at least, I would prefer to hear the various tunes over these sound effects.


Gameplay:

Like I said above, Droplitz appears to be a tile-swapping game and little more, but in actuality, it is a blend of that and a pipes game, so that your goal is to rotate and orient tile-pipes so that they form paths from the drop-emitters at the top to the drop-collectors at the bottom. The more drops you get into collectors, the more points you earn. When a drop reaches a branch, it splits in two (thus increasing your points if both drops make it to a collector), and the more possible paths you have increases a score multiplier. The game throws in one more twist by taking the tile-collapsing mechanic from its tile-swapping parentage. When you have made a complete path, a pink drop will come from the top and follow the path. Once all of the pink drops have fallen (meaning you haven't made any new paths in a while), then all of the channel's tiles are destroyed, the rest of the tiles fall and new ones fill in from the top. As drops go off into dead ends, the counter on the left of the screen depletes, and once that's empty, it's game over. The game sounds really complex and hard to get your mind around, but after just a few minutes of playing, it all makes sense.

Droplitz offers four gameplay modes: Classic, Zendurance, Power Up and Infection. Classic is just like I described above, nothing special. You just play through the game attempting to unlock themes and board configurations (which really just vary in height, number of emitters and number of collectors). Once you've proven yourself in Classic Mode, Zendurance opens up which is again, pretty much the same, you are just given a bigger board that should allow you to last longer than in the previous mode. As you can guess, the goal of this mode is simply to last as long as possible and earn enough points to unlock the next mode.

Power Up mode adds a new twist to Droplitz. Here, as you earn points, you get assigned a random power up. These can be anything from destroying the entire or part of the board, to freezing the board or slowing down the drops to give you more time to create channels. These new pieces definitely add another level of strategy to the game, but can also help get you out of a jam if you find yourself with tiles that simply don't want to line up.

The last mode, Infection, causes tiles to become sluggish and harder to rotate. The only way to get rid of these infected tiles is to make a channel that goes through them; once the path is destroyed, so is the tile. This is, by far, the mode for masters since it requires quick thinking and less flexibility in your configurations, and that's why it only opens up if you score 350,000 points in the Power Up mode (in one gameplay, of course).


Difficulty:

Droplitz is one of those games that is really easy to get the hang of, but takes quite a bit of practice and some quick thumbs to end up with scores you can brag about. This is most clear by the way the game forces you to unlock modes. With each mode unlocked, it becomes harder to unlock the next mode since not only does the number of points necessary to unlock the mode increase with each one, but the complexity of the mode you have to earn those points in increases also. After a few hours of play, I was able to open Zendurance Mode, but each level required more and more time before everything was available.

This is also true for the levels themselves. Each mode starts off with one board unlocked, and you unlock more by earning a certain number of points in an adjacent board. This, of course, means the ability to unlock all boards requires you not only score massive points in that mode, but also with specific board configurations. Just because you can earn the amount of points necessary to unlock a board means nothing if you can't do it on one of the configurations that are next to it. So Droplitz's difficulty not only comes in trying to create as many paths from the top to the bottom as possible to earn major points, but also getting a good enough handle on that mechanic to do it where it counts and allows you to unlock new modes or levels.


Game Mechanics:

Droplitz's almost perfect blend of both tile-swapping and pipes puzzle games makes this game a good example of easy to learn and difficult to master, but at least the game's simplified control scheme never gets in the way, and an experienced user can use it to be as quick as possible. Besides using the D-pad or Analog sticks to move around the board, your primary buttons will be (A) and (B) which are used to rotate the selected tile clockwise or counter-clockwise, and it's this distinction that can allow you to make the best paths possible. Since when a path is made, the tiles along that channel are locked in, you will have to be aware of the direction you are rotating pieces if you are trying for a specific configuration. There were plenty of times when I was attempting to line up a specific path, only to rotate the wrong direction and lock my piece into a different path. While this isn't entirely bad (at least one path did come out of it after all), it still forced me to reconfigure the path I was working on, or worse yet, make an emitter or container completely blocked and unusable. Besides that, knowing the quickest direction to rotate a piece to get it where you want it can save you precious time. The other face buttons, (Y) and (X), are used to activate your power up and to "fast forward" the drops through your channels so you can have them collapse and you can keep going for those impatient gamers out there.

Droplitz is, simply, something that any puzzle gamer should at least try. It is in interesting blend that can easily suck you in and get you hooked. If you aren't sure, then download the demo, and at 800 MS Points ($10.00), it isn't bad on the wallet either.


-J.R. Nip, GameVortex Communications
AKA Chris Meyer

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