Cory Ker on
December 01, 2000
Review: It's free. And it doesn't suck. Wait a minute, free?
You did indeed hear that right, this game is completely costless. So in other words, those funny greenish pieces of paper in your wallet need not leave their cozy place - cause you can actually get a game that's of higher quality than plenty of those $50 titles, to re-iterate, for free.
What we've got on our hands is a fun little puzzler, one of those games that on paper might as well be flattened monkey-dung rotating in the drive, but in reality - you can't put down the controller. For reasons beyond my small body of knowledge, puzzle games are typically more potent in the addiction-factor than crack, heroin, and the internet combined. Think of the long hours in the night you used to spend playing Tetris, and you'll get the idea. In fact, this game bears some resemblances to that legend, and it's right up there on the slick-scale.
Of course; you can't expect too much from a freebie title, but it is this understated elegance that gives it much of its charm. This game could probably have been released on the Game Boy Color with "Pok?mon" slapped on the cover and received some very positive reviews. This just shows you the good-hearted kind of company that Sega is - frankly, I wouldn't be surprised if another company that had made this with the same freebie intentions wouldn't just release it for the attempt at the ever-sweet cash-buck.
But frankly, I've been babbling enough - I'm sure you'd like to get a little more info on this puppy. Well, fine, if you're that impatient...
Before you read any further, you'd better get an idea of the basic gameplay mechanics. It goes like this - you start with a square frame of sorts, which houses various colors of swirls. When you highlight a swirl with the cursor and press A, the swirl vanishes. But there's got to be a catch: You lose points if you only blast away at loners. To gain points and ultimately to advance, you must shoot away at "chains" of these colors. The more swirls you take out with one hit, the more points you obtain. Not complicated stuff.
Furthermore, when you shoot at a space below a swirl, said swirl would drop in to take its place. And when they are eliminated right down to the bottom line, the whole column will slide over. So in a pinch, the swirls will always move to the left and down.
Simply put, the graphics won't win any awards. They're nice enough, sure, but don't strain your eyes looking for a single poly; you won't find 'em. It really does have a nice, happy air to it, though, and since the Dreamcast really takes down other consoles in terms of the resolution, the true 640x480 resolution really does look nice and crisp. Even though this game could've been easily handled on the weaker PlayStation, the differences in resolution would've spawned a totally different-looking game.
The games mascot (I can only assume named "Swirl") is a striped snake, who will sit below you in a little window, dancing along as you progress through the game confidently, but will fall is disarray as you make error after error. He's a fairly nice little extra to the action, but really doesn't elevate the gameplay much.
The animations are very fluid and nice to watch, as the little swirls fall, you actually get the impression of physical springs lightly rising and falling, and when you have a spring selected, the colors lightly throb, like a light slowly fading, then jumping back. As you blast away chains, the bigger the better, you're treated to some very nice little animations. Most of these will evoke visions of simple fireworks, but there's a couple, and they're all pretty varied. For instance, when a column is blasted away, and a whole bunch of swirls slides to the left, the massive tower of swirls slightly tips to the side, much like a very tall building in a very big wind. Once they come to their resting place, they lightly wobble back and forth till they come to a smooth stop.
These animations all move very nice and crisply, and perfectly complement the sunny gameplay. The graphics are so smooth and easy on the eyes that you really can't get tired of them. Which is definitely a good thing, mostly due to the addictive gameplay. You don't want to be cursing the graphics when you can't stop playing.
The control really doesn't need to come through as a shining point, it's much too simple to feel any sort of malice or loving for it. All you'll use is the Analog Stick (or the d-pad, for my fellow old-schoolers) and the A-button. It would be nice if you could hold on a direction and the cursor would continue that way, but instead, one press = one swirl over. It will halt on that swirl, no matter how hard that button is depressed. You really won't even notice the controls; the simplicity sticks you right in the game.. And that's always the goal, isn't it?
Gameplay is a mixed bag, though the sugary goodness does outweigh the bad. Something that baffled me to no end was the frame-rate: While most of the time it zips along well enough, I actually experienced some slowdown (SLOWDOWN!!) when a large number of swirls are disintegrating. I mean, seriously, this is not a complex game. Escaping the dreaded drop in frame-rate could not have taken too much extra tweaking.
To add another creamy coat of icing to this already icing-laden deal is the quality of the audio. Frankly, this is one of my favorite original soundtracks of all time; the Funk is strong with this one. Slap-tastic bass beats, done in a way that positively screams funk, are rampant throughout this game. I love that musical style, and it does my heart proud to hear a soundtrack with such an emphasis on bass. It really sounds great, and I can only imagine how mind-blowing it could be if plugged into a huge surround sound system with some serious woofers. Basically, you wouldn't advance too far; you'd stop and listen to that bass line every time it came up. But rather upsetting is that this awesome tune will be played over and over, till it bores itself deep into the mushy stuff that is your cranial matter. Great music - but bad when played over and over.
Sound effects are not exactly as mind-blowing as the music, but they do the job. They're basically what you'd expect from a freebie title, but sadly, they're not so much of a surprise as the sound was.
Features include being able to save your high scores, as well as a little extra known as "E-mail Challenge". As with other online titles, I can't experience them for reasons I don't care to discuss again. Well, I'm really not sure what it is, but I can only assume that it's an online version of Sega Swirl. Hell, it can't make the game any worse... Can it?
Of course, one glowing aspect is the multiplayer. It's a positively glowing experience to play Sega Swirl with more than your sorry self, and with up to 4 players jumping in at one time, get ready to use the oft-neglected C and D controller ports. In an age when only 2 players (at best) are often supported, 4-player split screen action is a welcome surprise.
If this were a game that you actually had to dole out 50 bucks for, it probably would be on the high end of a rental. But since you only need to buy a Dreamcast in the recent few months (With Browser v2.0, the home of this title), or easier yet, to grab a copy of ODCM, this game is a great addition to any gamer's library. Such an enjoyable experience for free, this is indeed a Diamond in the Rough...