Review: ...rhymes with octogenarian.
Puzzle games have a bizarrely addictive quality to them that lends itself well to mobile gaming. Even today, many game players need little more than an original copy of Tetris and a Game Boy to create pure portable gaming bliss. Let's face it, few games have that magical easy-to-learn, hard-to-master, pick up and play quality that Tetris had. The fact that such an addicting little game could be played anywhere, anytime was a major turn-on for juvenile delinquents more interested in beating World 2-1 of Super Mario Land than listening to their 6th period science teacher. However, Tetris did not just appeal to hard core gamers, it also expanded the market considerably. Girls, adults, mothers, grandfathers, and even dogs all got into the little gift from Moscow. The market expanded considerably, and the Game Boy still dominates the portable market to this day.
Now that the history lesson is over, you're probably asking what this has to do with Polarium or the DS, right? It's simple, really; Nintendo once again is looking to expand the gaming market, and the DS is their first tool with which they hope to achieve such a goal. Unfortunately , Polarium isn't going to be the hit that Tetris was, but to anybody who failed a 9th grade history final while they scored 500 lines, Polarium will have much appeal.
For the uninformed, Polarium is a puzzler for the DS created by Mitchell and published by Nintendo. Players use the stylus to create lines which reverse the 'polarity' of black or white tiles, turning them to the opposite color. The game has two main modes, Challenge and Puzzle. Challenge is similar to Tetris and many other puzzle games in the sense that you need to clear lines by changing every single block in that line to white or black. As you clear lines, other jumbled lines fall down. The goal is, as you may have guessed, to clear lines while keeping the blocks from piling to the top of the screen. Not terribly original, and many will find the appeal of Challenge somewhat limited. Clearing large blocks of lines at once requires little thinking or forward planning, and is almost mind-numbing. The other mode, puzzle, is more of a slow-placed, thinking persons game. The player is presented with a static grid of blocks, and the goal is to change each line to be entirely black or entirely white with one stroke of the stylus. This mode is the biggest draw of the game, and is very fun albeit somewhat frustrating.
One of the most unique features of Polarium is the ability to create, download, and share user made puzzles. Of course, the game comes with 100 stock puzzle grids, which provide anywhere from 3 to 5 hours of gameplay to complete them, depending on how intuitive you are. Five hours does not sound very long, but the replayability of this game can be expanded greatly by using custom puzzles. There are two ways to share puzzles. You can use the wireless download feature to send puzzles to anybody within 50 or so feet of you, or you can enter a 30-digit password that is given to the puzzle creator to post on the Internet or share with anybody they want. Thanks to the stylus and touch screen, entering 30 digits isn't as big of a pain as you may anticipate. Additionally, wireless multi-player is available, but you will need two copies of the game to play.
The controls in Polarium are nearly perfect. In fact, they can't really get much better. Touch where you want your line to go with the stylus and drag. The accuracy of the touch screen in this game is perfect and isn't too sensitive or dull. This is part of the appeal of the DS. Using the touch screen and stylus won't make you abandon the D-Pad and joystick forever, but in this case it is certainly easier than using the traditional methods.
Unfortunately , Polarium is very plain when it comes to graphics and sound. Boards are seldom anything but black and white, and the background is always a solid white. Rarely will you see a color other than black, white, blue, or yellow on the screen. The graphics aren't very pretty, but to their credit they are functional. The sound is even worse than the visuals. The game features a total of three highly-repetitive Electronica songs and by the time I got the puzzle 5, I was ready to turn the sound off. There aren't many sound effects either, but this is expected considering the game is a puzzler. The presentation of Polarium is pretty horrid, but if you're playing this game to be wow-ed by graphics, you just may be missing the point.