Puzzle & Platformer
Few puzzle titles screamed “animal cruelty” the way the original Super Monkey Ball did when it launched alongside the GameCube late 2001. A product of developer Amusement Vision and Sega, the goofy puzzler features a bunch of monkeys trapped in spherical capsules who whimsically rolled around like hamsters across your living room floor. Likewise, Super Monkey Ball Jr. encapsulates the same premise and flagship features, providing players with four choices of monkeys and three difficulty settings ranging from beginning to master. Once chosen, the object of the game is to navigate your monkey through 69 differing labyrinths, each hovering in the clouds and brimming with pinball bumpers, steep inclines and a wealth of other pesky obstacles. It may seem simple, but mazes are are devoid of guardrails and must be accomplished within a fixed amount of time, a task easier said than done during the game’s later stages.
Visually, Super Monkey Ball Jr. is an ambitious feat. The 3D polygons remain crisp and sharp, slightly tilting as you roll down each course, while the game’s extended visibility on complex levels adds a staggering dynamic that was never thought to be within the handheld’s grasp. The audio is charming, upbeat, and appropriately fitting, clad with monkey cries and golf-like sound effects. Additionally, the same unlockable minigames found in the title’s console cousin — monkey fight, monkey golf and monkey bowling — are offered, along with monkey duel should you link up with other players. D-pad controls may not trump that of an analog joystick, but perhaps that’s what makes it all so challenging.
While we probably wouldn’t recommend either Dr. Mario or Puzzle League on their own, purchasing two classic Nintendo titles for the price of one is too good to pass up. Each game is essentially an incarnation of a previous title, baked with colorful and simple animations, and aloft with a few added game modes and features not bundled with the original offerings. With Dr. Mario, players must rotate colored capsules and attempt to match four like colors, subsequently making them disappear from the field along with any similarly-colored viruses aligning adjacently with the capsule halves. Puzzle League is more like Bejeweled, meaning players are required to rapidly swap stacking tiles until they link at least three matching tiles, thus eliminating them and setting off various chain reaction brought on by the ensuing gravitational drop.
When boiled down, both puzzle titles are rather cut in dry, but that only adds to the pick-and-play mentality surrounding them. Both games record high scores lists, offer multiplayer support and even feature a sleep mode, letting you pause the session and lower your system’s power state until you wish to resume. Whether you wish to call Dr. Mario and Puzzle League cheap-shot emulations or practical ports, the breakneck titles are addicting in those moments when Candy Crush Saga just isn’t cutting it.
Whether renaming entire consoles like the Sega Mega Drive, aka the Sega Genesis, or merely spin-off titles, the Japanese developer has always been rather fickle about keeping original game titles when porting games from overseas. In essence, Puyo Pop is the same game dubbed as Dr. Robotnik’s Bean Machine and Kirby’s Avalanche, only this time the tile-matching title isn’t affiliated with well-known characters familiar in the United States. Stacked with 18 levels and 15 characters, Puyo Pop is a puzzler much like the ones that came before, except for its reliance on an AI opponent opposed to the traditional solo play synonymous with genre.
The goal is to eradicate encroaching, multi-colored blobs that pummel from the ceiling, rotating the couplets in four different directions while attempting to match four or more horizontally or vertically. The googly-eyed, amorphous blobs will clear when matched, spewing obstacles blobs amid your opponent’s stack. Being the simple puzzle title it is, it’s odd to think the game would have storyline — it does though — bizarrely unfolding in a series of cutscenes shown between gameplay. However, Puyo Pop‘s true appeal lies in the game’s multiplayer support, letting up to four players duke it out in team or free-for-all matches. And those Puyos are just so darn cute.
Game Freak probably could, can, and likely will milk the Pokemon franchise for all it’s worth, but who’s to say the developer can’t dip into other genres in the off season? The aptly-titled Drill Dozer is not pokeball-totin’ RPG, but a platformer, basking in clever puzzle mechanics and cartoonishly-lush design that’s a welcome change of pace from the usual Mario offerings. Players step into the role of a young girl named Jill, battling through six different regions and scores of mechanical enemies on a quest to retrieve a stolen heirloom from a rival band of thieves. There’s a surprising sense of freedom to the game, embellished by hidden zones and treasure, each of which urges the player to return to previously-cleared zones after acquiring the necessary upgrades.
Although the visuals are diverse, fun and in line with other Game Freak offerings, it’s the the inventive gameplay and unique puzzles giving the title its pizzaz. Players are equipped with a hefty upgradeable drill bit, one that doubles both as both a weapon and creative component for interacting with environment. Aside from mowing down baddies and using the drill as protection, players can bore through walls, latch on to conveyers belts and use the drill as an underwater propulsion system. Drill Dozer is a short, likable platformer, one swelling with Mega Man vibes and sterling boss battles that will make you wonder how so many other titles botched a fool-proof formula as this.
I was raised on Sonic the Hedgehog — Sonic Adventure 2 was my jam growing up — so like most of us, I undoubtedly had my reservations regarding the Sonic Team’s desire to make a puzzler featuring a mischief of mice gunning for a rocket heading to the moon (after all, it is made of cheese). Thankfully, the GBA version of Chu Chu Rocket is equally as well-designed and overwhelming-extensive as the initial Dreamcast version, if not more so. From an overhead vantage point, players lay down path of directional tiles linearly leading the mice from their home to the ship, foiling a flurry of stumbling cats in the process. As if that wasn’t enough, the frenzied battle mode has you shuffling said mice to specific location within an allotted timeframe, as three other players — whether AI or human-controlled — attempt to do the same. Needless to say, “sabotage” is the name of the game.
The action is fast-paced and engaging, and though the visuals are nothing to write home about, they’re more than adequate enough to keep up with the games’ blistering speed. Moreover, Chu Chu Rocket is equipped with ample lasting appeal. The title sports more than 2,500 puzzles, many of which were originally player-designed for the Dreamcast, and comes bundled with an in-game option to build your own level using an excess of basic building blocks. The mice and cats can even be replaced with characters of your own making using a simple pixel editor, so you can hone your own creativity when you’ve had enough of the blue-and-white sprites scampering across the screen.
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