PS Vita Game Review: MouseCraft

MouseCraft

MouseCraft
System: PS Vita [reviewed], PS3, PS4, PC, Mac, Linux
Genre: Puzzle adventure
Developer: Crunching Koalas & Curve Studios
Publisher: Curve Digital
Price: $14.99 (cross-buy on PSN)
Release Date: July 8, 2014

Don’t let its uninspired name fool you — MouseCraft is not related to Minecraft (or Warcraft, Starcraft or any other “crafts”). The latest release from popular indie publisher Curve Studios is actually a puzzler that plays out like a hybrid of Tetris and Lemmings.

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Video Game Review: Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box [Nintendo DS, 2009]

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box
System: Nintendo DS
Genre: Puzzle/Adventure
Publisher: Nintendo
Developer: Level-5
Release Date: August 24, 2009

When it comes to puzzle games, the Nintendo DS certainly does not have a shortage of them. There are several great games in the genre, but one series in particular rises above the rest. The Professor Layton series is quickly becoming a favorite of mine, and it has been going strong since 2008. Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box represents the second entry in the series (there are now four, with a fifth on the way).

Everyone’s favorite top-hatted gentleman, Layton, and his young apprentice, Luke, are back and looking to solve a new mystery. After traveling to meet the Professor’s mentor, Dr. Schrader, they are shocked to find him dead in his apartment. The circumstances surrounding his passing are peculiar, and rumors are swirling that his death was caused by the fabled Elysian Box, a chest that is thought to kill anyone who opens it. The only thing left behind in the doctor’s apartment is a train ticket for the luxurious Molentary Express, so the duo hop onboard to learn more about this bizarre situation.

While the story is deliriously offbeat, it does a good job of maintaining interest, especially when the train reaches a small town that is enveloped with secrets.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

Of course, no one really plays Professor Layton games for their stories — it’s all about the puzzles! Diabolical Box has received a nice boost to the tune of 150+ puzzles of varying styles and levels of difficulty. Some are simple and can be solved in a matter of seconds; others can take much, much longer. Everything is fair game: logic puzzles, brain teasers, sliding puzzles, peg solitaire, and so on. The variety is very much appreciated, as it helps keeps the gameplay fresh throughout.

If you are familiar with the previous game, Professor Layton and the Curious Village, then you will feel right at home here. The two games are similar in scope, with the differences being a new story and puzzles, as well as different mini-games.

Professor Layton and the Diabolical Box

An example of a key puzzle

As rewards for completing puzzles, you can receive different objects that are used for various side projects. Some are silly, such as obtaining toys that will give a morbidly obese hamster a workout, whereas others are more interesting, like finding new herbs to brew different types of tea. There are also bonuses that can be unlocked that show character profiles, sound clips and other gameplay aspects. In total, the campaign should last about a dozen hours or more, if you take the time to investigate each area for new puzzles.

I don’t think I have ever seen a poor review for a Professor Layton game, and there is a reason for that: they are just great, quality titles. It doesn’t hurt that Layton and Luke are a charming tandem, two classy chaps who always take the high road. With 150+ puzzles, a lengthy campaign, and some fun mini-game diversions, there is a lot to like with the Diabolical Box. My only complaint is that I wish there was a greater punishment for incorrectly guessing answers. You lose points the first two times you provide a wrong answer, but that’s it. This makes it a little too easy to “cheat” the system. Regardless, this is a fun puzzle adventure, and I can’t wait to tackle Layton’s next journey.

8.5/10

Video Game Review: Lumines [PSP, 2005]

Lumines [PSP, 2005]

Lumines
System: PSP (later on mobile, PC, XBLA, PSN, PS2, iOS)
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Ubisoft
Developer: Q Entertainment
Release Date: March 22, 2005

Here I am, seven years late to this party. Seven years where I did not have Lumines in my life. Seven years where I had one less addiction than I do now.

Every major handheld system seems to have a wildly popular puzzle game tied to its release, starting all the way back with the original GameBoy and its top seller, Tetris. In 2005, the PSP’s claim to fame was Lumines, a psychedelic title influenced mostly by Tetris and Columns.

Lumines is a falling block game that uses 4×4 pieces of two different colors. The goal is to line up these blocks so 4×4 squares of the same color are pieced together and removed from the board. If a block is placed on an uneven structure, half will remain on top while the other half falls to the remaining pieces below. This adds an additional element of strategy to what is an otherwise very simple game.

Lumines [PSP, 2005]

What sets Lumines apart from the rest is its heavy emphasis on light and sound. An integral part of the gameplay is the use of a “timer” — a line that moves across the screen at intervals based on the beat of the music. This timer wipes out the same-colored blocks and removes them from the screen. The kicker here is that you must wait until the timer clears them before you can put new blocks in their place. This gets increasingly more difficult as the timer slows down and passes by less frequently. On the flip side, this can also be used to create massive bonuses by linking several squares together, if done correctly.

After passing through four levels (reached by hitting a certain amount of points), the music and the entire “skin” of the game will change. This means that the colors of the blocks, the background, and the tempo of the timer will all change at the same time, all while you are in the middle of playing. The transitions can sometimes be jarring, but they are a lot of fun and help keep the game fresh.

Music is a major part of the game, which is to be expected since this comes from Tetsuya Mizuguchi, the mastermind of the cult hit Rez. While psychedelic colors flash on screen, various blends of electronica play through the speakers, creating a thoroughly engrossing audio/visual experience. Plugging in a set of headphones really takes the game to another level — seriously, it makes everything even better.

Lumines [PSP, 2005]

While falling block puzzle games aren’t anything new, Lumines adds a fresh coat of hallucinogenic paint to a classic concept. This is one of those games that must be played to truly appreciate it, and it’s also one that is easy to learn yet difficult to master. It’s not perfect — I wish there were a way to start the challenge mode with random song selections instead of the same one every time, for example — but complaints are minor overall. The bottom line is that Lumines is addictive as all hell, and that’s all you can ask from a puzzle game. With several game modes and the ability to play multiplayer, there is a staggering amount of replay value. This title will not be leaving my PSP anytime soon, and I can’t wait to try out its sequels.

If, somehow, you are like me and slept on Lumines all these years, do yourself a favor and try it out. This is a bargain bin title now, and there really is no reason to skip out on it.

8.5/10

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords [Xbox 360]

Puzzle Quest: Challenge of the Warlords
System: Xbox 360
Publisher: D3
Release Date: October 10, 2007

Imagine the popular puzzle game Bejeweled as if it were an epic fantasy RPG. That’s Puzzle Quest, in a nutshell. Instead of normal RPG battles, you take on the CPU in puzzle games. The goal is to match jewels on the board, with each color of jewel providing a different type of mana. These manas allow the casting of spells to do benefit your board while doing damage to your opponent’s HP. Also on the board are skulls, which are used to attack your opponent, and stars and coins that provide XP and money, respectively. This is a genuinely cool concept, and is an excellent mashup of two genres.

The storyline used to propel the game is standard fantasy fare, and I had little to no interest in it. Basically, the kingdom is in danger and it is your job to run around, complete quests and slay orcs/zombies/demons/etc. Hardly anything original, but it’s there if you want it. Personally, I was more interested in completing puzzles and leveling up my character. It was refreshing to be able to build up strength and unlock new character abilities in a puzzle game.

Puzzle Quest can get ridiculously addictive, and that is a large reason why it is available on everything from the Nintendo DS to the iPhone to the Wii. If the game has one fault, however, it is the ever-knowing CPU. Sometimes the CPU gets some ridiculously lucky breaks, which can make it seem as if it knows what jewels are going to fall down ahead of time. This can get downright maddening when you are in the midst of a tense battle, and it also tends to happen when you have a sizeable lead yet the CPU keeps finding ways to get back into the game. Even still, this helps make every battle important and presents an omnipresent level of challenge. Puzzle game lovers will definitely enjoy this, but it certainly helps if you are into RPGs as well (and appreciate a good challenge).

8/10