Publisher: D3 Publisher of America
Developer: NOWPRODUCTION Co.
Release Date: January 10, 2006
Buy 'PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient': PSP
It’s almost a year late by my count, but somebody finally went ahead and pulled Intelligence License from the PSP’s Japanese release window for American release. In this case, that somebody was D3 Publisher, the American branch of one of Japan’s most prolific value games purveyors. These guys have budget gaming down to a science, and while the newly rechristened PQ: Practical Intelligence Quotient isn’t from the Simple 2500 series that represents their yen-based bread and butter, it sticks to the same formula – And that formula, a combination of easy accessibility and low price, is a winning proposition in any country.
PQ is about as simple as a game can come, in this or any other day. Play takes place on a grid, and on this grid are various obstacles – walls, guards with flashlights, lasers, and doors hinder your journey from level entrance to level exit. Of course, there are blocks to moves, buttons to press, and mazes to navigate to get around each of these concerns – get to the exit, and you go on to the next level, with a different set of challenges. Add a time limit and repeat a hundred times and you have PQ.
The basics of the game aren’t rocket science, but there’s still quite a bit of challenge here. Some of the levels have particularly devious obstacle patterns and require quite a bit of cunning to get past – though the basic conceit of the game is that the levels you consider easy or difficult are indicative of the type of thought processes you’re more adept at. PQ isn’t just a game, see. It claims that, based on your performance in its one hundred levels, or “questions,” it can tell you what your practical IQ is. It then lets you share your PQ with others via a worldwide leaderboard accessible via PSP’s wireless functionality, and lets you do some minor searching within the list – so if you wanted to see how well the as of this writing nine Italians on the board are doing, you can (they’re doing pretty well). If you want to see this reviewer’s horribly anemic quotient, that’s also available – though I’m sure not going to help you do it. It’s quite a cool little trick, actually. By calling the scores “practical IQ” they have effectively called out every player on how smart they are. Defending that is a matter of everyone’s personal pride.
It’s those little things that make PQ really stand out, and the neat international score sharing is but a single example of all of the good stylistic choices that went into it. The art style is completely incongruous with the boring box art, which is a good thing – the game chooses to paint its levels with hard neon edges on stark black backgrounds, making it look a little bit like Rez (and for the older readers, it looks a little bit more like that awesome Assault game from the hit show American Gladiators). Everything is easily discernable, from the bright red lasers cutting through the playfield to the flashlights that illuminate three-by-three areas representing the guard’s field of vision. It’s all nicely abstracted and attractive, but not flashy so as to get in the way of the gameplay.
What does get in the way of the gameplay is the camera. The camera always shows the level from a fixed perspective, meaning that there are several times throughout the game where it chooses not to be a good position for you to see, well, anything at all. There was one particular puzzle where my view was completely obstructed by a wall; I couldn’t see a thing. There is a small concession to manual camera movement with the trigger buttons, but those only swivel the camera left and right, and when you let go of the button they automatically snap back into place. In most games, some camera wonkiness is something we’ve learned to live with. I’m not too used to it affecting my performance in puzzle games, though.
If you can see though, it looks good, and the aural aspects of the game complement the visuals quite well. Again, it’s nothing obtrusive. The music is inoffensive synth stuff that sets the mood without making you think about it, and the sound effects are so sparse they are effectively nonexistent. It’s simple but enjoyable gameplay held up by simple but attractive aesthetics, and given the bargain price of the game that’s more than enough here.
It’s a shame though that some of the puzzles themselves are difficult in a way that seems unfair. Take as an example any of the later puzzles involving guards. Normally they walk rather quickly down predetermined paths, and while they may not be avoidable while doing this they’re at least predictable. Put an obstacle in their way to slow them, however, and suddenly this predictability becomes far more opaque. Guards will turn to avoid things using what appears to be non-pathed AI, and will occasionally pick up the obstacles you’ve placed and use them to make your life difficult. In a game that is primarily a player versus environment style puzzle game, this sudden inclusion of AI was unwelcome and aggravating, and was made particularly so by the fact that getting caught by a guard resets the entire level to the beginning. Few obstacles in the game do this, and it makes this punishment feel particularly harsh.
Of course, one could defend the frustration, saying that if only my PQ was higher, I could figure this all out, and so really it’s my own fault. The game encourages players to play through again and again until they memorize the puzzles to improve their PQ, which seems to go against the entire concept of a “test” but does add a surprising amount of replayability. I found myself playing the game again, even though I thought initially that I didn’t enjoy it, just to raise my position in their hierarchy of brainpower. I wanted to play it again to see if I could get though it faster, even though the first playthrough was just a short six hours.
As it turns out, I actually did enjoy PQ. It has a pleasing look and feel, and it’s simple but forces some cognizant thought to play it. At its asking price, it’s a pretty good deal. While you don’t exactly get a lot of game for your money, you do get an attractive game that encourages you to play it in a unique way. That’s really not so bad.