Publisher: Empire Interactive
Release Date: September 29, 2008
If you've been gaming for any length of time, then there is a very good chance you have already played some form of Pipe Mania. The title, which is nearly 20 years old and has seen 17 ports and counting, has been challenging players to use pipes to direct the flow of goo nearly since the advent of gaming. Now, yet another version of the title has made its way to the DS, but the new features just don't add enough to warrant purchasing this game yet again.
New to this edition of Pipe Mania is World mode, which essentially adds a story to the previously pointless fitting of pipes. It seems as though Alfonso Senior, the original plumber who saved us from icky waste all those years ago, has retired to his very own island. He's living a peaceful life until his paradise comes under attack from a veritable ocean of gunk (known as flooze for this game) and his home is overrun by "cowboy plumbers," among them the nefarious Buffalo Bonzo. So Alfonso sends out his twin children, Junior and Fawcett, to try and restore order to the island and run Bonzo out of town.
Once gamers have selected a character, they set out across eight regions of increasingly difficult plumbing challenges. Just like in the classic version of the game, you are required to direct the flooze from a starting tap to an ending drainage grate within a certain amount of time by using the provided pieces of pipe. The tools of your trade start out simple enough, with straight pieces and elbow joints helping you keep the mess contained. Things quickly grown more complicated, however, as later levels throw in reservoirs, pumps, color-changing stations, flow splitters, bridges and more, all to keep your mind racing. For a game that starts off simply, Pipe Mania becomes very complex very quickly.
And therein lies the game's main flaw, as the steep difficulty curve will likely turn off many players. While the first couple of worlds don't offer much of a challenge and can be passed easily, by about the time gamers reach the fourth set of levels, they'll be assailed with short timers, confusing layouts and immovable obstacles, all of which really muck up the experience. While Pipe Mania has always been a challenging game, the DS version doesn't really offer a difficulty curve so much as a difficulty cliff, off of which players are thrown fairly early on.
Further frustrating matters is the fact that every set of stages ends in a sort of "boss level," wherein the area's namesake will show up to make your life miserable. Even though you are helping this person control their flooze problem, they still must insist that you "prove yourself" and then come after you with all manner of annoying attacks that mess up your flow. Some attacks cause pipes to spring leaks, forcing you to abandon the important task of laying out the rest of your route in order to handle damage control, while the more devastating attacks swap pieces around or destroy them entirely. Overall, these stages are exceptionally annoying and kill a lot of the urge to continue playing Pipe Mania for fear of what the next boss may have in store. It's obvious that the bosses and their attacks were meant to be utilized in the multiplayer mode, but multiplayer is surprisingly absent from the title. The omission is strange, because it feels like everything in the title is geared for a multiplayer experience, but someone simply forgot to include the option on the main menu. Its absence is a mystery, easily on par with that of Bigfoot or Duke Nukem Forever.
There are several other modes outside of World, and they almost manage to save Pipe Mania, but they are also affected with one particular gameplay mechanic that consistently ruins the entire experience, which we'll get to in a moment. Arcade mode pits you against a constantly moving screen, so that you not only have to keep the flooze in the pipe, but you also have to keep it on-screen at all times. This means that you will be constantly deflecting the flow back and forth as you try to keep pace with where the screen will lead you in relation to your final goal. Bonus mode allows you to tackle a series of quick puzzle levels, where you must place pieces in the proper location before time runs out. Finally, the title also includes Classic mode, which provides you with a large number of stages from the original Pipe Mania, with the simple goal of getting from the start to the end of a level while racking up as many points as possible. Each mode is good for a fun diversion, and Classic will appeal to anyone who longs for the old-school experience. I personally found Classic to be considerably more fun than World, but perhaps that's just nostalgia talking.
Unfortunately, there is one particularly frustrating mechanic present in Pipe Mania that really drags down the whole experience and makes the game much less fun to play than it should be. The issue is simply that while the game shows you the next five available sections of pipe; you are only allowed to use the piece will arrive on-screen next. Therefore, there are many occasions where you'll need a specific piece in order to finish a level, but will be forced to burn through a bunch of other pieces in order to get to it. Normally, this wouldn't be a huge problem, as dealing with unwanted pieces is a major part of puzzle games, but it's particularly annoying here because for every piece you place that isn't used in the final construction, you are penalized a certain number of points. The same penalty applies to "bombing" pieces that are either in the way or are no longer necessary for completing the level. In essence, the game penalizes you for not using the bad pieces that it is responsible for sending your way in the first place. It's truly frustrating in a game such as this, where points go a long ways in determining your rank at the end of a level as well as if you receive any special rewards.
It's too bad that Pipe Mania suffers from so many issues because there really is a lot to like about the title. The presentation is very good for a DS game, with bright graphics, peppy music and nice sound effects providing highlights for the experience. Also, the game modes are all enjoyable at the outset, especially when enjoyed in short doses. Still, the game's steep difficulty, strange punishment system and conspicuous lack of multiplayer (multiplayer modes are available in all other versions of the game, including PSP, PS2 and PC, so why not here?) all coalesce to create a game that is nothing special and nothing spectacular. If you've already experienced Pipe Mania on another medium, you've seen everything that this game has to offer. If you haven't yet tried your hand at directing gunk around a board in order to score points, there are much better options out there than this.
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