The year was 1984, and a Russian man named Alexey Pajitnov was hard at work revolutionizing the puzzle game for all time. The concept was simple: shapes fell from the top of the board and had to be arranged in particular patterns in order to clear them. Since that time, countless imitators have mimicked the concept to make successful puzzle games, including Super Puzzle Fighter II Turbo and Columns. Another entry in this genre has come into being: Roogoo Attack! on the Nintendo DS. Does this title innovate enough to warrant is existence, or is it just another rehash of a 25-year-old idea? Believe it or not, there was enough juice left in the puzzle genre for an original game because that's what we're looking at!
The story is every bit as unimportant as you would expect it to be. There's something about meteors and creatures that look like teddy bears, and the meteors corrupt the teddy bears … or something. Coming to a puzzle game for its plot is like turning on football so that you can watch the goalposts. That's not to say that the game won't take the occasional moment to cram one of the teddy bear characters down your throat; it's simply polite about it. You won't need to spend more than a few seconds staring at a saccharine-cute gob, and that's for the best.
Gameplay is relatively straightforward. For reasons unknown to even the most creative scientist, the meteors are falling down flat platforms with holes in them: stars, triangles, squares, and additional shapes as the levels move forward. You can't move the meteors, which fall in a straight line, but you can move the platforms. Move the right pieces through the right holes enough times to fill the receptacles on the bottom of the screen, and you can proceed. It sounds pretty simple, and it is … at first. The real challenge comes when the game starts throwing you curveballs. What if the meteors fall in rapid bursts, and you have to turn the platforms quickly to catch them? What if they aren't meteors at all, but treasure chests with parts that you have to place in order? Suppose the platform flips every now and then, and if you time it incorrectly, your pieces simply bounce off? Some platforms are even covered with butterflies that will fly your pieces back up to a previous platform, forcing you to reverse your normal thinking to account for the difference in positioning. All the differences keep the player on his toes, and that's a real boon to puzzle titles, which often fall into lazy, easy patterns where only the speed increases.
That's not to say that the little quirks are the only things to keep players coming back time and again. There can be monsters standing on the platforms that you have to squish before you can place your pieces, and lids that open and close to force you to time your motions. Variety is the spice of life in any title, but what puzzle game wouldn't benefit from the introduction of difficulty levels? Roogoo Attack! keeps the challenges coming long after you've beaten the Casual mode, which one could readily play while comatose. Goo-Roo mode — commonly known as Hard mode — is a frenzied and frantic scramble to do what seemed so simple before. You can practically hear the Benny Hill music playing in the background; while most people won't lose at a level until Stage 9 or 10 on Normal mode, I found myself barely keeping my head above water on Stage 3 of Goo-Roo mode, and it only got more difficult from there. The art of the various characters in the story can be unlocked through gameplay, though each one requires different challenges (one, annoyingly enough, requires that you own the Wii counterpart).
One particularly confusing element of this title is the skydiving stages. Mixed in among the puzzling action are levels where you take a third-person view, skydiving toward the earth and attempting to catch meteor pieces while dodging airplanes, sky mines and all manner of other distractions. What might have been an interesting and engaging mini-game feels utterly out of place here, forcing the player to rely on a completely different skill set than the one he's been using thus far. While the game offers the option of skipping these oddball levels, the consummate puzzler will never be happy until he has beaten every level, and some of the later skydiving levels are difficult enough to require numerous attempts. I'm not quite sure what SpiderMonk Entertainment was going for by putting these in the game, but they are an unwelcome distraction and would have been better included in a sequel or spin-off title.
One nice aspect about Roogoo Attack! is the work that's been put into the presentation. What could have just as easily been blank backgrounds are instead attractive and well-created backdrops that suit the individual stage, providing a pleasant visual distraction for the few seconds that you have to enjoy them. The music and sound effects are simple and pleasant as well, with satisfying chimes sounding out whenever you do something clever, like pick up a bonus star or successfully complete a stack at the bottom of the screen. The simple truth is that any company even marginally worth its salt can produce a puzzle title, but making it look and sound as nice as it plays can be a major boon that sets your game above the crowd and convinces people to pick it up and take it home. (The $20 price tag doesn't hurt either. Publishers, this is how to get the attention of the game-playing populace.)
Will Roogoo Attack! set the world on fire with its stellar visuals? Let's remember that this is a DS game. Will it revolutionize the puzzle genre? No, but it's got a few fun bits that others could easily implement into their titles. Is it a solid, fun little game for $20 that will keep you coming back? Yes, and never forget: That's the most important quality of all.
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