Publisher: Electronic Arts
Developer: EA Tiburon
Release Date: March 17, 2009
When it comes to video games, the sequels and well-known franchises often bring in the dollars, so it sometimes seems like innovation is a dying art. Given the profit-driven realities of being a publisher, not to mention the current economic climate, it's not surprising that originality would lose out to an established brand. Every once in a while, though, a publisher surprises us with a game that stands apart from the pack with a long-lost spark of originality.
With Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure, that spark of originality lies in how the developers at EA Tiburon have managed to mash up two completely separate styles of play in order to create something that is both fresh and familiar at the same time. In many ways, Henry Hatsworth is the video game equivalent of a music mash-up ; it's something that Danger Mouse might have done had he been a programmer instead of a DJ experimenting with Jay-Z and the Beatles.
Played on the two screens of the DS, the game requires flexible finger finesse in order to pass the platform pieces while at the same time putting your gray matter to the test with some perplexing puzzles to ponder. At first, the two screens feel like playing two games in parallel, but as you drop into the zone and start adventuring through the world, it quickly becomes obvious that the two otherwise disparate gameplay mechanics are incredibly intertwined. In order to succeed here, you have to excel at both platform and puzzling. Fail at either, and poor Henry won't be able to take his place at the head of the adventurers club.
As a fine English chap, Henry might be getting on a bit in age, but he embodies the best qualities of the classic English gentleman. He's polite. He's prim. He's proper. He's even got some nifty toys and a technologically savvy sidekick. On one of his adventures, Henry finds a cursed golden hat that restores his youth but also rips open a hole to the puzzle realm. To prevent the puzzle realm from spilling over into our world, Henry has to retrieve the rest of the Gentleman's Suit, but he's not the only one searching for it. His nemesis in the adventurers club, Weasleby, is also after the suit, and he'll do whatever he can to slow down Henry.
Adventuring through the platform world on the top screen is reminiscent of classics such as Adventure Island and Super Mario World. The environments are all 2-D, but the designs are lush and varied. Enemies are easily identified and attack with standard patterns, but they can also be challenging, especially when attacking in groups. There is an obvious path through every level, but the more adventurous adventurers out there will be rewarded because hidden, less-trodden paths are secondary exits to bonus areas. As the saying goes, fortune favors the bold. Such is the case here.
Boss battles are ripped straight from the bygone era of 2-D side-scrollers. Each one is a set piece in and of itself, complete with a massive health bar and devastating attacks. None of the bosses are going to be beaten on the first go. No, winning here requires learning the pattern of attack, evading and then attacking when an opening presents itself. It's a level of challenge that is missing from a lot of today's games.
While Henry is busy fighting off baddies on the upper screen, the lower screen harbors the Panel de Pon-inspired puzzle game. The rules here are simple: Match three squares horizontally or vertically to clear them out, and earn energy for Henry's super meter. If you match four or five blocks at a time, you'll end up filling the super meter faster, so there's an incentive to go for the big score rather than the quick hits.
Filling the super meter isn't the only thing the puzzle is good for, though; it's also the source of all of Henry's power-ups. Some will appear randomly in the puzzle, while others will first be collected on the platform screen and then transfer to the puzzle screen. To use a power-up, you have to switch to the puzzle screen and clear the appropriate block. Completing a chain combo while clearing a power-up boosts the power-up, so again, there is an advantage to carefully planning out your strategy. This also means that you don't want to clear the puzzle s creen like a madman because using power-ups is all about timing. As a result, managing the puzzle screen can become quite the balancing act.
Adding to the challenge is the fact that defeated enemies on the platform screen are bounced to the puzzle screen as blocks. Clearing the enemy blocks gets you a boost to your super meter, but unlike the power-ups, you can't let these guys wait. If an enemy block rises to the top of the puzzle, it then returns to the platform screen and attacks Henry directly. Different enemies become different types of blocks, further compounding the puzzle challenge.
The final layer of the balancing act is Henry's life bar. He starts his adventure as an old man, but if you fill the super meter once, Henry becomes a dapper young lad, ready to fight and energized with even more health. Fill the super meter a second time, and Henry breaks for a spot of tea before jumping into his steampunk-styled steel mecha to kick some puzzle monster ass. Of course, Henry also has a number of special attacks to use, but each one uses a bit of the super meter. If you go crazy with the special attacks, you might never have the chance to break for tea time.
Taking a break between levels, Henry can use the cash he's earned from collecting treasure to power up and increase the frequency of items on the puzzle screen. While the shop isn't technically mandatory, chances are that most players will be forced to purchase upgrade items before the game is over, as the latter half of Henry's adventure can become a bit unforgiving. To call it challenging is almost an understatement. While we're not complaining, it is something that has the potential to put off more casual gamers who might be attracted to the game's colorful visuals and promoted puzzle aspects. Henry Hatsworth may have been developed by EA's casual gaming group, but this is one title that is hardcore through and through.
If you own a DS, be sure to put Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure on your "must buy" list. It may not have gotten a massive amount of press, but it's sure to rise in popularity thanks to positive word of mouth. Snag it now, before it becomes a sought-after title with an inflated price tag.
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