Publisher: Empire Interactive
Release Date: September 26, 2008
I have to give the PSP some credit when it comes to the puzzle game department because it has a pretty eclectic mix of titles that I would never have guessed would find a home on the system. Pipe Mania is definitely one of those titles, and while the game has been ported around a bit, it works well on the Sony handheld and is definitely an enjoyable experience.
If you've never heard of Pipe Mania, the easiest thing to which to compare it would be the hacking puzzles in BioShock, which were in turn based on a few other puzzle games. Basically, Pipe Mania consists of trying to piece together sections of plumbing before the liquid running through the pipes makes it to the end. The player is given a piece at a time, and the piece types are pretty random — straight pieces, curved, crossovers, etc. — and the playing field on which to place the pipes is divided into a grid, with each square representing a spot to lay down a piece of pipe.
Obviously this doesn't sound too complex, and most of us have played some variety of this game before, but Pipe Mania introduces a few interesting mechanics into the mix to keep things interesting. One of the major differences is the idea that you need to lay down a certain number of pieces stretched out along the playing field in order to properly finish a level and score a medal. Instead of simply taking the quickest path and laying down a line of straight pipes to get from point A to point B, you'll get a much larger score by changing things up a bit and stretching out the path of your liquid. For each additional pipe piece, you'll gain a score bonus, but you'll lose points for each piece that doesn't make it into your final path, which makes it a game that involves a bit more strategy than you might think.
For instance, instead of simply placing a curved piece off to the side because you don't need it at the moment, you'll be better off figuring out when you might actually make use of it, and then trying to position it at a point that will be useful, instead of just ignoring it or destroying it later. There's always a marker at the top of screen to let you know what piece is coming up next, so at the very least, you're able to make some advance planning to help you out, but once you get to the more advanced stages, you'll have a harder time trying to manipulate the board to your liking. It adds a certain level of depth to the game, and it's a pretty great way of keeping players involved with an otherwise basic puzzle type.
Another aspect of Pipe Mania that I liked was that the game isn't necessarily over if the liquid reached the end. There's a meter of liquid that can fill up, and the game ends when that reaches the top, but you have a few seconds of time to try and fix your mistake or at least lay down a pipe to give you a few more seconds while you frantically figure out your next move. To go along with this, pipes can leak or even be attacked, and you'll have to be quick to fix those or you can lose from that as well.
There's a bit of a story involved in Pipe Mania, where you take on the role of two of the kids of an old plumber who owns a Utopia-style island called the Isle of Ducts. The island is currently under attack by rogues that are making life hard on the little island, overrunning it with the liquid material called Flooze. It's up to you to set things straight, and each section of the island is divided up into a series of stages that'll require you to overcome various puzzles and hopefully achieve the best ranking in each stage. The story isn't too involved, and there's not a lot of unnecessary exposition to track through, but the cartoon style of the characters is certainly appealing enough, and at least there's some narrative to tie everything together, making the main story mode compelling enough for you to play all the way through.
You also have Classic mode, which is based on a harder set of rules from the original Pipe Mania game that debuted on the PC in the 1990s. This is more in tune with other like-minded clones, where the flooze hitting the end of the pipe means that the game is over, and there's no meter to help you out. Then there's a two-player mode that allows you to play with just one game across two PSPs, and the battle mode works out pretty well there. Finally, there's an arcade mode designed for fast-paced play, and it's also a pretty fun diversion. A lot of these are unlocked over the course of the game, but it doesn't take a whole lot to get them unlocked, so you should be able to access them after an hour or so of playing the story mode.
Altogether, Pipe Mania is a pretty addictive puzzle title on the PSP, and it does a great job of building upon its original formula while keeping the puzzle-based gameplay exciting and relatively fresh. We've seen the design quite a few times in the past decade or so, but it's still fun to sit down and play in short bursts. The variety of included modes gives the game some legs, and there's certainly some replay value to be had when it comes to finishing the different levels with the high point and time scores, along with unlocking the various modes. It's not the best puzzle game I've played, but it's definitely worth the fairly cheap asking price. If you enjoy puzzle games, give Pipe Mania a try; I don't think you'll be disappointed.
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