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Pipe Mania

Platform(s): Nintendo DS, PC, PSP, PlayStation 2
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Empire Intertactive

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PS2 Review - 'Pipe Mania'

by Aaron "Istanbul" Swersky on May 11, 2009 @ 12:12 a.m. PDT

In Pipe Mania you must lay down a pre-ordained set of pipes on a tiled grid in order to keep the constantly flowing Flooze moving for as long as possible without it spilling out. The game requires quick thinking, hand-eye coordination, forward thinking and keen spatial awareness.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Empire Interactive
Release Date: September 26, 2008

Everything old is new again: That seems to be the popular phrase for console game designers these days. Whether they're re-making recent hits like Gears of War or Halo or going as far back as the classics borne of the first great era of home video gaming, it seems to be the standard modus operandi of anyone wanting to make a surefire buck to go back in time and find an equation that worked before. Fluff it up a bit, slap a new coat of paint on it, and presto, you've got a game that'll sell to new players and nostalgia buffs alike. The real question, then, becomes this: What defines a worthwhile remake? Do you really need 17 ways to play Pong or get your umpteenth Sudoku fix?

It is this author's contention that, in order to merit reintroduction into the world, a remake has to do two things:

  1. stay faithful to the original concept
  2. build upon the original in new and beneficial ways

Does Pipe Mania simply fall into the lackluster heap of rehashed titles that nobody cares about? Is it just mindless repetition, an open grab for your hard-earned dollars that adds nothing to the puzzle genre that spawned it? Believe it or not...no!

Pipe Mania builds on the success of its predecessor, even going so far as to resurrect the "hero" of the previous game. You play his son (or daughter), a plumber-in-training who's trying to help rescue the island your father bought from the big bad guy who practices Evil Plumbing, blah blah. Really, if you're playing this game for the plot, you've completely missed the point. What you have here is a fine example of puzzle gaming taken to the next level, an old favorite resurrected with interesting new gameplay. Similarly, if you're coming to the table for dazzling graphics or engaging sound, expect to be disappointed ... but that's not really what this title is about either. If you're playing Pipe Mania, you're playing it for the mind-bending challenges, not to be dazzled by the serviceable presentation. Always remember, boys and girls: Pretty is nice, but for puzzle games, it's a little like whipped cream on your hot chocolate — welcome, but certainly not necessary.

This rejuvenation of an old concept comes fleshed out with a variety of new pieces that even changes the fundamental gameplay. If you've played Pipe Dreams, you'll recognize some of the classic elements: straight pieces, elbow pieces, crossovers, etc. But what about one-way pieces, which only allow flow in a certain direction, and pumps, which speed up the flow of the Flooze (the stuff you're trying to guide through your pipes)? Splitters split up your Flooze into two separate flows or combine two flows into one. There are even random pieces, so if you time them well, you can make them into any piece you want or slack off on your timing and get whatever the puzzle piece that the game decides to throw at you.

There are also different kinds of Flooze now. There's a Pulse version, which has a set beginning and end length, though it can — and often must — be extended with a special piece. The dreaded Jump version propels itself along your pipeline in the space of a second, unless there's a Reservoir piece in the way to slow it down. As if the aforementioned changes weren't enough to show that Pipe Mania has grown well beyond the scale of its predecessor, players can now try their hands at scrolling stages that add a new challenge to the mix. It's no longer enough to keep your Flooze from dripping out of the end of an unlinked pipe; now you have to make sure that it doesn't scroll off of the screen either! Between the pace of the stage, the inevitable presence of obstacles in your way, and the randomness of piece distribution, it can be a real challenge simply to stay alive.

Empire Interactive didn't stop there, either. There are new play modes to further entice the mind and keep players on their toes. From puzzles that require the correct rotation of pieces to allow for a proper connection, an Arcade mode that's composed entirely of the scrolling stations mentioned above, and even a Classic mode for those of us who long for the simpler days when the most complex piece was a crossover, there are game modes to satisfy most players and offer a break whenever one mode starts to wear on even the most patient pipe-placing puzzler. By offering new and different ways to play the same old game, the developers have multiplied its replay value, and we applaud the effort to dodge the usual quagmire of "been there, done that." Added incentive comes in the form of unlockable treasures that run the gamut from character sketches to new play modes, and the bonus for using every open square at least once is enough to add a whole new level of challenge.

This is not to say that Pipe Mania is entirely without its flaws, of course. The graphics can sometimes get in the way, such as the level where toys take the place of Flooze and splitters are introduced. It can sometimes be difficult to tell whether your flow is yellow or white on some televisions, and Pipe Mania is very much not the sort of game that will forgive of a little mistake like putting the wrong color into a destination. The sound can also grate a little bit; while most of the effects are gratifying, I don't need to hear a toilet flush or a rubber duck squeak every time I pass over the appropriate obstacle, and some of the songs are just plain irritating. Finally, some of the menus are a bit perplexing, leaving you to tool around for a little while to find the option you seek without any real intuitive flow.

All told, Pipe Mania for the PlayStation 2 is an excellent example of what companies should do to revive old games. From the additional play modes to the new kinds of Flooze and the new game pieces, this is an idea that has been expanded upon in a myriad of inventive and clever ways, and Empire Interactive should be proud of their work. At a $20 price point, this is an excellent buy and will have you turning pipes around in your head for days.

Score: 7.6/10

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