Developer: Blitz Game Studios
Release Date: June 24, 2009
One of the greatest measures of quality in a puzzle game is how much time you manage to whittle away during your very first game session. The best puzzlers steal hours away at a time, holding you hostage with their addictive gameplay and elegant hooks that make "one more try" turn into 10 or 20. Droplitz is this sort of game, one that you'll mean to sit and play for 30 minutes, only to look at the clock and realize you've been at it for two hours. The game is simple yet infinitely enjoyable, and only a lack of multiplayer and some fairly unrealistic score goals keep it from being an instant classic.
The gist of Droplitz is exceedingly simple and easy for any player to grasp. At the top of the board are dispensers that drip out liquid every few seconds; at the bottom of the screen are collectors, where the drops need to end up. In between are a series of tiles with pipes of various shapes. Your goal is to guide the drops from the dispensers to the collectors through the pipes. Taken at this most basic level, Droplitz is a simple casual game that can provide a nice distraction from time to time. Of course, there's so much more to it than that.
In order to achieve greatness, you'll need to plan ahead because every time you make a match, the pieces you used are removed from the board and new ones drop in. If your new tiles create a path for the liquid as they fall, then your score multiplier will increase. Therefore, truly involved players will spend just as much time positioning pipes for their next move as they will arranging tiles for the current set of drops. It's a constant juggling act between your present needs and future prosperity, and when things get frantic at the higher levels, it can become quite a rush.
Droplitz is the sort of game that understands the balance between approachability and difficulty. Its most well-known forbearer, PipeMania, was enjoyable at first but quickly grew so complex and complicated that very few players stuck with it for any real length of time. Droplitz avoids that pitfall by keeping all the basic mechanics the same throughout and jacking up the difficulty by increasing the number of droppers or the speed at which they deliver the liquid. The basics are incredibly easy to master, yet it takes real time and devotion before you can actually play the game well. This is where most of your lost hours go: to the study of making decisions faster, recognizing paths more easily and understanding the most effective way to get the drops from the top of the screen to the bottom with minimal loss. The entire experience is fiendishly simple yet ridiculously addictive.
There are four different modes in Droplitz, though only the very best players will get to see them all. Classic mode challenges you to work through a series of increasingly difficult boards and to last as long as you can. Once you prove your mastery at this mode, then you unlock Zendurance, wherein you simply play one board and hold out as long as possible. Achieving a high enough score in a single Zendurance round will unlock the next game type, and so on. Unfortunately, it seems that the developers may have set the scoring bar a little too high, as the numbers required to unlock the next game type can easily be considered out of reach for a lot of gamers. For example, in order to unlock the Power Up game mode you must score at least 150,000 points in Zendurance; while I was able to do so in one particularly lucky round, my average scores in that mode hovered between 30,000-50,000, nowhere near the required amount. This hurdle is encountered throughout the game, meaning that a good chunk of players will never see all the modes. Atlus is known for releasing incredibly difficult RPGs, so maybe it's no surprise to see them publish an exceptionally tough puzzle game as well.
As hard as the game can, be it's never frustrating, and that's largely because the music is designed to create a calm, soothing experience. The tracks are a nice mix of electronica beats, spiced with just enough punch to remind you that you need to work fast, but not be so overwrought that you feel stressed out every time the liquid starts falling. Adding to the ambience is the fact that as your score multiplier goes up as more beats come in and the music picks up a bit more. Once the multiplier is over, however, things calm back down and you're right back into the peaceful sounds. Even on the tougher boards, when the drops are coming at breakneck pace and things are simply happening faster than you can keep up with, it's still hard to get too frazzled. There's one particular board that really stood out for me, and it was modeled after an Irish theme. The music on this particular level reminded me of Braid, its sad violins evoking memories of Tim's quest to "rescue" his princess. This is just one example of how the music in Droplitz can create quite an emotional experience.
The game's one major omission is the lack of any sort of multiplayer, which is quite sad for a downloadable title. Puzzle gamers tend to be a competitive lot, so it's unfortunate that they won't get a chance to play against one another. Still, there's a ton of single-player content here, so the lack of multiplayer is pretty easy to dismiss.
Droplitz is one of those under-the-radar games that, in spite of how good it is, has gotten lost in the commotion and hoopla of the summer games season. While your friends may be blasting each other in Battlefield 1943 or taking it to the gridiron in Madden NFL 10, you, oh informed gamer, shall be enjoying one of the best puzzle games to break onto the scene since Puzzle Quest. Even though this game skews toward the hardcore, it's still a ton of fun regardless of who you are. Just make sure you set an alarm before you start playing because if you're not careful, you'll fire up this game and before you know it, it's September.Score: 8.8/10
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