It's true that puzzle games on the DS are a dime a dozen, and most of them are boring, derivative shades of great puzzlers that show up on other platforms. It's a shame, too, considering that the touch-screen interface of Nintendo's handheld really lends itself well to logic-testing titles. Once in a while, though, a game comes along that is both unique and entertaining, something fresh and fun. Hands On! Tangrams fulfills the first part of this formula, showcasing something new and different. Unfortunately, the fun doesn't last long, and this game is over before it truly gets going.
You have probably heard of tangrams before, but it's highly unlikely you remember what they are. Tangrams are ancient Chinese puzzles that challenge the participant to take seven shapes (five triangles of varying sizes, a square and a parallelogram) and use them to fill in the gaps of a puzzle to create a brand-new shape. What makes each puzzle tricky is the fact that all seven shapes must be used and no two pieces may overlap. Therefore, it becomes a test of logic to use these simple geometric figures to create more complex shapes.
In Hands On! Tangrams, the puzzles are spread across 10 themes, with 10 challenges per theme. In the jungle stages, for instance, you may be arranging your tangrams to create a lion or an explorer on safari. The space-themed puzzles will see you creating planets or rockets, while the farm stages will ask you to put together a barn or horse. There is a nice diversity spread across the various stages, and as you close in on solving a puzzle half the fun is trying to figure out what you just put together.
Unfortunately, a lot of the puzzles look very much alike, some being just a couple of tweaks away from an identical puzzle you solved earlier. The rocket ship in the space stage looks an awful lot like the carrot from the farm, just turned upside down. The puzzles featuring human beings are the biggest repeat offenders, as there are only so many ways to depict hands and feet.
This leads to another issue with the puzzles, namely the fact that most of them are far too easy. Based on the outlines in most challenges, you can usually place two or three of your allotted shapes right off the bat, meaning the puzzle is half-solved before you seriously take a look at it. This significantly hurts the game's longevity, and even though there are 100 different puzzles, you can easily solve a lot of them in 10 to 15 seconds. Furthermore, there's no incentive to replay the game because as soon as you've solved a puzzle once, the solution is pretty much stuck in your brain, so why would you want to do the same challenges again and again? The guy from "Memento" may be able to enjoy this title for a while, but anyone else will play through it once and then be done forever.
With that said, there are a handful of puzzles that are devilishly tricky and will likely require several extended sessions interrupted by bouts of rest so you can stop and clear your head. I remember a couple of challenges where I tried every shape combination I could think of without success, closed the DS in frustration and then booted up the game a few minutes later because I had come up with yet another possibility. These are the moments you live for in Hands On! Tangrams, and when they arrive, you can't help but give yourself a mental high five. It's just too bad that there aren't more puzzles in the game on the more challenging end of the spectrum.
This lack of challenge may be because the game as aimed at children, or at least I hope it is; otherwise, the rudimentary graphics and overly cheery music are extremely out of place. The art in the game is really bargain basement, with each asset looking like it was hastily thrown together at the last second. When you solve a puzzle, it then transforms into an animated version of what you just built. I use the term "animated" loosely because there are two frames of animation played on a loop for a few seconds after each puzzle is solved, and that's it. Even a younger gamer who typically doesn't care that much about visuals may be a bit offended by the rudimentary graphics.
The final thing that may turn off some gamers to Hands On! Tangrams is the fact that it only supports one player profile. That means that if, for some reason two or three people in your household want to play the game, then they're going to have to all work off the same set of solved and unsolved puzzles. While you can choose to go back and replay any challenges you've already beaten, how many times has each person not being allowed to have his or her own profile been a good idea? The answer, in case you were wondering, is zero.
Hands On! Tangrams deserves credit for bringing a new flavor of game into the crowded DS puzzle market and doing quite a good job of it at that. The idea is fresh, fits the handheld's control scheme perfectly and gives gamers who are bored of match-three titles something different to try out. The developers didn't go quite far enough, though, and the amount of fun to be had with the game will likely be measured by most in hours, not days. The game is passable in some areas and even slightly impressive in others, but the whole package just doesn't quite pan out. If you see this one in the bargain bin at your local game store, you may want to pick it up; you might just enjoy it.
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