Bermuda Triangle: Saving the Coral does not sound like the ideal title for a video game so I was pleasantly surprised by this puzzle title. While it's not on the level of Tetris, Planet Puzzle League or even Bust-a-Move, it provides a decent distraction while it lasts. Aside from the main mode, it's a pretty bare-bones experience, so once you finish the single-player portion, you're pretty much done. In my mind, that prevents this from being a must-buy game. However, if you've been looking for a decent puzzler to pass the time on the DS, then Bermuda Triangle might be worth a look.
Bermuda Triangle starts off by telling you how coral is in serious danger in the oceans around the world, giving the game a slight eco-friendly bent. It's not overly preachy, but I get the idea that the developers felt the urge to convey some type of educational message. This setup also introduces the limited story line, wherein you're tasked with matching up like-colored objects in order to remove them from the playing field. By doing so, you're unleashing nutrients to the bottom of the sea floor to help the coral grow to its full potential.
The initial setup looks just like the games I mentioned before. There's a definite Tetris influence with very strong Bust-a-Move overtones. Each level starts off with a number of objects already in play, comprised of four different colors, and two different objects. If you make matches of three or more, they'll be removed from the playing field, and other blocks will fall into place, often creating combinations that will help improve your overall completion percentage. To make these matches, the top screen will display the next color in line that you can drop into the top row, so you'll want to line that up with matching colors in order to make these groupings disappear from play. If you happen to drop an object without making an instant match, the game will penalize you by dropping additional objects from the bottom. Over time, stacking these up will result in a failed screen.
This brings me to my first and biggest complaint. In similar puzzle games, you have a clear idea of where your cutoff point is. In Tetris, you know that if your top block hits the very top of your screen, the game is over. In Bust-a-Move, if the bottom sphere hits the bottom of the screen, the game is over. In Bermuda Triangle, the cutoff point is actually about two spaces above the bottom of the screen, so it's often difficult to tell if you're going to get a failure or if you can allow objects to drop one more space. Additionally, as the game progresses and you drop nutrients by clearing blocks, there's some coral that visibly grows up from the bottom of the screen, which obscures your view and throws off that invisible line even more. It doesn't actually change the cutoff point, but it makes it even harder to tell where that point is. It's a really annoying aspect of the game, and like I said, it's probably the biggest frustration I had with it.
Beyond the simple block-dropping mechanic, Bermuda Triangle tries to spice things up in two ways. One way is to give you a set of four different abilities to alter the playing field, and the other is to introduce an enemy element that can likewise screw up the playing field. For items, you get an anchor, a bomb, a bubble wave and a color sphere. The anchor is used specifically to take out on annoying enemy type. You toss a bomb instead of the selected colored block, and it'll blow up the block plus the surrounding blocks, regardless of color or type. The bubble wave will completely wipe out the top row of blocks, and the color sphere will wipe out all blocks that are the same color as the block it's touching. It wouldn't be much of a game if you could use these abilities all the time, so you're limited to a stock of nine for each ability, and you'll typically need to spend in-game cash to buy more. Sometimes you'll earn the items by clearing special blocks that contain them, but for the most part, you're going to be stuck buying them.
On the enemy side of things, there are a few variations. There's the ground-sucking fish that eats up the nutrients you drop, causing your overall completion percentage to drop unless you take him out with a well-placed anchor. There are squid that will come along and squirt ink onto certain blocks, turning them black for three turns so you can't match them up with any other colors. There's also a giant squid variation that will cause all of the blocks on the board to turn black for three turns, which is certainly a big obstacle. Finally, there's the shark, which will count down over three turns and then force a block drop from the top, randomly placing it somewhere and often messing up your strategy.
Overall, the difficulty is actually a little off-balance, with the first three worlds not requiring much in the way of strategy, while the last level is brutally tough by comparison. The game offers up tutorials on the use of items and how the enemies will act, but it doesn't make you use all of that knowledge until the final act. I would have enjoyed seeing that difficulty spread out a little more evenly throughout the title. By the time you feel particularly skilled at the game, the whole experience is over. There's nothing post-game that is worth mentioning, and there's no multiplayer component for you to try your skill against other players.
The options from the main menu are actually pretty disappointing, offering up little more than a high score tracker, basic sound options, an Endless mode and a Time Attack mode. Time Attack gives you three minutes to score as much as possible, but you can extend that time with successful chains. Endless mode means just that: You keep going until you're beaten by the game.
There's not much to mention in the way of visuals, and the soundtrack is pretty bland and not memorable. What is memorable is the annoying "announcer," who feels the need to chime in every time you match up three or more items. The controls are easy enough, using the face buttons and d-pad for everything but the menu selections, which utilize the touch-screen.
Overall, there are some hints of a great puzzle game in Bermuda Triangle: Saving the Coral, and I enjoyed the majority of my time with it. This is a budget-priced game, which seems about right, and I think if you enjoy puzzle games and Tetris-style clones in particular, then you'll probably glean some fun from Bermuda Triangle. It's not a title that I'd rush out to buy or rent, but if you come across it at your local store and you've got a bit of cash burning a hole in your wallet, you could do worse than this.
More articles about Bermuda Triangle