In light of the recent troubles with the PlayStation Network, there has been quite a rush of content flowing out over the past couple of months. The danger with such a game deluge is that some standout titles may end up getting lost in the shuffle. With that in mind, puzzle gamers should do themselves a favor and immediately go download Puzzle Dimension. This quirky, challenging title is all but guaranteed to draw you in with its simple charms and then hang on until it fries your brain in the best way possible.
The star of Puzzle Dimension is a ball. It rolls around and can even hop over small gaps, but that's all the personality you'll really find. Personally, I like to believe that the namesakes of Marble Madness found a new job, but that's just me trying to project purpose where there is none. This nondescript ball merely rolls around a series of worlds collecting sunflowers and then exiting through a mysterious gate. Sure, there's no plot, but shouldn't a ball bent on collecting sunflowers really be enough?
The real draws in the game are the stages, which start off relatively simple but quickly grow in difficulty until they become downright fiendish. Each level is a truly three-dimensional plane, often requiring players to maneuver the ball from one level to another in various clever ways. Often, figuring out the proper next move is a matter of perspective, and a seemingly impossible task will suddenly click into place when you rotate the camera just so and realize what the game wants you to do. To say that lateral thinking is required is an understatement.
Adding yet more depth to the puzzles is the variety of special tiles that will attempt to stymie your progress at every turn. Early levels introduce crumbling squares that will disappear after being touched once, as well as icy tiles that send your ball sliding until it hits solid ground (or falls off the stage into oblivion). Add in fire tiles, spike pits, teleporters and more, and the complexity really ramps up. But perhaps the greatest brilliance of Puzzle Dimension is that it introduces each of these elements slowly, letting you get used to each new mechanic before pairing it up with old favorites and making things truly tough.
The flip side to all this is that even though the game takes its time to show you each new pitfall, later stages are still borderline sadistic. Many levels look and feel utterly overwhelming the first time you approach them, and after several attempts, you'll likely find yourself stuck and floundering for solution. Sadly, the game does nothing to help you along — no tips, no rewinds, no adjustable difficulty, no hints or ability to skip puzzles that are giving you headaches. Though no challenge is impossible, some of them are so complex and difficult that they'll likely seem that way.
In spite of this significant flaw, it's hard to get frustrated with the game since it tries so darn hard to be adorable and succeeds at every turn. All of the tiles in each stage are basically nothing more than pixelated blocks when you start out, but they fill in with rich details as you roll past. Each level initially looks like it was ripped from Minecraft, but as you rejuvenate them, you'll likely be impressed by just how nice the game looks. It's like some sort of ugly duckling- beautiful swan scenario.
Accompanying the unique visuals is a cheerful, retro soundtrack that should resonate with longtime gamers. All the tunes are simple, MIDI-inspired melodies, but each is also incredibly catchy. It's the sort of music you may find yourself humming for no reason after you turn off the game, or if you're like me, you'll make up little songs about the adventures of your ball. The sounds are cute but never annoying or overwhelming, and the music really complements the art style quite nicely.
The only other mild complaint to be lodged with Puzzle Dimension is that it offers very little of interest outside the main mode. If you manage to survive all 100 puzzles, then you'll see that's it. There aren't any leaderboards, multiplayer mode or level editors. Granted, this isn't exactly a social game or something that lends itself to multiple players, but it would be nice to have something tied into it that fostered a larger community. Then again, most players will likely never finish all of the single-player stages, so anything else might just be overkill.
It's tragic that Puzzle Dimension wasn't created by a more well-known developer and pushed out with a bigger marketing budget because this is a game that deserves your attention. Many players will gloss over it and dismiss it without even trying it, but that's a big mistake. Puzzle Dimension offers a fun, offbeat experience that you don't normally see on PSN. If you have even a passing interest in the puzzle genre, then this is a title you need to pick up and appreciate.
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