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NDS Preview - 'Trioncube'

by Andrew Hayward on Feb. 14, 2007 @ 4:49 a.m. PST

Namco Bandai Games America's Trioncube is a new NDS-exclusive addictive and challenging puzzler that requires attention, patience and skill to rescue the kidnapped princess from the protagonist’s arch-enemy, Hell Metal.

Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Namco Bandai
Developer: Namco Bandai
Release Date: February 20, 2007

In the past couple of years, we have experienced a puzzle renaissance of sorts. Though enhanced or modified versions of older titles still flow like water, developers have been able to come up with a handful of puzzlers that are certain to be all-time favorites. Sure, the Nintendo DS has played host to updated versions of Tetris, Gunpey, and Bust-a-Move, but it also gave us Meteos, which is certainly one most addicting puzzlers in recent memory.

Namco Bandai hopes to have the next puzzle sensation on its hands with Trioncube, a quirky title exclusive to the Nintendo DS. In preparation for next week’s release of the title, we hopped on a conference call with Kristeen Kennedy, product marketing manager, and Robert Cogburn, PR specialist, to find out a bit about the upcoming puzzler.

Trioncube owes a bit of a debt to Tetris, though instead of clearing lines, your goal is to create 3x3 blocks of squares. Creating a block triggers a chain reaction, giving you a limited amount of time to add on to the block before it clears (think Lumines without the pesky Time Line). Shapes fall from the top of the screen as in Tetris, and according to Kennedy, the gameplay is rather simple: “There [are] five different odd shapes, and you’re just trying to create the blocks.”

What separates Trioncube from your typical puzzler is the added element of a storyline that is visually represented on the right side of the touch-screen. See, in Trioncube, you play as the Captain; and the Captain mans his spaceship, Penko, with one (familiar) goal in mind: save the princess. Hell Metal has kidnapped your sweetheart, forcing you to travel the galaxy in search of her. As you build blocks and cause chain reactions, a little ship on the side of the screen progresses towards its goal. Each chain reaction is eventually turned into fuel for your ship, so you must generate enough jet fuel in the limited amount of time to get to your destination.

Like the Lumines and Meteos games, Trioncube seems to feature distinct skins for each stage, with one containing familiar visual artifacts from the arcade classic Xevious. As you progress through the game, you will collect coins that can be used to purchase new backgrounds and odd special effects that will pop up in the game. Among the wacky effects are tambourines, puppy dogs, and sushi rolls that exclaim, “Sushi sushi!” Clearly a younger (or at least light-hearted) audience is intended for this game.

Trioncube has four modes of play: Story, Endless, Arcade, and Double Player. In the Story mode, the Penko must navigate 45 missions in the search for the Captain’s beloved ladyfriend. Endless mode gives you 95 dimensions to traverse, with each more difficult than the last. Kennedy noted that although most stages can be completed in less than two minutes, many of the later ones are extremely difficult, and will have to be played over and over again to ensure success. Arcade mode gives you a selection of eight stages to take down, and is likely designed for those who want a quick fix without a lengthy time commitment.

Double Player mode represents the multiplayer portion of the game. Trioncube does not support the Nintendo Wi-Fi Connection service, but it does offer two-player gaming via a single game card. By creating chain reactions, your spaceship must reach the goal first to claim victory. Standing in the way of that are black squares that can be sent to your enemy’s screen. These squares cannot be used for the creation of the 3x3 blocks, effectively ruining whatever hopes the player had of generating a steady flow of fuel.

Due to the fast-paced gameplay of Trioncube, the decision was made early on to not use touch-screen controls. D-pad exclusivity may be frowned upon by some, but according to Kennedy, it was the better option of the two. During the development process (which lasted for roughly a year and a half), an early prototype of the game was created on the PC, then transferred to the DS after several months of preparation. While tweaking the prototype, it was decided that the d-pad did a better job of managing the speedy shape maneuvering. However, the stylus will come into play when navigating menu screens and choosing the art and special effects for a particular stage.

Though Trioncube arrives with little hype behind it, Kennedy believes it can be the preferred puzzler for an all-new generation of gamers. “Maybe these kids don’t really remember Tetris,” Kennedy said, “So this is the new Tetris.” Namco Bandai clearly has high expectations for the DS exclusive, and time will only tell if it can live up to that lofty goal. Trioncube is slated to hit retail shelves next week, and we expect to have a full review for it sometime in the near future.

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