Version tested: PlayStation 3
The PlayStation Store gives Sony the perfect opportunity to experiment with new ways to deliver game 'content' - and also how to charge for it. The release of Go Sudoku! was a prime example: download the core game, then purchase additional bolt-on packs as and when you feel the need for new challenges. Go! Puzzle takes this notion in a new direction - standardising single-player and multiplayer modes across a series of three different puzzle games, allowing you to buy into the new ones as and when you please.
For the single-player, all three Go! Puzzle games offer basic 'action'-orientated vanilla versions of the core game along with puzzle variations that tax grey matter over joypad dexterity. Head-to-head modes are second-to-none across the range, allowing you to face-off against CPU opponents as well as online and offline adversaries. These modes are typically enlivened with the addition of power-up icons that are used to inflict a whole series of unfortunate events on your opponent at the touch of a button. On a technical level, Go! Puzzle is enhanced still further with the inclusion of full video chat facilities - something of a first for PS3 online gaming.
Everything that Go! Puzzle sets out to achieve, it does very well. Each game looks and feels solid, they're all sound from a presentation standpoint, and the amount of (optional) handholding each game gives you in the tutorial sections means that nobody can fail to get to grips with what is asked of you. The head-to-head challenge modes are well-thought out and different enough from the basic game to add to the games' longevity and the inclusion of online gameplay is an obvious bonus.
Go! Puzzle achieves many its aims successfully, but there's no doubt that two elements are definitely somewhat lacking. First of all, while the graphics are fine, there's little personality to them - there's no-one to identify with and in-game participants are Duplo-like in their child-like anonymity. This range of games could definitely have benefited from the inclusion of an identifiable, likeable character to tie them all together.
Of rather more importance is the lack of the magic X factor that turns a basic puzzle game into an unstoppably addictive work of genius. While Go! Puzzle succeeds in so many ways (particularly in its multiplayer battle modes) the bottom line is that none of the core games are anywhere near to matching the fun of, say Tetris or even a 'lower tier' classic like Lumines.
In terms of what's on offer in each of the three games, read on...
Best described as a kind of four-sided Hexic, Swizzle Blocks! is all about rotating (or indeed, swizzling) sets of blocks so the colours match - whereupon they're zapped from the screen in the traditional puzzle game manner, along with any other blocks of the same hue that happen to be connected to them. The key is to concentrate on completely wiping out individual colours - do this and any new blocks that are dumped into the gameplay arena can typically be manipulated to merge with the others and create stunning bonus-yielding combos.
While the overall gameplay is pretty simplistic, Swizzle Blocks a decent enough introduction to the Go! Puzzle range. The progression through the single-player mode is well judged in terms of challenge, and while I was never completely glued to the console, it's easy enough to see the minutes turn into the odd half-hour session as you explore all this game has to offer. Swizzle Blocks is also noteworthy in that it actually got noticed by my girlfriend who actually wanted to play it - a state of affairs never seen before with any other PS3 title.
I also liked the attention to detail. Any game that even goes so far as to let me choose the very texture of the blocks I'm going to be arranging has got to be worth a look.
Let's make no bones about it, Aquatica Is Go! Puzzle's attempt at bringing a Columns-style game to the PlayStation 3. Sea mines of various hues are dumped into a deep ocean well, the aim being - as always - to match up the colours (this time in vertical or diagonal lines) and cause some submarinal explosions. All very predictable, except that mines are always delivered in blocks of three and you can only flip their arrangement horizontally, not vertically.
Additionally, gameplay is spiced up with the addition of wild mines - explosives that take out all like-coloured mines on-screen once activated, usually kicking off a combo frenzy. Locked mines are totally indestructible however, and only disappear from the field of play if you can navigate them to the very bottom of the well.
Aquatica is somewhat disappointing and it's definitely the poorest game in the Go! Puzzle triumvirate. As a Tetris clone it fails to get close to the original's quality. Indeed, aside from the wild mines and combat mode weaponry, it actually feels like a substantial regression in terms of gameplay compared to its venerable inspiration.
The final game in the Go! Puzzle trilogy is by far the most original of the bunch. The aim of the game is to ascend the eponymous buildings, navigating your way horizontally across each storey by walking and leaping on like-coloured tiles in order to reach a rocket pad that propels you upwards to the next storey.
But there's a twist. Let's say you choose to take a route across the level using red tiles. At this point it's strongly recommended to devise a route that sees you using up every red tile available to you. Only if they're all gone will you get the time bonuses you require to stay in the game. The addition of different sized tiles later on in the game adds a further dimension of challenge to what is already a mentally demanding title.
Skyscrapers is the most impressive Go! Puzzle of the lot. Its concept works exceptionally well across all of the different game variations on offer - particularly in the multiplayer modes. The combination of the high-paced race to the top of each building, combined with the weapons you can dispatch against your enemy make it an extremely competitive, fun experience.
6 / 10