Puzzle Scape has actually been kicking around on the PSP since way back in 2007. However, that version was considerably more expensive than the new Minis version, probably because it also had multiplayer components, which the Minis version doesn’t have, of course. What might have seemed a little expensive for what it was back then is now looking like a much more solid buy if you’re after a pick-up-and-play Tetris-style puzzler.
As with so many of the Minis, it’s the slick presentation that grabs you as soon as you load the game up. Dazzlingly vibrant swirls of color greet you at the main menu, which boasts a gorgeous air-brushed sheen. There’s even a Gallery option where you get to view some of the ‘Scenes’ that you can unlock in the game swirling around and showing off their shapes in glorious 3D, undulating to hypnotic electronic jams. So far, so good for first impressions, but what about the actual gameplay?
When the rather confusing Tutorial kicks in and you get your first look at the rows of small colored blocks, all the while squinting at the screen trying to figure out exactly what you’re supposed to be doing, it feels something of a let down. Just another puzzle block game with unwieldy gameplay you think, and after it had all started so well, with the pretty dancing shapes and groovy music and all. Don’t despair though, it does get better once you actually figure out how to play the thing!
First off, it has to be said that the Tutorial is pretty useless when it comes to explaining how to play the game. It’s so basic that I actually had to look up how to play it on the internet in order to fully understand what I was supposed to do. Maybe that’s just me though! Once you have that ‘ah-ha’ moment, however, you’ll be shifting blocks around like crazy and watching the screen light up with explosions every few seconds and loving every moment of it.
So how do you play it? Now you’re asking! Here goes. As rows of different colored blocks drop slowly down from the top of the screen, the aim is to set up groups of blocks of the same color and explode them. You can only move two blocks horizontally at a time, by pressing X and holding down the d-pad in the direction in which you want to move the blocks. Only when you create a square of four blocks will the group of colored blocks around the square explode. So although you might have 10 blocks of the same color connected in a straight line, it’s only when you get a 2 x 2 cube of 4 together that you get the chain-reaction explosion you’re looking for.
There are two game modes to choose from at the main menu, Architect and Artist. In Architect mode you get Gold, Silver or Bronze medals that unlock the remaining 15 ‘Scenes’ or levels, for completing each of a series of objectives within a given time limit, which is displayed at the top of the screen. For example, in Scene 2: Inside Creatures, you have 12 overall objectives to fulfill, as displayed on the bottom right of the screen, with one of those 12 being to explode 15 dark gray blocks. You don’t have to do this all in one go; you could explode 10 and then 5, or any other combination. However, another more difficult objective that you might get is to explode 1 x 11 orange blocks. This means that you must explode 11 blocks all at once. This is where the real strategy comes into play, as you must take care not to set off a premature chain reaction by completing a cube of 4 before you have grouped all 11 blocks together.
As you complete objectives, the Power-Up gauge on the left of the screen will fill up. When it’s maxed out, a Power-Up icon will appear in either the upper left or right-hand corner of the screen, which you can unleash by pressing the corresponding L or R button. Power-Ups can include the self-explanatory likes of Slow Motion or Nuclear Bomb, with the latter being especially spectacular! While you’re busy concentrating on fulfilling your objectives, it’s easy to forget that when the blocks reach the top of the screen it’s instant Game Over, so remember to keep one eye on the top too. It’s also possible to run out of time.
Artist mode is the pure form of the game, and possibly the best one to start with to ease you in gently, where there are no objectives to complete, you simply have to explode as many blocks and score as many points as possible.
To sum up, don’t be put off by the initially unfamiliar nature of the gameplay, it’s actually really easy once you get the hang of it, and very challenging and absorbing in the long term. In Architect mode in particular you can feel your brain stretching and working overtime to plan where to slot the blocks in order to achieve the objectives, and you’ll most certainly want to keep going and unlocking all available modes and worlds.