I've been a big fan of the Art Style series since my first game, and it's definitely with some sadness that I'm reaching the end of my experience. Art Style: Zengage (aka Art Style: NEMREM, whatever that means!) is my sixth out of seven in the DSiWare series, and as with some of the other games at first I was afraid that this would be the first game that dipped in quality. But my fears were soon laid to rest, and I ended up loving this as much as the others.
The main reason it took some time to warm up to the game is that the first set of puzzles felt distinctly like playing a 2-D version of a Rubik's Cube, and as someone who really lacks in natural ability with regard to spatial skills, I've never been good (or very interested in being good) with them. In this game your goal is to slide rows and columns of each stage's grid around in order to get the colored balls lined up with the correct colored tile. Easier said than done, and it took me a lot of blind trial and error at the beginning before I began to grasp how to think about these types of puzzles.
Fortunately, once over this initial barrier, things went a lot more smoothly as the emphasis of the game becomes much less on Rubik's Cube-like thinking and more about making use of the new mechanics that are introduced with each new set of puzzles. The puzzles come in groups of nine, but you're only required to finish the first five to progress to the next set. The new mechanics include such things as arrow tiles, which move the balls in the direction they're pointing when they're moved underneath them; and lock tiles, which prevent you from sliding that row or column. The game is content with just introducing new elements as you go without necessarily increasing the complexity, and instead what happens is that once you get to the credits there's a sort of epilogue where there are two more sets of puzzles that are more complicated and require you to have fully mastered all the mechanics of the game.
As with the majority of the games in the rest of the series, the mechanics of Art Style: Zengage look simple, but are very deep and extremely elegant. And as with all the games, the aesthetics are top notch. In this case the game purposefully provides a very relaxed ambience, with ambient sounds like water and wind making up a big part of the soundtrack. Puzzles are compact, and the game provides a rewind button, so that even being stumped is rarely a frustrating experience. With enough trial and error you'll eventually stumble onto the solution, but the game challenges you to reach the "par" number of moves for each puzzle, which definitely increases the replayability. As with the other games in the series, in another developers' hands each set of puzzles would have been bloated to ten times their number. Instead skip Ltd. keeps things moving along, and if that leaves you wanting more, it also ensures that the game doesn't drag on and outstay its welcome.
It's a bit of a tragedy that this series is so unknown, but at the same time it does make it feel more special. I'm happy to add this as the third of the series to my list of favorite games of all time. The mechanics are simple but extremely clever, and the puzzles are wholly satisfying to complete. The style is fantastic, and the game overall is as high quality as ever. There's some consolation in nearing the end of the DSiWare series, as there are still the WiiWare games and the original Game Boy Advance bit Generations series to check out. And also, the opportunity to replay the games in this fantastic series, which I'm also definitely looking forward to.
Twisty Art Style: Zengage links:
- Page on official site
- Review on NintendoLife
- Apparently this is a guide to all the solutions, although it's in Japanese
- Entry on Metacritic
- Info on the order of the sets of puzzles, at GameFAQs