I've become a pretty big fan of the Art Style series, which is a series of mostly puzzle games developed by skip Ltd. and published by Nintendo. The next one I tackled was Art Style: Boxlife. I wasn't quite sure what to expect. I knew the game was about constructing boxes, which I originally thought sounded like it would be more tedious than fun.

By now I should've known not to underestimate the geniuses at skip Ltd. Boxlife is easily on par with the other entries in the series I've played, and is one of the best puzzle games I've ever played, period. The review at Nintendo Life has a good run-down of the game's mechanics, features, and modes, but basically you're tasked with cutting out 6-piece shapes from a given board and then folding them to form boxes. In that sense it's rather like a more tactile version of tangram puzzles, but the game gets satisfyingly (and eventually, rage-inducingly) difficult. The main mode introduces new shapes one at a time (you'll be surprised at how many different ways there are to make a box out of six squares), and although you'll start off just searching for the shapes, eventually you'll recognize it's faster to look for particular categories of patterns, e.g. four squares in a row with one square connected on one side, and one square on the other.

Although I debated about promoting this game to my favorite games of all time list, I think one of the sure signs of a great game is that it gives you a unique feeling of pleasure. In this case I found myself feeling like not just a factory worker, as the game suggests, but as a seamstress or a tailor, cutting patterns from cloth while trying not waste any, or as a sculptor, chiselling away at a hunk of marble trying to find the pattern hidden underneath. As with the other games in the series, this entry is also bursting with charm. The "la la la" of the opening music, the box-shaped visuals, the mini-sim life aspects, the animal sounds that reflect how quickly you finished solving a puzzle (with an elephant's triumphant bugling call indicating the fastest times), everything adds up to an extremely polished experience. I was also struck with how, like Art Style: PiCTOBiTS, the game is so dependent on the DSi's unique controls. IGN's Craig Harris's comment that PiCTOBiTS is “an extremely unique... puzzle game that could only work on a system with precise, pinpoint controls like the Nintendo DS and its stylus driven touch screen” exactly applies here as well, and the pixel-perfect precision of the controls really make this an experience as opposed to just another puzzle game.

In Nintendo fashion the game favors density over padding, so there aren't a plethora of levels or modes, but the game ramps up the difficulty quickly and replaying levels to get perfect scores is worthwhile as it hones your mastery of the game's mechanics. The later levels become much more about using logic to find the solution instead of just recognizing the different puzzle piece shapes, and I was reassured when I saw that Totilo at Kotaku also failed to complete the final level, which feels about twice as hard as the second to last level (already fairly challenging). Regardless of that downer, the game is extremely polished and memorable, and like manna for serious puzzle fans.

Assemble these Art Style: Boxlife links:
- Audio of the original Japanese ending credits, at Tiny Cartridge
- Entry at Metacritic


Although I've had Dance Dance Revolution Konamix for ages, I wasn't able to play it for most of that time due to living on a second floor apartment with thin walls/floors/ceilings. (The game even helpfully provides a warning that states "Be careful... not to disturb others with step vibrations.") Anyway, after moving to a place where there's no neighbor to annoy underneath me I've been able to finally try out DDR myself.

Basically the game was what I expected it would be, which is a straightforward dance game. "Straightforward" definitely doesn't mean easy, though. Each track is given a rating out of 9 feet (not sure why they didn't just rate them out of 10) and divided into three categories, "Basic", "Trick", and "Maniac". I started off with the Basic and although it took a little while to find my "footing", I got to a point where I was able to do pretty well. The Trick level is significantly more difficult, as it has many more 16th-note steps, i.e. twice the speed as regular steps, as well as many more complicated two-foot steps, often requiring you to jump from one two-foot step to another two-foot step. I barely touched the Maniac level, as Trick was tricky enough for me.

As I was reading up on the history of the DDR series, I was reminded that Parappa the Rapper is considered to be the first influential rhythm game. I also read up on DDR's direct predecessor, the Beatmania series, which looks exactly like Guitar Hero but with 5 buttons and a turntable. Some more history: apparently this game is from the 4th group of DDR games. The first two iterations, DDR and DDR 2nd mix received PS versions only in Japan, although the third game did spawn the first version to be released in the US.

Anyway, there's not a whole lot more I need to get into. If you know anything about the DDR series you know what to expect. The music was pretty decent, and had a good mix of techno, R&B, etc., and the on-screen dance characters were fairly entertaining. No story mode or anything, but it's definitely not needed. My only complaint is that the ranking system is a bit too rigid, as you're only awarded an A if you get a full combo, i.e. "perfect" or "great" on every step with none missed.

Although the game is fun and requires much more activity than other fitness-oriented games I've played, I'm not enough of a high score chaser or perfectionist to play it for extended periods of time. Still, there's no denying the series' cultural impact and influence, so much so that it's earned a place on my "Greatest Games of All Time" list. I'm sure I'll be visiting its other entries, but for now I'm going to shelve this one in favor of a newer (to me, anyway), shinier fitness-oriented game. Stay tuned...

Sweat to these Dance Dance Revolution Konamix links:
- There are tons of great videos of people playing DDR games. Here's a Japanese guy in an arcade, a 5 year old, and a mom with her 9 year old.
- Video of a project where a student programmed a robot to play DDR
- Someone's typed up the lyrics to all the tracks
- Entry at Wikipedia
- Info on unlockables at GameFAQs


The game escapeVektor caught my attention a while back because Nintendo Life gave its first incarnation, on WiiWare, a rave review. The game has been commonly described as as cross between Pac-Man and Qix. I sort of remember a freeware game called Boxer that featured pretty much identical gameplay where you played as a green diamond who outlined orange boxes worth different points while trying to avoid the red circle enemies. I've never been able to find out more info about that game (if anyone has heard of it, I would be extremely grateful if you let me know!), but while searching online I came across another game that seems to have similar gameplay that was released on Game Boy and is called Amazing Penguin.

Anyway, back to the main topic. escapeVektor has subsequently become available on 3DS and PS Vita. Usually I try to play the first game in a series, but the WiiWare release only includes one of four chapters. That one chapter is plenty substantial, though, and would take a few hours to get through without trying to get all the platinum medals for shortest times. As it is once I got past the first chapter in the 3DS release and tried out chapter two and the new bonus levels I didn't feel very motivated to continue playing the game. The gameplay in general is pretty solid, though. The concept is simple: trace around the map's rectangular boxes while avoiding enemies. You're armed with a speed boost that gradually refills and bombs that destroy most enemies, and basically you get more points the more boxes on the map you complete without using a bomb. That scoring mechanic adds a nice increase in challenge that definitely makes the game more interesting, and as a long-time Pac-Man fan I enjoyed this game for similar reasons as why I enjoy Pac-Man games.

The game has a minimalist approach to its visuals that feels a bit dated nowadays, but is fine. There's a sliver of a story that kept me somewhat engaged, and there's an emphasis on leaderboards if you're into that sort of thing. One of the biggest complaints about the game is that the game is by default zoomed in so that you can't see much of the board at one time. As Edge's review puts it: "you’re forced to squeeze the zoom button [the R button on the 3DS] throughout to make it playable, with no option to toggle it". This was definitely an annoyance, and something that presumably gave the WiiWare version an advantage since it's on a large screen and more zoomed out. The problem with the zoomed in view reminded me of when I played the version of Pac-Mania that had appeared on the GBA version of Pac-Man Collection, but the problem wasn't as pronounced because the zoom wasn't quite so close and the general speed wasn't as fast. Avoiding enemies isn't too much of a problem in this game since you can outrun them, but the biggest annoyance problem is definitely the turrets that shoot bullets: you really can't see them at all until it's too late, and they were easily my most common cause for "dying" (although actually in this game you have unlimited tries). There's a good variety in stages, although the bigger ones do get a bit tedious. The stages are often symmetrical, which helps ameliorate the problem of the zoom level as it makes it easier to remember where hazards are placed.

All in all I enjoyed the game and agree that it's very polished, but, like I said, once I finished the first chapter I'd had enough. There are four chapters in this release compared to the one chapter of the WiiWare release, and that includes 150 levels (compared to 30 in the WiiWare release), although I think that that total includes the bonus levels that seem to be repeats of the regular levels but with new objectives, such as "eraser mode", where "if you go over any claimed lines which border unfilled cells you will turn those lines back to empty". Collecting all the medals was mildly diverting, although there's a fair amount of trial and error involved because you're not just trying to find the quickest path to cover all of the map, but the quickest route. That route is dependent on where the enemies who are patrolling are at each moment, and the only way to know if you can squeak by an enemy at just the right time is by trying it. Anyway, the gameplay is solid and fans of Pac-Man game who are into chasing high scores would probably enjoy it.

Capture these escapeVektor links:
- Official site
- Review of the 3DS version at Nintendo Life
- A behind the scenes look with the developers, at Nintendo Life
- Entry on the 3DS version at Metacritic


If I weren't such a completist I'd probably have a lot more money in the bank. Even though I had little interest in the WarioWare spin-off Paper Airplane Chase on DSi I thought I would check it out since it promised a new mode (unlike the DSiware spin-off Bird & Beans, which as I mentioned in my look back at the WarioWare series just changes the size of the board). Plus, the game's only $2 and was good for a quickie to help me catch up on my regular blog posting schedule.

I hadn't really played the original version (called the "endless" mode in this version), which was one of the unlockable minigames in the original GBA WarioWare game, and apparently the multiplayer version was also previously seen in the GameCube follow-up WarioWare, Inc.: Mega Party Game$!, but by all accounts those modes are pretty much identical to their previous release. I started off playing the new time trial mode, but since there are only 8 stages it didn't take long to get through them (although some trickier additions to the gameplay are introduced, namely in some stages parts of the stages move, you can only see the area around the plane, or the plane descends more quickly). I then went back to the endless mode. Usually I dislike auto-generated levels, but in this case the types of hazards are all uniform so the slight variation in their ordering didn't really make a significant difference other than ensuring you can't memorize their placement. I was skeptical at first, but this mode won me over with its quick high-score, arcade-style action. At regular intervals characters from the WarioWare series pop up to cheer you on (although in my case, they were invariably distractions that would cause me to immediately crash), which is a fun touch, and it's the only hint of character and that the game has anything to do with the WarioWare series at all. The DSi's dual screens make it easier to see ahead than the single screen of the GBA would, although the large gap between the screens of the DSi XL I was using was somewhat distracting.

Not much more to say. This was an entertaining enough little time-waster, about on par with the zillions of disposable mobile games readily available for free. It's nice to tick this box off in terms of Nintendo games I had yet to play, but otherwise I can't imagine anyone getting too excited about it.

Shred through these Paper Airplane Chase links:
- Info on the original with some of the music
- Video of a tool-assisted speedrun (TAS) of the original
- Review of the DSiware release at nintendolife.com
- Footage of the DSiware version
- Entry at mariowiki.com


I've gotten behind on blog posts this new year, so to catch up I sat down with a game I've been putting off for ages, which was the original Space Invaders. I played the game via the collection Taito Legends for Xbox (yet another case where the first game I completed on a system was completely nonintuitive), and from what I've read about it the version is supposedly pretty accurate. The game is extremely well known, but I don't think I'd really appreciated how important to the history of video games Space Invaders really was. The "Impact and legacy" section of the Wikipedia article on the game is pretty essential reading. The game is credited for being "one of the forerunners of modern video gaming", and it "helped expand the video game industry from a novelty to a global industry". Basically in terms of the evolution of video games it stands up there with Super Mario Bros., Tetris, and Grand Theft Auto.

As for the game itself, I actually enjoyed it much more than I thought I would. I'd had vague memories of playing it on an Atari system when I was a kid and quickly getting bored, but I found that the game actually holds up pretty well. IGN has a nice write-up, but what strikes me is that the game, although seemingly simple, has a very distinct pacing within each level: the starting formation, where the aliens are high above you; the middle period where they descend, with flying saucers whizzing by every once in a while; and the ending where the last alien zips around the screen, threatening you with an instant game over. By modern standards the progression isn't that smooth. Each subsequent level begins with the aliens' starting positions lower on the screen, and outside of memorizing a foolproof pattern it's somewhat difficult to imagine anyone making it past the third level (although I believe the fifth level or so loops back to the first one). But even though I didn't get through many levels, the game has a nice balance of making you choose to go offensive (shoot at the aliens) or defensive (dodge or hide behind one of the barriers) and forcing you to constantly be on the move or risk the aliens reaching the "Earth", i.e. the bottom of the screen.

Anyway, the Taito Legends collection also had Space Invaders Part II, released just a year after the first version. By today's standards the game does feel like a remake of the original rather than a true sequel. Part II adds color and two small additions to the gameplay (saucers can drop aliens onto the board and starting with level three or so some aliens will split into two when they're hit). The core gameplay is exactly the same, though, and equally enjoyable, so even though I played it some it definitely didn't feel worth writing a separate post about it.

All in all this was a nice start to a new year: I'm glad I finally made myself sit down and give this slice of video game history a spin. For me Galaga is still the classic arcade shoot 'em up, but I'm looking forward to revisiting the series when I check out its much-acclaimed follow-up Space Invaders Extreme, released on DS.

Attack these invading Space Invaders and Space Invaders Part II links:
Space Invaders:
- Guide to getting high scores (goes with the video I linked to above)
- Entry at strategywiki.org, which includes the always entertaining home version comparisons.
- If that's not enough, this video has more than 45 minutes of footage from the various home versions
- Details on the arcade cabinet specs, including manuals for the arcade operators at arcade-museum.com

Space Invaders Part II
- Entry at strategywiki.org
- Entry at arcade-museum.com


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