|System: DS||Review Rating Legend|
|Dev: Mikoishi Studios||1.0 - 1.9 = Avoid||4.0 - 4.4 = Great|
|Pub: THQ||2.0 - 2.4 = Poor||4.5 - 4.9 = Must Buy|
|Release: Sept. 22, 2008||2.5 - 2.9 = Average||5.0 = The Best|
|Players: 1-4||3.0 - 3.4 = Fair|
|ESRB Rating: Everyone||3.5 - 3.9 = Good|
by Robert VerBruggen
There's something special about a good puzzle game. By combining simple rules with gamers' drive to rack up high scores, titles like Tetris and Dr. Mario have mesmerized countless players for decades. Those classics remain the king and queen of puzzlers, with today's teenagers buying suped-up versions or downloading the originals to computers, Virtual Consoles, and cell phones.
The latest attempt to usurp their throne comes from the DS title Dropcast. It features an unusually clever story, especially for a puzzle game, and it has a fresh take on the age-old concept of trying to break blocks before they reach the top of the screen. However, it lacks that mysterious "it" factor that makes a game like this succeed, and there's a mismatch between the difficulty and the presentation.
The story revolves around Ingrid, a Wednesday-from-the-Addams Family-like young witch. She's brought her stuffed-animal collection to life and taught each pet a different set of magic spells. They fight each other through Ingrid's puzzle.
There are two game modes. The first, Ingrid's Curse, involves simply playing the puzzle for a high score. Here's how it works: You turn the DS on its side, with the touch screen on the right (if you're left-handed, don't worry, there's an option to reverse this). Rows of blocks pop up from the bottom of the touch screen. When two or more adjacent blocks have the same color, you can break them by touching one with the stylus. When you break a set of six or more, they drop on the left-hand side (non-touch) screen. The goal is to make entire rows of blocks on the left-hand screen, which (just like in Tetris) disappear and give you points. Unlike in Tetris, you don't have to worry about fitting different shapes of blocks into each other (the blocks that fall together don't hold their pattern, but fall as far as they can). You just have to make sure to spread the blocks out evenly, so they form full rows and disappear before the taller columns reach the top.
The interesting twist is that it matters where you break each cluster. Let's say on the right-hand screen you have a set of seven like-colored blocks, and at least one of those blocks is in the second column from the right. Let's also say that on the left-hand screen you have two whole rows completed, except for that very column. When you break the set on the right-hand screen, do so by touching the block in this column; this will concentrate the blocks on the column you're missing on the left-hand screen, completing both rows. (It sounds complicated, but it's easy to figure out with the game in front of you.)
There are twelve columns total, so it's hard to target specific ones toward the middle of the screen, especially when things start getting fast and hectic. For this reason, it might have been better if the developers had left the DS screens on top of one another, instead of side-by-side; that way, to target a specific column, you could just break the set by touching the column directly beneath it.
The strategy, of course, is to break the right blocks. The idea is to find places where breaking smaller clusters of one color will create clusters of six or more in a different color. As time progresses, new blocks pop up from the bottom faster and faster, so the game requires both thought and reflex.
That's an impressive feat for a simple game offered at a discount price, but it's also the reason Dropcast is no Tetris or Dr. Mario. It's rather difficult to develop a winning strategy, because in order to put small clusters of one color next to each other to create a big cluster, you have to sacrifice (potentially useful) small clusters of the other colors. It's not at all intuitive how to make this tradeoff, especially with new rows of random blocks popping up constantly. If you over think it, you end up with your stack approaching the top of the screen, and you have to pop clusters at random just to stay alive. That's great for hardcore puzzle fans looking for a challenge, but most puzzle fans aren't hardcore; they're just looking for something fun, simple, and immediately addictive to waste some time with.