Denki Blocks! Review

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Publisher: Majesco
Developer: Rage

Platform: Game Boy Advance, Game Boy Color, Mobile Phone and Set-Top Box
Reviewed on Game Boy Advance

Join Jessop the wizard, your guide on puzzle island to learn the favorite puzzle of all the inhabitants of Puzzle Island – Denki Blocks!. Train, participate in single puzzle challenges involving Denki Blocks!, or join the tournament to earn Puzzle Island's honored title of Puzzle Master.

Kyle Ackerman

Your first foray onto Puzzle Island reveals just how cheerful and colorful a place it is. After taking on a grinning child as your smugly cute avatar for exploration and puzzle solving, you get an introduction to Puzzle Island from the wizard Jessop. Jessop offers a thorough tutorial with thirty lessons (some of which open up after preliminary play) to explain everything relating to the puzzles and available modes of play.

Denki Blocks! is fundamentally a very simple game. The play area is a 16x16 grid. Each space is either empty or occupied by a white block (called Blockers). Loose in the space are red, blue and green and yellow blocks called Gumblocks. Gumblocks slide around in the direction you press the control pad until they hit a Blocker or another Gumblock of the same color. When two Gumblocks of the same color touch, they stick together. The puzzle is completed when all Gumblocks of the same color have been stuck together as a single group (later puzzles will sometimes exclude certain colors). While you have the ability to undo your single most recent move, some puzzles will need to be restarted multiple times before they can be fully understood. Most modes will also track the number of moves you need and the time you take to solve a puzzle, so perfectionists can work to optimize their puzzle solving skills.

The heart of Denki Blocks! is tournament mode. To win the tournament mode you must defeat the seven leading Denki Blocks players, with identities like Morton the dragon. Once you have defeated the seven top players, you can then face the current Puzzle Master. To defeat any given opponent, you must solve at least fifteen of the twenty five puzzles they have prepared. If you solve all twenty five puzzles, each player will make an extra five of their favorite puzzles available to you. Sportsmanship doesn't seem to be valued on Puzzle Island. If an opponent loses, they'll often cry, and they gloat if you lose. A bonus may also be available to you in the tournament, with stars awarded to you if you can solve the puzzle by uniting the Gumblocks in a particular shape. An even bigger prize is awarded if you have three different colors of Gumblocks, and can combine them all in three identical shapes.

Several other modes of play are available. In the solo "Workout" mode you practice making random shapes after choosing the number of blocks you will use and how long your workout will last. In "Perfecto!" games you must make Puzzle Islanders' favorite shapes as fast as possible with as few moves as possible. Perfecto! can only be played against characters you have unlocked in the tournament. Jessop is often quite critical of your performance in these solo games. There is a "Race" game in which you can compete to be the fastest of up to 4 players to make either four or eight shapes. Each shape you complete moves you further along the race track. (You can play against human or computer opponents, but not a combination of both. Competitive games against humans can be played in a hotseat mode, with players taking turns.) There is a game "All Change!" in which each player gets an assortment of blocks and must make a shape in under thirty seconds. Completed shapes are swapped between players, and the first player to duplicate the shape given to them wins. Finally, there is a "Battle!" mode, which is only playable against a single human. In this mode the screen is littered with colored Gumblocks. Each player has a color and takes turns with the other players moving blocks. You get to keep moving Gumblocks until you join two of a like color. The first player to join all Gumblocks of their own color wins.

There are lots of clever puzzle designs throughout the game. Many of the opponents in tournament mode even have a style of puzzle, and the puzzles are fairly good about ramping up difficulty. With an analytical approach, most players will be able to complete the fifteen puzzles necessary to advance, but may be challenged trying to complete all 25 puzzles, favorite puzzles, and goals that award stars. Just in case that's not enough puzzles, stars can be redeemed in the Club for even more puzzles. There are even a few items to make puzzles more complicated, such as a "Painter" block that won't stick to other blocks, but will change the color (and thereby the functionality) of other Gumblocks.

Is Denki Blocks! a children's game? It certainly comes across as such. The design is extremely colorful, which lends itself well to the Game Boy Advance screen, and even the most sinister seeming competitors in the tournament are saccharinely cute. Each of the Puzzle Islanders has a cartoonish demeanor and a brief, endearing story. At the same time, the puzzles themselves are logic puzzles of the coldest and most abstract sort, and hardly seem engrossing to the pre-teen set. A very brief internet demo found here will let you play six sample puzzles, and give you a very good idea what this game has to offer. The puzzles are cleverly created, sometimes fiendishly so, but seem more likely to appeal to adults than children. The exception may be the competitive games.

Fundamentally, Denki Blocks! has the same sort of appeal as a crossword puzzle, and is a pleasant way to while away a few minutes. Solving several puzzles may be fun, but this is not a diversion that will pass hours at a time unless you compulsively solve abstract puzzles as a sort of mania. Denki Blocks! on the Game Boy Advance is the video-game equivalent of "bathroom reading" – it's a pleasant diversion in short bursts. If you are looking for more solidly engrossing puzzle action, try a title such as Turbo Turtle Adventure.

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This page contains a single entry by Editor published on January 15, 2003 12:59 PM.

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