Monday, June 8, 2009

Art Style: PiCTOBiTS review

Skip Ltd.'s Art Style series returns to the Nintendo DSi with the second entry in the series, PiCTOBiTS; which is also the first in the Art Style line to use characters and music from other Nintendo franchises.

Like Tetris, and subsequent "falling block" puzzle games, PiCTOBiTS uses the classic falling formula, but reinvents the genre by utilizing touch screen controls with a new and unique gameplay design.

First Thoughts
After my disappointment with WarioWare: Snapped!, I was very cautious as to how I was going to spend the rest of my free DSi Points. I was looking for a pick up and play game, a game that I wouldn't need swap out a cart for, that I know would be available on my DSi when I grab it at 3 in the morning. So, much to my joy, an appealing looking puzzle game showed up on the DSi Shop, and it used NES games as its theme. Where could I go wrong?

As stated, all of PiCTOBiTS' puzzles are centered around various NES and Famicom games, much like the previously released Tetris DS. So you'll get to play levels based on your favorite NES games such as Super Mario Bros., The Legend of Zelda, Ice Climbers, and few others, as well as Famicom exclusive, Devil World, which never made it to America. While the 8-bit design is nice, I found some of the selection weird; for instance there's about 4 Mario levels per difficulty, Baseball actualy has a level, Zelda only has one, and there's no Donkey Kong, Metroid, or Kid Icarus. I won't discuss the rest as you may consider that a spoiler, but I just felt some obvious exclusions should be mentioned.

As for the actual playing of the game, everything you need to do is of the bottom screen, and the image you're trying to complete is up on top. As the different colored blocks come down, it's your job to collect spare blocks, and then place them as you see fit with the matching color. The more you match with a falling block-mass, the more points and coins you will earn. Earning more coins allows you to "buy" Dark levels, which are harder versions themed with the regular level (i.e. if the regular stage is World 1-1, the Dark stage is World 1-1, but with a new sprite to create, and harder difficulty). It's a simple formula, but one that's never been implicated before, which makes for a fun, nostalgic puzzle game.

But with that fun also comes difficulty, and I'll say now that this is one of the hardest puzzle games I've ever played. Especially when you get to the later stages or even the Dark stages, this game will play you good. What happens in these levels is that you start dealing with more colors to match up, "permabits" which stay put if you don't clear them as they fall, and faster drop speed. If you like a challenge, this game is for you; but if you don't think you can handle it I'd stay away even though the first few levels are easy and fun.

Despite being a DSiWare title, the extras in the game are pretty impressive if music is your thing. The game itself features 8-bit remixes of the games' classic soundtracks, which are obviously fitting with the 8-bit gameplay. By earning coins in the game, you can not only purchase Dark stages, but you can also purchase the games' soundtrack. And what's really nice is that even if you haven't reached a level yet, you can still buy the tracks for that stage. And even cooler, is that if you have headphones, and you close your DSi, you can still listen to the music just as you would with DSi Sound; even Rhythm Heaven doesn't let you do that!

Also included are a nice series of video tutorials, which can be really helpful if you're not fully understanding the mechanics of PiCTOBiTS' unique gameplay. So in the end, you're not just getting a fun, pick up and play puzzle game on your DSi for five dollars, but you're also getting a 30+ track, 8-bit remix soundtrack of your favorite NES tunes (albeit one you'll have to play to unlock, but still).

Final Thoughts
I was pretty glad I spent my last 500 free points on PiCTOBiTS, as it was really a spur of the moment purchase because I just needed a pick up and play game that wasn't something I've played before. I also feel that the utilization of familiar Nintendo characters is an appealing way for gamers like myself who have not played an entry in the Art Style series, to finally do so, and come away with a satisfyingly new experience. If you wanted a reason to call DSiWare a legitimate platform, PiCTOBiTS is your answer.

Overall Score: 8.8/10

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