Sony's Minis platform for the PS3 and Sony PSP is known as a platform for smaller, cheaper titles that can be played in shorter bursts than traditional games. With any platform with this wide a reach, however, the quality that can be found within is at times incredibly varied. A Minis developer brand new to the scene, Open Emotion Studios, has aimed high with their new puzzle title Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles, which merges a number of different puzzle games into one. So the questions remains: does this developer's initial offering progress the Minis platform further or is it relegated to the back of the line?
For those who have played other puzzle games such as Columns and Tetris, Mad Blocker Alpha will feel very familiar. You can choose where the multi-colored blocks drop and the order of the colors but with the added twist that you can only change the color order horizontally instead of vertically unlike Tetris, which allows the player to change the orientation of the blocks vertically and horizontally. For veterans of the genre it's definitely a radical shift as you have to force yourself to acknowledge the restraints and I personally found myself wanting to switch the block's orientation initially before the restrictions mentally kicked in.
Each block consists of three held-together blocks randomly colorized which disappear when four or more of the same colors are placed next to each other. The added challenge is that these blocks will separate from each other when they hit the ground instead of sticking together like in other puzzle games such as Dr. Mario. It's a unique difference that comes into play during specific sections of the games, namely the story mode, which we'll delve into later.
Like most puzzle games, Mad Blocker Alpha features the expected story, endless and tower modes. The story mode is wrapped around a loosely-developed storyline which has the title-bearing Fluzzles being threatened by the evil Mokes who are polluting their homeland. And to help them save their homeland the player has to solve a series of challenges ranging from surviving a set amount of time to creating a specific number of chains by stacking like-colored blocks together and are stitched together with some occasional cutscenes. Not the original storyline by far, but generally most of these types of games aren't that fleshed out in this department so Mad Blocker Alpha featuring it at all is a nice plus to the overall package.Generally, these stages are not too much of an issue, but some of them such as the like-colored chains become an issue because the horizontal space for blocks is much smaller than the vertical area so players have to either be extremely clairvoyant in their block laying or trek through trial and error until they happen to line up the right blocks next to each other. This is where the block separation feature of the Mad Blocker Alpha's gameplay mechanics falls flat because it requires too much work for what is supposed to be an easy-going puzzler. It's simply puzzling why the game doesn't utilize the widescreen dimensions of the PSP and sticks with Nintendo DS-style dimensions.
The music and art design of the game fare much better, however. Going with a more laid-back tone, Open Emotion Studios composed a nice mixture of relaxing and hectic tracks to compliment the laid-back and action-frenzied stages in the game. Some of the tracks do overstay their welcome after you've stayed on a level for too long but this really only applies to a select few tracks in the game's soundtrack. The art design takes its cues from nature and mysticism and manages to combine the two to create an interface that reflects the nature of the stage and the music. It's clear the developers put a lot of work into this area of the game and it definitely shows.
As said earlier in the review, Mad Block Alpha also features a endless and tower mode. Endless, as one would imagine from the title, is your typical survival mode which lets players play as long as they want until they run out of room. Open Emotion Studios included a ton of options for this mode with five different difficulty settings and a variable speed setting along with the ability to keep track of your personal high scores. Tower mode is the exact opposite of Endless mode as it requires the player to build up towers as fast as they can to get passed a pre-defined height marker. Raise the difficulty and you'll get less colors to work with, thus making it harder keep the tower going. All three modes do support power-ups such as destroying a specific color or eliminating a single row which should help some players progress if they get stuck.
Overall Mad Blocker Alpha: Revenge of the Fluzzles is a competent addition to the Minis lineup and is a solid recommendation to any fan of the long-standing puzzle genre. At $3.99 its minor faults, initially odd gameplay mechanics and somewhat lengthy loading times as times are outweighed by the title's polish. If you have money to spend and are looking for a quick and simple pick-up-and-play title on the PlayStation Store for your PS3 or Sony PSP, you won't go wrong with Mad Blocker Alpha.
|Very vibrant graphics for a PSN minis title.|
|Music is surprisingly good for a puzzle game.|
|Great variety of modes.|
|The small playable screen area feels restricting.|
|The control scheme is initially very awkward until the user gets used to the restrictions.|
|The music does get slightly grating on the more tedious stages.|