Publisher Atlus are best known for producing kooky JRPGs, including their most famous series Shin Megami Tensei, so it was a surprise to see their name behind new(ish) puzzler Droplitz. Droplitz was released this summer to neither fanfare nor furore. So it's no surprise if you knew nothing of this addictive little arcade brain teaser before - I had never even heard of it before I came to play it for review. It's definitely a title worth acquainting yourself with as it is both highly addictive and strangely calming.
Droplitz places you in control of a frankly horrifying set of plumbing which, on first glance, looks like the bizarre lovechild of Bioshock's hacking mini game and classic 2 player board game Downfall. (I imagine the next game I will be reviewing will be "Paint - How Quickly Can You Dry?") Your task is to create paths from the dispensers at the top of the board to the collectors at the base so that the suspiciously coloured and rather slug-like “droplitz” are not lost into the ether, by rotating pieces of piping.
The amount of droplitz you have available to you is displayed on a meter at the side of the play area, gradually depleting as time goes on but successfully ferrying droplitz from dispenser to collector will replenish your meter and give you more time.
As you progress you move onto different levels, represented by nine different themed boards, including, much to my simple-minded amusement, a somewhat bizarrely coffee themed board. With each move up the ranks, the speed at which the droplitz are released increases, meaning that it becomes more and more difficult to keep track of what you are doing.
It sounds simple but you are up against a very demanding clock and so Droplitz poses no small challenge. It is initially very hard, a daunting prospect for someone as generally useless at this sort of puzzler as I am. There is no tutorial or practice arena and understanding comes from repeated play rather than reading the fairly meagre instructions. Once you get into the swing of things, finding the paths does come more naturally but at first it can all seem a bit too much hassle to be worth persevering.
As with most puzzle games the highest rewards come when you plan ahead in order to score multipliers so you will often find yourself frantically scrabbling to set up your next path as you race to create your current one. I found myself in fits of genuine panic when I could not find the next path and often found myself mindlessly twiddling dials round ineffectually in lieu of a decent plan!
There are four different modes that you successfully unlock by reaching target scores. After the basic mode you can unlock “Zendurance” which is the game's version of the usual endurance mode that features in most puzzlers, continuing on the same board, at the same pace for as long as you can keep up.
Next comes “Power Up” which is an intense mode but offers you some respite by adding some special abilities to the mix. This means that at times you are able to slow the action, cause explosions to clear tiles, freeze the board or even blow the whole thing up.
The final mode is “Infection” in which a cruel plague sweeps the board, leaving infected tiles lackadaisical and loathe to turn. These modes add a twist to proceedings but you may find that you are so exhausted from the challenge of actually unlocking them in the first place that you do not have it in you to take them on!
This brings me to my first real criticism. Droplitz is an intelligent game and naturally comes with a challenge but at times it feels that it is just a little too challenging. I really struggled to unlock the last two modes of play and I put my attainment of the score required to allow “Infection” play down to sheer luck more than anything else. These sort of games tend to attract casual players and as such it seems counter-intuitive to have such sharp difficulty spikes. Not to mention how out of tune it seems with the general zen-like atmosphere that the game works so hard to maintain.
The graphics are simple and clean and change nicely to suit the theme of the level. However, I was rather put off by the horrid Clip-Art style images rotating around the play area; these looked naff and gave the game a completely unwarranted tacky and cheap first impression. On the other hand I was rather entertained by the spinning, steaming mugs on the aforementioned coffee level.
The music is pleasant and well suited to the game, helping to maintain a calm atmosphere, even when the gameplay gets frantic. The sound effects fit in well and do not irritate. A nice touch is the way that the music responds to the action – if you're on fire, setting off killer chain reactions then the music will show its enthusiasm by adding a beat to mirror your fantastic pace and rhythm.
Droplitz is a simple game that is far from easy and may steal far more of your time than you ever intended to bestow upon it. Like many puzzlers it will infect you with “Just one more go!” syndrome and what started as a half-hearted exercise in passing time may soon become an all-consuming obsession!