It was a pretty memorable moment, when it hit me. I was browsing through and trying the variety of different game modes available in the latest puzzle game fromArcen Games – Tidalis – when it occurred to me that this is one of the most complete, and thoroughly designed games I’ve seen in a long time.
Tidalis is a highly polished, cleverly designed puzzle game that is saturated with content, and detail in a way that even many larger studio developed titles often don’t compare to. I’m not typically a fan of puzzle games personally, but I found myself highly entertained, and quickly hooked on this title.
What I Liked
Clever, ingenious design
The core gameplay of Tidalis is remarkably sound. You’re asked to shoot “streams” through a series of colored blocks, chaining together at least three of the same color to clear the blocks. The stream can pass through blocks of a different color, only affecting blocks of a similar color in that stream, but can’t travel more than two spaces unless it passes through a block matching that stream’s color. It is a highly simplistic core design that is satisfying of itself, but has the mark of any truly great game design- it scales magnificently well. The amount of tweaks, and variables that can be added to a game are almost endless. It’s the purest of games, the simple kind that doesn’t get old quickly, and can be refreshed with variants without disrupting the core idea.
Remarkable level of options, game modes, and customization
There is a lot, in this puzzle game. It’s amazing to think that at the core of this all is such a simple gameplay mechanic. So much is branched off of the basic design. There are several different game modes, all highly unique and creative variants of the basic standard game. There are also custom games where you can use all the different elements and rules to come up with your own game type. It’s staggering how much depth there is in this game. There’s one game type where the colored blocks are replaced by “sun” and “moon” blocks, and you have to connect streams only in alternating order of sun, and moon blocks. Another game mode challenges you to eliminate a set number of blocks with only a limited amount of moves. Puzzle challenges are where you have to eliminate a series of blocks, all in one move. You can make your own puzzle challenges, upload them for other to play, or download ones other people have made.
This is a highly robust game, with tons of depth, scalability, and almost endless opportunities for customization.
Neat minimalist story
I relish story-telling in video games, so even in a puzzle game, I dig on some narrative to tie things together. Tidalis has a highly minimalist story in adventure mode that serves as a clever, and mildly comedic thread tying together a series of puzzle challenges. The developers clearly set out knowing what they wanted to do: create a light, fun, story that will ping your imagination, told with well drawn art, and simple text. Mission accomplished. It works, it’s short, and it most importantly it doesn’t get in the way of solving puzzles.
Great, quaint score
I love the music in this game. I know the word “quaint” can sometimes hold negative connotations, but for anyone lacking a dictionary, here’s what I mean when I use the word:
1 : expert, skilled
2 a : marked by skillful design b : marked by beauty or elegance
3 a : unusual or different in character or appearance : odd b :pleasingly or strikingly old-fashioned or unfamiliar
It deftly evokes the emotion of wonder, openness, and mystery that the sea, and a deserted island would make you feel. It’s an absolutely necessary component, that was expertly delivered upon, and I can’t imagine this game without this music. While taking breaks from the game, I just left my laptop open on the menus and chilled out to the music. The “victory song” that plays when you successfully complete a puzzle? Yeah, I want that for a ring tone.
Excellent tutorial system
It’s highly robust gameplay, but there levels of depth to acclimate yourself to as you move along. The tutorial system in the game is simple, friendly, and effective in introducing you to each new level of complexity in the game. I know it’s a small thing, but the tutorials were succinct and helpful, and I consider that a note-worthy touch of polish.
What I Didn’t Like
As a rule, I’ve always thought it was necessary to include something in this space, to list something I didn’t enjoy about a game. Here’s why I feel good about not doing that in this case: Tidalis aims for a simple core concept, and doesn’t fail in any way to deliver it. I’ve always believed in judging a game for it is trying to accomplish, not what I as a reviewer want it to be doing. I think Tidalis is aiming to be a clever puzzler, with casual appeal, but also with significant depth – and it does that flawlessly.
Secondly, almost anything about the mechanics of the game are open to be customized. Anything small, subjective complaint I might have had, I could change to appeal to my own tastes, and I think that should satisfy any reviewer.
Perhaps there’s something I will come to dislike if I spend enough time with the game. I know months after continual play time on some of my all-time favorite games, I’ve been able to most clearly see their flaws. I’m sure that as I continue to play Tidalis I will find something I don’t like… but it’s going to take me a while.
Tidalis is developed and published by Arcen Games, released on July 16th, 2010. It sells for $9.99 USD, and I was provided a license key for the purpose of reviewing the game.