Polarium: The only other DS game worth buying right now.

User Rating: 8 | Chokkan Hitofude DS
I’ve been gaming for a long time - longer than some of you have been alive, in fact. I remember the original Game Boy, with its brick-like design, it’s incredibly poor graphics, and the insatiable thirst for batteries it seemed to possess; I remember it all. What stands out the most, however, is not the hardware – it was the software. Above all else, I remember Tetris. The simple yet ingenious design, the quaint soundtrack, and the infinite replay value were what propelled the Game Boy to god-like status, and is the reason why half of my childhood is a blur to me. It’s been ever since then that, when launching a handheld system, a must-have puzzle game became a staple – Lumines for the PSP is a great example. Nintendo seems to have missed the boat with its North American launch of the DS, but can Polarium deliver? The answer, sadly, is that the game does not live up to the high expectations that were set forth by its predecessors. However, taken on its own merits, Polarium is a rather challenging game with just enough modes to make it a worthwhile purchase for fans of brainteasers. -- Polarium’s basics are pretty simplistic; the game, which is primarily played on the lower, touch-sensitive screen, consists of only a square board that's completely filled with patterns of black, white, and gray blocks. Touching a white block with your stylus turns it black, and vice-versa, while the gray blocks are neutral. You can score multiple flips by dragging your stylus vertically or horizontally across several blocks, and it forms a golden line around the chosen blocks. This line cannot be crossed, and there is no diagonal motion allowed. The objective of the game is to clear the board by turning all the blocks white or black, or by forming horizontal rows of white and black. Simple, no? There are three different modes in Polarium, albeit none of them differ much from the others. Challenge mode consists of the player trying to clear his screen to earn points by flipping the tiles, all the while having large blocks of black and white fall onto the play area. Overall this mode just feels too easy, because the blocks that fall are both too slow and follow somewhat of a pattern. There is a multiplayer aspect to the game, in which you play with another person on their own DS with their own copy of the game, or the demo that they can download. Wait a minute, a downloadable demo of the game? What is he talking about? Well, with a copy of Polarium, you’re able to send out a wireless signal to any DS units around you, who can choose the download option from the main screen, giving them a temporary demo of the game that lasts until they turn the machine off. The multiplayer mode consists of two players battling to clear their screen first. Each time you clear a line, it gets sent to your opponent’s side, and it can get quite hectic at times with two skilled players. The last mode, and the mode that should offer the most interest, is Puzzle mode. One hundred pre-made puzzles come installed with the game in said mode, which are essentially a large block of tiles. The objective: to clear all of the tiles in one stroke. It’s relatively easy for the first thirty or so levels, but then comes the fun part. Having spent over forty minutes on one puzzle, I can honestly say that the later levels are tough. Incredibly tough. Puzzle mode also offers the ability to make your own puzzles, which is a great addition if you have friends or siblings who want a good brainteaser. Or you can even take it online through a password system, and challenge other gamers with your puzzles. I have found no greater joy with Polarium than seeing some of my smartest colleagues get stumped by a one-stroke puzzle that I’ve created. -- In terms of graphics and sound, Polarium suffers greatly. Black, white, gray – that’s about all you get. Does it work? Yes. Does it need any more than that? Not really, no. The game looks as though it should have come bundled with the DS hardware itself, since it matches the overall theme of squares and rectangles. The sound doesn’t get annoying, which is a good thing, and it doesn’t try to overcompensate and ends up keeping the game simple. -- If you like puzzle games in general, consider getting this. It may not be the same “drop-block” formula that has worked in the past with games like Lumines, but it does offer something new and refreshingly challenging. A little more effort could have been put in to make the audio and visual stand out more; nonetheless, you won’t regret buying it.