There's more to a game than just pretty pictures and cool sound effects, a fact not lost on the video game design masters at Sega's AM2. From the team that created such arcade masterpieces as Virtua Fighter and Daytona, comes the slightly less impressive, but still entertaining Baku Baku. This is the new twist on puzzle games that many enthusiasts have been waiting for.
Recently translated for the PC from a Sega Saturn format, Baku Baku is at its core a slick redesign of an older Japanese puzzle game entitled Puyo Puyo. As in that game, which was re-released to American PC enthusiasts in the form of Spectrum Holobyte's Qwirks, players drop pairs of icons into a well in an attempt to make matches that will not only reduce the number of pieces in their playing field, but will also dump a few extras in their opponent's at the same time. In order to win, players must outlast their opponents, a trick that can be pretty hard to pull off when new icons continue to rain down at a breakneck speed.
From this basic premise, Baku Baku offers a few twists of its own. Instead of matching colors or shapes, players match animal icons with an appropriate foodstuffs (monkeys eat bananas, rabbits eat carrots, pandas eat bamboo, etc.). As difficult as this all may sound, the game's a great deal easier to play than to write about, so don't give up hope until you give it a try.
Baku Baku features cute little animated icons that, while not particularly impressive, do give it a certain anime charm that is well suited to the often bland puzzle genre. Audio effects include (as you might expect) plenty of animal noises, and a soundtrack that is passable, if a touch repetitive.
In the end though, it's not graphics or sound that matter in a puzzle game. Baku Baku is quick, competitive (the game includes modem play), and addictive, and that's all that really matters. If you've been waiting for a puzzle game with a little bite (sorry, I just had to say it), this is one of this year's best.