Devil Dice is another mind-warping puzzle game created by the makers of last year's sleeper hit, Intelligent Qube. In Devil Dice, you take control of a (wait for it) little devil and must manipulate and match endless swarms of six-sided dice that sprout up on the playing field. Unlike the legions of Tetris clones that populate the puzzle-game market, Devil Dice is as unique a game as its predecessor was and about ten times as hard.
The challenge in Devil Dice originates from its unique concept. You control a little red devil who in turn controls each die he happens to be walking on. If the die he's controlling makes contact with another, he then has the option of moving on to the next one or any other die that happens to be connected to it. The playfield is made up of a grid, which has an equal number of sections in all directions. For example, one playfield might equal 15-by-15 blocks, etc. Each time you move a die, it rotates one side per movement. Your goal is to match up like numbers with their own value (you'll want to line up three threes, four fours, five fives, etc.), which will in turn start a reaction that will cause the dice to sink into the ground. Confused yet? As the dice are sinking you can run to another die and attempt to turn and connect it to the chain you just started. If you're fast enough, you'll be able to continue this exercise for multihit combos.There are also a number of dice lying around with a single red dot on the face (called the "happy one"). Connect any one of these to a chain, and every happy one on the playing field will sink as well, freeing up precious space. Freeing up space is important because once the field is completely full of dice, your game is over.
Apparently the secret to success in Devil Dice is your knowledge of, naturally enough, dice. According to the general principles of the die, the value of the number facing up, added to the number of the opposite side of the die, will equal seven. Knowing this, and actually being able to keep track of it, will enable you to know what number will surface in however many moves. For example, if you're standing on top of a two, the other side of the die will be five. Let's say you're trying to link up five fives to start a chain. If you've already aligned four fives, you'll move your die two times in order for the five to come up. Provided you're already connected to the other four dice, your chain will begin. If you can make sense of this logic, it will make for a more efficient process, because the secret to quickly initiating chains and combos in this game is knowing how many moves it will take to make your desired number come up.
Which is all well and good except for the fact that this game is way too fast-paced for that kind of strategy. Now, there are probably some analytical geniuses out there who could probably pick apart this game as ifit was checkers, but for the rest of us, blind luck is probably the best tactic. In Devil Dice, this point is perfectly highlighted by the inclusion of a puzzle mode. Considering the intense strategic nature of this game, you'd think that it would best thrive as a turn-based strategy game, and it does. In puzzle mode, you're given a series of problems that you must solve in a limited number of turns. Succeed and move on tothe next challenge; fail and do it again until you solve it. For each group of ten that you complete, you'll unlock a new picture to cover your playing field with. These pictures vary from a close-up shot of your little devil, to some abstract art, to a beautifully CG-rendered woman's face. There are over 20 different pictures to unlock, so replay incentive is high.
What isn't high is morale. In trial mode, your objective is to play solo against a field of ever-sprouting dice. As you progress, gameplay speeds up proportionately to your success. At level one, things move along at a snail's pace, while at level 34 your little devil is running around like Carl Lewis at the '92 Olympics. The point here is to last as long as you possibly can. Another thing raining on the parade is the length of each match. This is not a game that's over in 10-15 minutes. Matches can last anywhere from 45 minutes to over two hours depending on your skill level. Getting a high score is a feat not easily achieved. For those of you who'd rather play against another devil, but don't have friends willing to endure a match, you can always opt to play against the computer in battle mode. In battle mode you do exactly what you do in every other mode, except this time you've got a CPU-controlled devil onscreen trying to do it first. Before each match you select a difficulty level. Each level requires you to fill anywhere from three to six boxes by completing various objectives. By building up chains of varying values you will fill a box each time; however, if your opponent completes an identical chain (let's say he matches your chain of threes with his chain of threes) he then negates yours, and you must do another one to fill the box again. This can go back and forth until you're blue in the face. Consider it a sort of tug o' war.
The final mode available is war mode. In this insane exercise in frustration, up to five people, with the aid of a multitap, can compete against each other in a huge playfield littered with dice. If you don't have five friends you can always let the computer control any extra characters. Each player, human or computer controlled, has a strength meter. As each player completes chains, other players take damage. The lastman standing, or whoever has the most strength left when the time runs out, is the victor. Getting chains completed is the hard part, since there are always four other people messing up your links as you attempt to complete chains.
As far as aesthetics are concerned, Devil Dice is as graphically solid and functional as Intelligent Qube was. There are greater varieties of textures due to the varying properties of different dice. The little devils are all well animated and beautifully designed. As always, the menus and tutorial are crafted with a unique touch. The game is beautiful. The place where Devil Dice pales in comparison to IQ is in the music. Whereas IQ had an unpredictably lush orchestral soundtrack fit for King Arthur, it was all the better for it. Devil Dice, instead, assaults you with a grating techno-house score, which only serves to add to the already tense environment. The best course of action would be to turn down the music.
So what it all boils down to is that while Devil Dice is one of the most ingeniously designed puzzle games ever, the sheer learning curve will have most gamers crying in their sleep. No fitting the Tetris blocks in your dreams here - more like reaching for the Visine as your eyes dry out trying to keep pace with this relentless game. Unlike the sheer triumphant joy that Intelligent Qube was, with its perfect pacing and immaculately constructed atmosphere, Devil Dice is just the opposite. Call it a puzzle-gamer's hell to IQ's heaven. While difficult to criticize due to the brilliance of the game and the incentives buried deep within, Devil Dice comes recommended only to those looking for, perhaps, the ultimate puzzle-game challenge. Certainly not easy to learn and even more difficult to master, Devil Dice will keep its deepest secrets hidden from everyone except the most resolute of gamers. Approach with caution.