Ultimate Block Party is an addictive and extremely frantic puzzle game with a bright, flamboyant style to match. The back of the box incorrectly claims Ultimate Block Party to be "the first Tetris-like puzzle game for the PSP." In actuality, the game plays more like a souped-up version of Tetris Attack rather than the classic Tetris that millions of people know and love. The focus of this game is on competitive battles, not solitary point chases. And those battles tend to get heated quickly, serving up quick and intense matches without forcing you through a protracted progression of levels.
Ultimate Block Party is a very simple game. You start out with a screen that is about a third of the way filled with colorful blocks. Every so often, a new row of blocks pushes up from the bottom, and you lose when the blocks reach the top of the screen. As time goes on, the blocks start adding up a lot faster. You can remove blocks by lining them up so at least four blocks of the same color are touching, at which point they'll disappear. You do this by moving a 2-by-2 cursor around and spinning the highlighted blocks in either direction until they match up. There is a slight delay between when you match up the like-colored blocks and when they disappear, and during this time you can attach other blocks of the same color to make them disappear as well. That's all pretty simple, but the game offers a lot of room for advancement once you're ready to move beyond the basic four-block strategy.
As blocks disappear, any blocks above will fall down, and if they're properly arranged, they'll create chains of disappearing blocks. By creating chains, you'll get various magic blocks. Arrow blocks will turn all blocks in their path the same color once they are activated; bomb blocks will change all adjacent blocks the same color; and flush blocks will clear all like-colored blocks on the screen. These magic blocks can be used simultaneously as well, and once you learn to use them to their full potential you can clear dozens of blocks at a time.
Clearing several blocks at a time not only helps keep your screen clear, but it launches attacks at your opponents. There are several different types of attacks, depending on the color of the blocks you clear. Clearing several red blocks will make your opponent's cursor bigger, which makes it difficult to arrange blocks with any precision; clearing orange blocks will turn the inside of your opponent's cursor black and white, making it difficult to match up colored blocks; clearing yellow blocks will prevent your opponent from seeing the bottom few rows of his or her screen; and so on. There are six different attacks in all, and while they're difficult enough to handle one at a time, things really get crazy when you get hit with several attacks in rapid succession. When your screen is almost full, and you're struggling with some odd-shaped or immobile blocks while your cursor is showing only black and white, and all of a sudden your controls are reversed, it's easy to get overwhelmed and quickly lose a match. Each attack varies in severity as well, so while you may be able to survive smaller attacks without much difficulty, the more powerful attacks can stop you in a matter of seconds.
There are several modes to choose from in Ultimate Block Party, but a lot of them are identical. You can play the game single-player, in which you forget about the attacks and just clear blocks to reach the highest level possible. However, the best way to play is in multiplayer mode. You can play against the computer in arcade mode, campaign mode, or versus mode. Arcade mode and campaign mode are almost identical, except in arcade mode you get to choose which character you want to play as, whereas in campaign mode you're stuck with Kollon, the generic main character. In both modes you play through a series of battles against the game's eight characters, who each have their own style of play. The characters are silly and generic, and they don't seem to behave much differently from one another. There's Kollon and Marinne, who are sort of little-girl versions of Ken and Ryu, an overweight superhero, a hitman, a burglar, an actress, an aristocrat, and the president of wherever it is this game takes place. There are some brief pantomimed skits between battles in campaign mode, but otherwise the characters don't interact.
The battles against the AI-controlled opponents are fun, but there are only three difficulty levels, and only the hardest level provides much of a challenge. Also, you can select your difficulty only in versus and arcade modes. You can pick up this game for the first time and breeze through arcade mode on normal difficulty without using more than one or two continues. Hard mode does provide a respectable challenge, but once you conquer that there's nowhere else to go. That is, unless you play head-to-head with a friend in two-player ad hoc mode, which plays the same as the single-player versus modes but with the added fun and challenge of battling a live opponent.
The visual style of Ultimate Block Party is quintessentially Japanese. The characters are obviously inspired by the lighter side of anime, with humorously disproportionate bodies and exaggerated expressions. During the battles they dance in place on the side of the screen until you're about to lose, at which point they start to get nervous. The backgrounds consist of simple city skylines and such, and you could easily play the entire game without noticing them. The blocks themselves are bright and colorful with happy little faces. The special effects that accompany the various attacks all look good, but they aren't so flashy that they detract from the game.
The sound here is about what you'd expect from a puzzle game. There are the requisite blips and beeps as you flip blocks and move the cursor around the screen, as well as an annoying but probably necessary alarm to let you know when you are in danger of losing. The music has a very arcade feel to it, with catchy electronic beats that keep the action moving without getting annoying or repetitive. There are only a dozen or so different tunes, so it doesn't take long to hear them all. Regardless, the sound is good here, but if you play it muted you won't miss out on much.
Ultimate Block Party is a fun and addictive puzzle game that will keep you entertained for five minutes or a couple of hours, depending on how much time you have to burn. It's a refreshing change of pace since you can pick it up and get right into the thick of the action without plodding through a lot of tedious buildup. If you've hit the level cap on Lumines and are looking for a new puzzle game to while away the time, you should definitely check out Ultimate Block Party.