Players: 1+ Player Game | Release Date: 04/18/05 | Genre: Puzzle
When Nintendo was first promoting Polarium, they billed it as the next Tetris. Even though I was (gasp!) never a big fan of Tetris, even I realized that it was a very bold claim. That's not to say that Polarium doesn't bring something new to the table.
There are two ways to play Polarium, but the basic mechanics are the same in either mode. The playfield contains a grid of black tiles and white tiles. If you touch a tile, it will change colors by flipping over (black to white or white to black). By drawing a line over two or more tiles, you can flip several tiles simultaneously. If an entire horizontal row is changed into the same color, then it will disappear. A line can be drawn over adjacent tiles (90° turns), but it cannot cross over itself. The concept is perfectly suited to the DS. The game is played entirely by drawing on the Touch Screen with a stylus. It really wouldn't work without the Touch Screen.
Challenge mode is what you might call the Tetris part of the game. Rows of tiles fall into the play field and you must clear the tiles before they stack up to the top of the playfield. Otherwise, it's Game Over. The playfield actually spans both screens of the DS, giving you a tall, vertical playfield. Of course, you can only draw and eliminate rows on the Touch Screen, and any tiles above will fall once you clear one or more rows. The longer you survive, the faster and faster more rows of tiles will fall onto the stack. The game ends when the stack builds beyond the upper screen. It's all about beating the high scores. So the key to success becomes quickly and efficiently eliminating multiple rows of tiles at a time by drawing smart lines. This mode is very fun at first, and it seems like it will have the addictive appeal that most play-forever puzzle games have, but it has one major flaw. The tiles fall in certain sets of patterns. Initially, the patterns are easy to eliminate with a single line, but then the tile patterns become harder to negotiate. Still, with continued play, you'll memorize the patterns and it will become somewhat boring to play Challenge mode. It becomes less about quick thinking (because you'll always know what to do) and more about how fast you can move your hand. If you play the game, you'll understand why it was designed this way. Random tiles would really work with the game's concept of drawing smart lines.
Most players will find the second mode more enjoyable, especially those who like brainteasers. In puzzle mode, the player is presented with a certain pattern of tiles. To solve the puzzle, you must make them all disappear by drawing just one line. There's no time limit, and there's even a hint system if you get stuck. The first few puzzles are easy, but some of the later puzzles a lot more time and thought. Sometimes, you have to keep trying different strokes to see where it gets you. Other times, you just "see" the solution. The 100 included puzzles will probably take you a decent amount of time to solve, but in the end it still wasn't enough. It was very satisfying to solve each puzzle, but it felt like it was over too soon. Fortunately, the game allows you to create and store up to 100 more custom puzzles. You can share puzzles directly via the wireless link, or you can also convert the puzzles to special passwords so that you can share them over Internet message boards or email, for instance. This is a very welcomed feature and can definitely expand the value of Polarium.
The game also offers wireless multiplayer for two opponents. In this mode, the second screen shows a view of the opponent's playfield. When you clear a row of tiles, it's sent to the opponent's playfield. You can also earn special items to hinder your buddy's progress or aid your own efforts. When the stack builds up too high on one player's field, then he's the loser. Or if the time runs out, then the player with the least rows on his side is declared the winner. Versus mode can get pretty fast paced and is an enjoyable addition to the game. You can even play with another person who doesn't own a Polarium game card. Not only that, but you can also send a single player demo for her to try out on her own.
Polarium's a novel gameplay concept that any puzzle fan should try. It's a type of game that you really couldn't play on another game system and it brings its own unique design to the puzzle genre. The only problem is that the fun doesn't last long enough. For most block-falling puzzle games, the real value is in the addictive play-forever mode. However, Polarium's Challenge mode becomes too predictable to be addictive. I would have given the game a much better score if it had far more puzzles to solve in Puzzle mode. I'm talking hundreds, not just one hundred. There's actually an expansion of sorts coming out in Japan soon that includes 365 new puzzles as well as some other new features. Something more along those lines would allow me to make a stronger recommendation to get Polarium. For now, I would encourage anyone interested in the game to find a way to try it out, but you'll want to do some consideration before you drop some actually cash for it.
This article appeared in the August 2005 Issue of CVGames. You can view this Issue by clicking here.