Thursday, September 9, 2010

At Random: Builder's Block

Time to dive into the miscellaneous games stack again.  Here's one I didn't even remember I owned -- Builder's Block for the Sony Playstation, in its original case with a prominent crack on the front, as acquired at a Salvation Army sometime in the past few years.  It's a puzzle game with arcade roots, developed by Taito in 1998 and published a few years later by Jaleco in the US.

And it's not very good.

I mean, it tries -- it's got a full-featured set of options, with an arcade mode, a puzzle mode, and a two-player battle mode.  The various gameplay selections even feature different graphic styles, with a schematic, strategy-focused look for the puzzle levels and a very attractive pastel-and-pencil manga style for the arcade version.

But the gameplay just doesn't work very well -- the rules are unclear, or at least they were to me after trying to figure them out for ten minutes.  While I did eventually get my bearings, an obstinate learning curve is the death knell for any puzzle game.

The idea is to place colored tiles Bust-A-Move/Puzzle Bobble style, so that solid blocks of target dimensions (2 x 2 at a minimum) are formed and can pop up little buildings, Populous style.  (Again, I'm running this on an emulator for screen capture convenience -- the 3-D elements appear in lower resolution on the original PSX.)

But even the Tutorial mode doesn't really help us figure out how to play.  We start out with a basic grid and are asked to construct a 3 x 3 building.  Fine -- we place a few tiles, the building pops up, we're given a SUCCESS message...

And then the game sits there, waiting for us to do... what?   We can place some more tiles, and watch the indicator on the side go from CAUTION to DANGER, and then earn a MISS as the tiles roll forward, pushing the bottommost row over the line of failure.

Nowhere -- and remember, this is a tutorial! -- is it mentioned that once the little winged bronze trophy icon appears following the SUCCESS message, we need to hit it with a block, causing it to vanish and clearing the level.  Or that we can hit any block of a matching color on its front corner, causing it and any blocks of the same color to which it's connected to vanish.  Once we've figured out these basics, the rest of the tutorial makes sense, and introduces us to the special effects of the moon and star blocks.

Now that we know what we're doing, we can go play the Arcade Mode, which resembles Taito's own Puzzle Bobble but isn't nearly as much fun.  The original arcade game, LandMaker, was released only in Japan, but at least we get an idea of how it was structured in this renamed US port:

We can pick a character, fighting game style, and take on our opponent to see whose line gets crossed first.  As in Puzzle Bobble, the characters are mostly there to dress up the basic puzzling action -- they hop around the grid with plenty of energy, but don't actually impact the playfield: 

Our choice of character is mostly for show, so we have something pretty to look at when we achieve victory over our opponent.  The translation has a certain motivational poster feel about it:

I hereby celebrate this victory, and put this game back on the shelf.

No comments:

Post a Comment