First Impressions: MadStone

It's no secret that the WiiWare service has seen quite a long line of puzzle releases since its inception, so news of yet another upcoming puzzler will likely draw more than a few sighs from Wii owners. But after playing a preview build of RiverMan Media's upcoming WiiWare puzzler MadStone, we have to say that you might want to give this game a try before you write it off as just another lame attempt to cash in on the WiiWare service.

The premise of MadStone revolves around the idea of smashing through piles of crumbling ruins in an attempt to get your Madstones into the Energy Pool located beneath the ruins. You hold the Wii Remote sideways and use the D-Pad to move a cursor around the various blocks of your playing field. You can then press the "2" button to smash the block your cursor is currently located on. Some blocks only require one hit to break whereas stronger blocks require two hits. Occasionally you'll come across Bomb Blocks that you can hit to take out an entire row of blocks at one time.

As you begin to get your Madstones into the Energy Pool, you can then start chaining combos of Madstones into the pool. The more Madstones you can get into the Energy Pool one right after the other, the more combos you can rack up. These combos will then fill your Quake Gauge, which allows you to shake the Wii Remote in order to start an earthquake that will begin breaking many of the blocks in your playing field at once. This will in turn rack up even more combos thus refilling your Quake Gauge. It's this careful blend of moves that will determine who wins the match.

You play against either the CPU or another opponent in a two-player game and the goal is to get more Madstones into the Energy Pool than your opponent. The Circle Gauge at the top of the screen will show which player is currently in the lead. The first player to get the Circle Gauge filled with their color wins. This might sound easy, but can prove to be quite tricky when two people of equal skill square off with one another.

The control in the game is extremely easy to pick up and proves to be a lot of fun given the fact that you'll spend a lot of time shaking the Wii Remote like crazy. Add in the competitive nature of the game and things can get really intense and crazy when both players begin to rack up combos simultaneously.

One incredibly useful feature in MadStone is the tutorial. Not only does it guide you step-by-step through the basics of the game, it also provides you with some useful tips to mastering some of the more advanced techniques found in the game. In a world where many puzzlers just throw you into the game head first, it's nice to see a game take the time to explain in detail how the game is played.

Visually, MadStone is quite solid for a puzzler. While the overall structure of things is still basic, all of the blocks and Madstones are very well constructed and show a lot of detail for a game of this type. The game is also broken down into individual areas that each feature their own unique visual styling to keep things interesting. The game even throws you different types of Madstones each time out to further avoid any type of monotony.

The music in MadStone is also top notch. It features a very orchestrated sound, and many tunes sound more like they belong in an RPG than a puzzle game given their smooth and melodic rhythms. There are a few tracks that feature a slightly more upbeat tempo to them, but for the most part the music stays fairly calm which allows the game's sound effects to shine. The rumbling that takes place each time the player shakes the Wii Remote is particularly impressive, especially when both players are shaking their Wii Remotes at the same time. Couple all of this with the constant sound of ruins crumbling in full Dolby Surround Sound and what you get is one very impressive audio experience, especially considering this is a puzzle game.

In a genre that's quickly turning out more copycat clones than original material, it's nice to see a developer bringing something fresh and unique to the WiiWare service. Sure it's nothing that's going to revolutionize the puzzle genre, but there are enough new game play ideas to make the game worth trying. The hectic pacing of the competitions gives the game some added intensity that you won't find in many other puzzlers, so that alone should give you enough incentive to at least give the game some consideration when it's finally released on the WiiWare service. It's certainly much better than some of the lackluster puzzle efforts that have popped up on the WiiWare service recently.