Puzzle games are ten-a-penny on WiiWare, varying from the boring to the brilliant. Attempting to nestle nicely into this overcrowded genre comes Art of Balance, a physics-based block-stacker from the developers of DS shooter Nanostray. Having had chance to sit down with Art of Balance for a few hours it’s clear this is a classy puzzle game that should make you sit up and take notice.
Ignoring classic falling block and match-three territory, Art of Balance gives you a very simple challenge – use the available blocks to make a stable construction that won’t fall down and land in the water. That’s pretty much all there is to it, but it’s rarely that straightforward, as you’re usually tasked with balancing the blocks on tiny stone points or shaky platforms floating on water. Just to make things extra challenging the blocks come in all kinds of odd shapes, with balls, bones, crosses and more, to the extent that figuring out how to fit them together is truly brain-taxing.
When you think you’ve got your plan together, the controls couldn’t be simpler. Point at a block and press , rotate it with the , move it to its intended location and press again to drop it into place. Naturally puzzle games depend on simplistic, responsive controls, and Art of Balance’s intuitive scheme is perfect: the camera even zooms in on the “action” to allow more delicacy for your block-dropping feats.
Along your way through the game you’ll encounter Challenge levels that ask you to do more than simply arrange a stable stack: you may be up against a time limit, have to build a tower of a certain height or one of a number of other tasks. These levels are rarely compulsory but are worth taking on to both expand your skills and gain more of the medals that allow access to the game’s four worlds.
We managed to get halfway through the game's second world (there are four) before our time was up, but it certainly doesn't seem to lack for challenge, though if you find it too difficult you can team up with a friend in the game's cooperative mode. Feeling more competitive? Take on an opponent in the game's Versus mode, though sadly we were unable to test these out in our preview. If they share the same flair for design and simplicity as the main game, however, they should be the icing on a rather well-balanced cake.
Whilst the version we played wasn’t quite complete it’s still extremely polished, with a glossy, stippled presentation style that stands up to anything else on WiiWare, and many retail games too. There’s not too much in the way of graphical extravagance, but the cloth and wooden background textures look good and the water animates nicely, and the blocks look as chunky as they should.
Art of Balance certainly impressed us, with enjoyable and addictive gameplay that stands out in a puzzle-packed WiiWare market. With the game heading for a release in a few weeks' time, there's not too long to wait to see how Art of Balance stacks up against the opposition.