Review: Groovin' Blocks (WiiWare)

Is Groovin' Blocks really that groovy or is it more of a square?

Unless you've been stuck on a deserted island or in a coma for the past few months, you know that there's been a barrage of puzzle games released on the WiiWare service during its short time in existence. You can now add one more puzzler to the list with the release of Empty Clip Studios' first WiiWare title, Groovin' Blocks. It won't take gamers long to see that the game borrows heavily from several other popular puzzle series, but it's worth noting that it brings at least a few new ideas to the table. So is this groovy puzzler a worthy addition to the WiiWare service or just another mediocre puzzler clone?

The best way to accurately describe the gameplay in Groovin' Blocks is to liken it a bit to a cross between the PSP hit Lumines and the classic Mega Drive title Columns. The core gameplay of manipulating the coloured blocks is quite reminiscent of that found in Columns where you can move the various colours up and down the stack of three blocks that come falling from the top of the screen. Your task is to basically align three like colours in a row either horizontally or vertically. This will cause these matched blocks, plus any like-coloured blocks touching this group, to disappear. This is where the music twist of Groovin' Blocks comes into play.

Instead of the musical beats being more of an afterthought as they were in Lumines, Groovin' Blocks forces you to use the thumping beats of each song to score bigger point values. When you bring the blocks down to stack them up, you have to do it on a downbeat. If you're successful, the blocks will glow and appear raised on the surface. You'll also be given a circular flash that will let you know when you've successfully stacked a group of blocks with the beat. As you stack and remove like-coloured blocks on the beat, you'll get a points multiplier. If you can keep it going you'll continue to get larger multipliers, starting with 2X. If you miss the downbeat while bringing a set of blocks down, the multiplier will disappear and you'll have to build it up again. You basically have until the song ends to play the level, at which time your score is tallied up and you are awarded stars based on your overall score.

As you gain stars for scoring high scores during each song, you'll soon be able to unlock new songs and unlock power ups as well. Some of these will give you scoring point bonuses while others can be used as destruction boosts to eliminate larger groups of coloured blocks at one time. These power ups will also gain in effectiveness as you unlock stronger ones. Unlocking these power ups is key to being able to reach the high scores so you can win the required stars for each song.

The control system is about as simple as you can get. You can use either the Wii Remote turned on its side or the Wii Classic Controller. Vertical groups of blocks are moved from side to side using the D-Pad, while pressing down brings the blocks downward in order to stack them up. Only one action button is used which will change the positions of the coloured blocks on the vertical group that's currently falling. While this control itself is simple and intuitive, trying to perform these moves to the beats of each song can become quite challenging. The early songs are fairly tame, but you'll soon come to songs that change beats and fade out from time to time, which makes your timing in bringing the groups of blocks down quite tricky and extremely challenging in later levels. Of course the required scores for each song also become more difficult to reach as you progress through the game.

There's also a multiplayer option in which two players can take on the game in one of two fashions: the Head-to-Head mode provides separate playing boards in which you both play your own board trying to rack up more points than your opponent before the song ends, while Co-Op mode allows two players to play simultaneously on the same game board and try to help each other rack up points cooperatively. This can be a double-edged sword at times, especially if one player is quite a bit better or worse than the other. In this case, a fight might break out once your playing partner begins losing points for you or stacking blocks up too quickly. It's a lot of fun until someone starts losing.

Unfortunately, Groovin' Blocks isn't much to look at. There are some nice special effects that flash in from time to time and the scrolling beat bar is a nice touch to give you a better indication of what the downbeat is for those songs where it's a bit difficult to pinpoint. The gauges and bars that you'll need to keep an eye on are all well drawn and easy to pick out, but they don't show much in the way of graphical flash. Even the blocks themselves aren't much better than you'd find on any classic 16-bit era puzzler. In all honesty, the coloured pulses and the blocks shattering into many little polygon pieces are really the highlight of the visual package as a whole. Of course, with a game like this, visual flair falls pretty far down on the priority list anyway.

Now we get to the good stuff! If you're a fan of techno music, you're in for a real treat with Groovin' Blocks. There's enough techno here to last you a lifetime. That's to be expected since the emphasis on downbeats plays such a vital role in the overall gameplay experience and you'd be hard-pressed to find a style of music with a more constant downbeat than techno. It's also worth noting that the music is very high quality and each song is very distinctive, so you don't have to worry about the music tracks becoming too repetitive during long playing sessions. In fact, the music tends to get better the further into the game you progress. A lot of that could be due to the fact that these tracks become quite a bit more intricate as the game becomes more difficult.

Conclusion

It is safe to say that if you are a fan of puzzlers such as Lumines or Columns you will get a kick out of this. For the admission price of 800 Wii points it is pretty good value for the money. Groovin’ Blocks is not terribly original in many respects, but there are at least a few unique gameplay elements that help set it apart from the many music puzzlers that have preceded it. If you are not much of a puzzle game fan, however, it is unlikely that Groovin’ Blocks will be revolutionary enough to convert you. Whilst it is understandable that online play was not included on this offering from start-up developers, it is sadly a glaring omission for a game of this nature. The inclusive of more game modes might have boosted the longevity of the game; as it stands it is unlikely you will go back to this once you have met all the score targets. Groovin’ Blocks is a welcome addition to the WiiWare service and a great first effort from Empty Clip Studios.

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