Review: Plättchen: Twist 'n' Paint (WiiWare)

Does Plättchen have the unique twists puzzle fans are looking for?

Plättchen: Twist 'n Paint is certainly one of the more mysterious WiiWare games to date. It was the very first title to be announced last year before the WiiWare service went live but has been plagued with several delays. Aside from the fact that it was a "puzzle shooter" and would cost a wallet-busting 1500 Wii points, little else was known about the game. Now that Plättchen has finally been released it is with great interest we get to find out what it’s all about and if it really is as innovative as we have been led to believe.

The first impressions are good. The graphical effects are impressive and there is no denying that this is one of the better looking WiiWare games. The on-screen imagery is accompanied by a bouncy, joyful soundtrack. There is no questioning the production values in terms of visuals and audio; unfortunately when you actually begin to play the game, it quickly begins to fall apart.

To play, you first twist your Wii Remote (or nunchuk) to select the paint colour you want and then apply that colour to a grid of panels (plättchen is German for panel, fact fans) to destroy them. In order to destroy the panels you simply have to make lines of four or more panels. You'll then get 3 seconds to continue adding more panels to this group before they all explode, ending your combo. The more combinations you can manage, the quicker the bar on the left side of the screen will fill up with points. When it's completely full you can move on to the next level. Each panel that explodes costs you one point in addition to gaining you a point, thereby cancelling out the benefit. To gain points, you need to get as many panels as you can grouped into one explosion. Painting a few panels to connect one group to another is an ideal way to gain points. Each explosion costs 4 points so you want to make sure that you only explode groups of 5 or more tiles at once in order to proceed. When you destroy panels a new set drops in instantly to take their place, which can also set off a reaction.

Most of the time the playing field is filled to the brim with white panels that do not react to one another; therefore you have to paint them. This adds to the difficulty of clearing a stage because each panel you paint also costs points. Black panels are an added complication as they cannot be changed to another colour; when the grid is filled with too many black panels you instantly lose as there are no possible moves left.

The complexities to this puzzler do not end there; however, as each panel explosion causes the 'gravity' to change. New panels wait off-screen to all four sides of the playing field, depending on the way the gravity changes. You can press a button on your Wii Remote to see a small map of what is waiting for you, but in practice checking this is a needless annoyance and more often than not you are simply left to the mercy of whatever comes your way.

As we touched upon briefly before, the unique 'twist' in the gameplay (no pun intended) is the way you select the colour you wish to paint the tiles: you have to twist the Wii Remote (or nunchuk) like a key to select the colour from the colour wheel. With just two colours in play this is not too bad, but when there are more it becomes more difficult to select the colour you want as they fight for space on the wheel. Thankfully, you can lock your colour by holding down a button to avoid changing it accidentally, but this whole game mechanic feels like more of a gimmick rather than fundamental to the core gameplay. An option to alternate colours with a button press instead would have been nice to help avoid getting an RSI from playing this game for too long.

As if things weren't complicated enough already, during gameplay your cursor becomes a "FantasyME", which is a little character such as an astronaut or butterfly. Each one has their own specific ability, such as a torch to make it easier to see in darker levels, but this really serves to be a pointless addition to what is already a convoluted game.

One of the biggest annoyances in Plättchen is the presence of large floating objects, such as asteroids, skulls or pieces of fruit, that obscure your vision of the playing field. From time to time they crash into your FantasyME and cause you to have to twist the Wii Remote (or nunchuk) continuously to bring it back into play. On the bottom-right of the screen there are a number of gear-like creatures called ZeLiLi which act as an energy bar; each time your FantasyME is hit you lose one. When they are all gone its game over. There are also power-ups that appear on certain tiles such as a minus symbol, which destroys all tiles on the horizontal line it is on when destroyed, or a plus symbol, which destroys a line both horizontally and vertically.

By now you may have formed the impression that the gameplay is utterly confusing, unintuitive and convoluted. If so, you’re bang on the money. With all these elements to consider at once it is hard to really get too much enjoyment out of this game. What could have been a simple and inoffensive fun puzzler seems to be weighed down with several ill-conceived game concepts that all fight with one another making the experience more like a chore than fun; it’s almost as if the developer had so many ideas floating around that it couldn’t resist dropping them all in at once, but as the old saying goes “less is more.” That is most certainly true here.

Once you have had your hands burnt with the Classic mode you can give the Copycat and Mission modes a go for a bit more variety. Sadly, what might have been a fun diversion requires you to play more of the Classic mode to unlock them. Copycat levels are unlocked by finding a special item on each stage in Classic, and to get Mission stages you have to beat Classic stages with as few twists at possible.

Copycat mode presents you with a large grid and a small picture to the left. The aim is to copy the picture across to the large grid; you have to clear multiple pictures to proceed. To make things more complicated you have a time limit which only serves to annoy as you do your best to handle the fidgety ‘twisting’ system. The Mission mode sets objectives such as guiding a FantasyME through a maze of tiles. The missions we unlocked were fun for a while but feel like an afterthought to boost the longevity of an otherwise irksome game. Unlocking the missions requires you to beat the developer's high scores in Classic mode and make it into the top three on the scoreboards, which is not an easy task. It’s a shame because the missions themselves are more interesting than the actual game.

There are of course multiplayer modes which you might hope would be mildly entertaining. Sadly all five of the modes on offer are just slightly modified versions of the exasperating Classic mode. In "Classic VS" up to eight players can take each other on in a head-to-head battle for Plättchen supremacy. Actually, it isn't really eight players but rather four teams of two, the idea being that one person in the team points and paints with the Wii Remote and the other uses the nunchuk to twist the colour wheel. "Destruction" is more of the same except instead of waiting three seconds for the tiles to blow up they instantaneously explode. "Out of Control" prevents you from controlling your colour wheel so you are at the mercy of whatever the CPU selects for you randomly (we surely don’t need to point out how blood-boilingly frustrating this is). "Split" is a one-on-one battle where each player has half of the field to themselves. Finally there is "Bomb Rain" where a ton of bombs come across the screen in a similar fashion to the asteroids and other obstacles in Classic mode.

The multiplayer modes offer limited value and transparently recycle what game elements exist in Classic mode. For a price tag of 1500 Wii points (1000 in the US) it is not unreasonable to expect that online wi-fi modes might have been included to boost the entertainment value further. It is understandable for an indie developer not to make that commitment when they are only asking for 800 Wii points for their game, but when the cost is twice as much this missing functionality stings even more.

One of the developer's boasts for Plättchen: Twist 'n Paint is that there are more than 100 hours of gameplay, but from what we saw after a substantial play test was more and more repetition dressed up as something new. The sad reality is that Plättchen proves too much of a chore for the player to continue to unlock everything. It doesn't start out that great and by a tenth of the way in you will most likely not have the heart to proceed further. Any developer can argue that their game offers 100+ hours of play; the question is does the game offer enough entertainment to actually make you want to play for that amount of time? Titles like Tetris certainly do, but sadly Plättchen doesn’t.

Last but not least we should mention that support for the Donkey Konga Bongos peripheral in one of the game modes has sadly been scrapped. However, determined to not be seen to lack innovation, Bplus shoehorned Wii Zapper support in instead. When playing with the Zapper you can use the pump action shot which has greater speed and doesn't twist the tiles. You can also control your FantasyME by using the analogue stick on the nunchuk. However, given the lacklustre nature of the gameplay, it all seems a bit pointless really.

Conclusion

Plättchen: Twist 'n Paint is the videogame equivalent of trying to pat your head and rub your stomach at the same time; there are too many elements to consider in tandem for this to be considered much fun. You not only have to pay attention to the playing field, but also gravity, your FantasyME, obstacles, and items, all while you try to coordinate twisting your wrist to select a colour to paint with from the wheel. This convoluted game mechanic is then further complicated by a series of additional game modes designed to extend the longevity of this sub-par game. The price tag of 1500 Wii points (1000 in the US) is extortionate taking all this into account; it would have been far preferable to have had a much shorter game which offered a more refined and focused experience. Considering that WiiWare already has several far more accomplished puzzlers on offer at a lower price this really is one to avoid. We applaud Bplus for trying to bring something new to the table but they have succeeded only in overcomplicating what otherwise could have been a decent game.