Posted by Paul Schreiner
A puzzler for all seasons?
While many of our readers bemoan the reality of the increasing abundance of puzzlers on WiiWare, we at WiiWare World welcome any games that try something new and original like Potpourrii does. That said, even original and innovative games have to offer decent gameplay. So where does this latest puzzler stand?
As with most puzzlers that sport a story, Potpourri's plot is fairly light; it only serves to provide the game with a backdrop and a rather charming visual design. An evil wizard has arisen to curse the magical forest in order to bring chaos to the seasons. It is your job to return order to the realm by sending the spirits to the ailing woods via the magical Potpourrii
- a swirling bowl of soup in which you have to collect the seasonal spirits.
This can be achieved by clearing clusters of spirits in said pot. Unlike games such as Puzzle Bobble, this one has no set amount for how big these clusters have to be - they can be as little as one or as big as thirty -- and they can only be cleared by a succeeding seasonal spirit. There are four spirits in all: spring, summer, fall, and winter. Spring clears winter, summer clears spring, etc.
You can clear your pot with the help of your trusty spirit cannon, which is controlled via the IR reticule of your Wii Remote. There are four spawn points (one for each spirit) from which you'll have to pick up a spirit, after which you can determine which angle is best fitting from the circular railway your cannon traverses. You can fire the spirit in a straight line by simple pressing the A button, or you may choose to determine your own angle by holding the A button and aiming your cursor to the desired position. Don't dally too long though, as eventually more spirits will be spawned and if the same type is generated the first will automatically be thrown into the soup. Your score will greatly increase the bigger the spirit clusters are. Normally each spirit will be scored in multiples of 100, but if you're quick enough to fire after pickup you can score in multiples of 150. Every 250,000 points will gain you a life, but you can never have more than three at any one time.
Should you fill up the pot with too many spirits the flow will stop and you'll have a brief amount of time (you'll be given a five-second timer shortly thereafter) to clear a cluster or two to pull yourself out of danger. Should you not be able to do so you will lose one of your three lives, as represented by the three gnomes sitting by the tree. Lose the last one and its game over. Luckily, there are pot-clearing bombs you can earn after each boss battle, which can come in quite handy in later stages.
Clear a pre-determined number of spirits and you'll move on to the next season. The game is separated into sets of twelve stages: three years with four seasons each. As you progress through the seasons the number of spirits to be cleared increases as well as the flow of the Potpourrii and the spirit-spawn frequency. With each year the forest, as represented by the tree, will partially heal until its return to perfect health in the third year. At that point you will face the evil wizard himself who has the annoying habit of reversing the flow of the Potpourrii frequently as well as creating a much greater spawn rate for the spirits. Beat this wicked man and the cycle shall repeat itself, albeit becoming increasingly more difficult.
If you think this sounds like a decent setup for a puzzle game, you might be greatly disappointed when you actually get around to playing it. For all its good points the game gets severely dragged down by its extremely sluggish gameplay. While we obviously can’t speak for everyone, we don't suppose many people will be itching to play the same old boring forty minutes of warm-up just to get to the challenging part of the game. One-hour-plus matches do tend to be a bit counterintuitive as far as puzzlers are concerned. It sort of ruins the whole ‘quick-play’ appeal, which is what all classic puzzle titles need to have. There's no challenge at all in the first twenty-four stages, making it more of a chore than anything else. Sure, you can force-spawn a spirit with the B button, but it still doesn't make the game flow anywhere near fast enough. In addition, the transitions in between stages (presumably loading times for the next season's graphical effects) seem to carry on longer than necessary, further adding to the boredom.
Interestingly, after the game was launched the developer told us of a way to begin the game in the more challenging year 10. To access this just press down the D-pad at the same time as pressing the start button. This bypass isn't documented anywhere (at present), so most people won’t even know it exists. This really should have been provided as a visible option from the very beginning as the game certainly benefits from being more intense.
To make matters worse, using the Wii Remote is sloppy and ultimately frustrating. You’ll find that it’s quite a struggle to aim properly during the game and the on-screen cursor can be unpredictable at times. The game is also badly in need of some kind of tutorial mode, because it’s actually quite a complex and confusing setup for newcomers and the initial difficulty is likely to alienate many gamers. To cap things off, having only that one game mode aside from the somewhat laughable two-player mode (same game, just two cannons instead of one now) and no options of any kind severely hurts Potpourrii’s long-term appeal.
Potpourrii certainly had a lot of promise. The crisp visuals, captivating art style and cutesy music are undoubtedly great and set the tone nicely; it is just a shame that it's all for naught. The game trundles along at far too slow a pace and lacks any real sense of challenge. Puzzle titles need a ‘killer hook’ in order to stand out from the crowd and as much as it pains us to say this, Potpourrii is sadly lacking in this regard.