Review: Art Style: Rotohex (WiiWare)

Is this hexagonal puzzler a welcome addition to the Art Style series?

The one constant of the three Art Style games that have seen release on the WiiWare service so far has been their simplicity. There are no fancy visuals, no epic musical tracks, and no complicated play control schemes to tarnish the "less is more" theme of these unique puzzlers. Rotohex is the third release in this highly esteemed series and once again proves to be a game that illustrates perfectly that sometimes the simplest idea can make a great game, even when you strip away all the fancy frills normally associated with a modern title.

Rotohex is basically a slightly upgraded version of the classic Game Boy Advance bit Generation title Dialhex, and from the moment you begin playing it you'll see that every bit of the engaging puzzle action of the original is still intact in this WiiWare update.

In Rotohex you are put in charge of a hexagonal playing field in which randomly coloured triangular panels drop from the top of the screen into the playing field below. While you don't control these panels, you are able to rotate them using a hex-shaped cursor of sorts. You can choose from two ways of controlling this cursor, either using the Wii Remote as a pointer to move it around the playing field, or using a more classic control scheme with the Wii Remote on its side to move the cursor around using the D-pad. One action button will rotate the HEX clockwise and the other rotates it counter-clockwise. Both methods work equally well and both offer certain advantages over the other. It's more a matter of personal taste than anything else.

Your task in Rotohex is to rotate these groups of coloured panels in an attempt to get a complete HEX of like-coloured panels. This will cause the HEX to disappear. To advance in each level you must complete six HEX for each colour of panel currently falling. Once you've accomplished this task, a new colour will be added to mix each time you advance. You can check on your progress using the HEX Meters found on both sides of the playing field to see how many more HEX you need to construct in order to advance to the next level. The ultimate goal is to advance through all eight colours of HEX before the playing field completely fills with panels.

To further help you on your cause, you'll find two types of glowing Power Panels that pop up from time to time around the playing field. When used as part of a matching HEX, these can unleash two distinct and helpful power ups. One opens a hole in the bottom of the playing field for a short amount of time allowing a good number of panels to pour out the bottom of the playing field. This can come in handy when you find your playing field beginning to fill up. The other type of Power Panel causes all the blocks that match the colour of the HEX to change to the colour of the panels they're currently touching. This can also be a very helpful power up when used correctly.

Much like other puzzle games of this nature, the further into the game you advance, the faster the panels fall. At times the game feels more like a Rubik's Cube than a puzzle game as you have to find ways to move various-coloured panels around in order to line up enough like colours to form a HEX. You'll also have to deal with panels shifting and sliding around as you rotate other panels, which can wreak havoc if you're not careful. It's this simple yet addictive play control idea that makes Rotohex so incredibly difficult to master, not to mention nearly impossible to put down once you begin playing it. It's a classic example of the "easy to pick up, yet difficult to beat" style of game play that's been found in so many of the great puzzler titles over the years.

As you progress through the Solo Mode, you'll unlock two hidden modes of play. Endless Mode is unlocked once you reach halfway through the Solo Mode. In Endless mode there's no emphasis on specific colours as it's just an all-out race to see how many HEX you can match up before your playing field fills up. Next up is the Sprint Mode which is unlocked after you've completed the Solo game. This mode starts you off with half of the playing field already filled with coloured panels and challenges you to match 6 HEX of a specified colour. These extra modes don't quite offer the extent of challenge Solo Mode offers up, but they're both a nice change of pace when you begin to tire of the main game.

If you're looking for a little competitive game play, Rotohex also offers up a unique two-player mode. In this mode the standard gameplay still applies, only now the each player has their own playing field side-by-side. While each player can only move around on their own side of the field, you both share two columns in the middle. It's this middle ground that provides most of the competitive action needed to win. The first player to have their playing field completely filled up with panels loses. That means you're going to have to work fast in order to outlast your opponent.

But unlike the Solo Mode rules of play, two-player mode includes a twist or two to make it a bit more interesting. For example, each time your opponent forms a HEX, it creates a HEX of Block Panels on your side of the playing field. The only way to get rid of these Block Panels is to form a HEX of matching colours that are touching one of these Block Panels. To add insult to injury, every time a player constructs a matching HEX, it places the panels of the HEX up into the trash bin at the top of the screen. This is where the middle column both players share comes into play. If a player is able to construct a HEX in this middle column, all of the panels that have been collected in the trash bin will drop down into the opposing player's field of play. So as important as eliminating individual HEX from your playing field is, you'll also have to strategically make use of this middle ground if you want to ultimately win. As much fun as Solo Mode is, this two-player game adds a nice Meteos-like element of intensity to the mix that ultimately makes it even more engaging than the single-player game at times.

There's no denying that these Art Style games are very basic and simple in design, which can be both a good thing and a bad thing. Gamers who've enjoyed the previous two Art Style games, Orbient and Cubello, will likely find the gameplay in Rotohex just as appealing, if not more so, given the additional play modes. On the other hand, if you're not a big fan of this unique style of games you're not likely to find anything in Rotohex to change your mind. It never really strays far from the formula employed in all of the bit Generation and Art Style games.

As with other Art Style games, you won't find a lot of flashy visuals or special effects here. However, that's not what these games are about as they tend to rely more on their substance than tossing around flashy visual flare. Everything is exactly where it needs to be onscreen and once again the "less is more" style seems to work perfectly for a game of this type. The colours are all very easy to distinguish from one another, even when the action becomes increasingly intense, and the pulsing action of the HEX meters makes it easy to catch a quick glance of your current progress without losing sight of what you're doing in the main field of play.

The music itself is rather difficult to describe. Some tracks feature very little melody at all and tend to focus on percussion beats with slight nuances of a single instrument playing behind it all, whereas other tracks tend to have a more contrasting synthesized tone to them. It's nice the way the game transfers into a new musical track as you progress through the various colours in the game. It's so smooth that you'll generally not even realize that the music has changed while you're concentrating on the task at hand. Even the sound effects tend to blend in with everything sounding off around them and offer just enough of an edge to be effective.

Conclusion

While there will inevitably be those gamers who find the Art Style games a bit too simplistic for their tastes, those who can appreciate these unique puzzlers for what they are will be well rewarded. Not only is Rotohex extremely well executed, but it has this certain addictive quality that makes it a lot of fun to play in quick bursts. It's a shame that the main game is a bit on the short side and doesn't feature any type of online play or leaderboards, but at least players will still have the Endless and Sprint Modes to take on, not to mention the intense two-player game once they've finished off the main game. In the end, Rotohex does exactly what its Game Boy Advance counterpart did several years ago; it proves that you don't need a lot of glitzy visuals or an overly saturated gameplay scheme to produce an enjoyable gaming experience. If you're looking for a solid puzzler to kill some time with, you'd be hard-pressed to find a better bargain at 600 Wii Points than Rotohex.

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