Review: Heron: Steam Machine (WiiWare)

WiiWare: the home of arcade puzzling goodness

Many people ask "don't we have enough puzzle games on the Wii already?" Triangle Studios answers "no!" and it's hard to disagree with them - especially given the quality of recent releases including their own Heron: Steam Machine. A little animated introduction tells the game's back story of a rubber duck factory taken over by the wicked scion of the company founder who orders output increased to dangerous levels, forcing you to help out the old maintenance man in keeping things going lest the machine blow up.

Taking inspiration from an old Amiga game called Pipe Mania (ported to every 8- and 16-bit platform in existence - including the arcade - by LucasArts under the name "PipeDream") Heron has its own spin on the idea of laying out pipe to connect two points before time runs out.

In Pipe Mania players would move a cursor on a grid and connect pipe to a source from which water (or some weird green goo) would start to flow, with the goal being to hook up pipe sections to an outlet, stopping said liquid flowing all of the floor and ending the game. Heron: Steam Machine presents a grid already populated with pipe fittings that you can rotate to create a route between entry and exit, thereby relieving pressure in the titular engine. There are four different colour-coded systems: steam (green), electricity (yellow), water (blue) and oil (red); each of which has their own gauge in a corner of the screen.

When any of these systems is in danger of overloading, entry and exit points will appear at the left and right of the screen. Unlike Pipe Mania there is no actual flow of anything: instead the affected system gauges gradually increase until the machine explodes in a cacophonous orgy of violence and destruction. To stave off the inevitable you simply rotate pipe bits to link up the two ends: once your link is complete the line explodes in another riotous eruption of points, followed by pipe sections dropping from above Tetris-style to fill the newly-created gaps. Rinse and repeat until the steam machine explodes - and it will, as sure as entropy - and you get to enter your high score if you're good enough. Over time you'll have multiple systems in jeopardy at once, but thankfully the game helps you keep it sorted by staggering the rate of failure and changing the colour of linked-up pipes to match that of the relevant system.

Two control methods are on offer: NES-style with the (DPAD) moving the cursor and (1) and (2) rotating the pipes clockwise or anti-clockwise, or one-handed with the pointer moving the cursor, pressing (A) to grab a pipe, using a Remote twist to rotate it and pressing (A) again to fix the pipe in place. The developers recommend the former method and really unless you've only got one hand that's the way to go as the twisting mechanic coupled with having to manually grab and fix the pipe is too slow for what will become an increasingly manic affair as you play on. There is no option to set for the controller position, the game simply detects the shift in controller orientation automatically. Pretty flash for a Wii game of any kind, much less WiiWare!

There are some extra items that will appear on the playfield in the form of pipe junctions that delay destruction if a matching system pipe is connected to them, or add multipliers to your score for completing a link through them. Later on you'll also have the benefit of bomb junctions which can help change things up in the event the existing array fails to inspire you. The other game mode is multiplayer which is a co-op affair for 2-4 players that sees the screen divided into sections, with each player having access to only their part of the screen, meaning everyone must work together to match up their pipe links to stop everything from going kablooey. A nice competitive element is brought to the game by the fact that though scores are still tracked separately.

There are high score tables showing the top 10 players, with separate leaderboards for 1, 2, 3 or 4-player games, though all are local. The top score is 1,000,000 at level 30 and it will probably be quite some time before players can exceed that as the game offers a decent level of challenge. Trying to find the right path amongst the pipes can get pretty fraught when everything starts falling apart! The only complaint to be had is the lack of online leaderboards or any additional game modes, but what's been presented is pretty good.

Conclusion

Heron: Steam Machine isn't going to win any awards, but it has a clean cartoony look and offers a great 5-minute pick-up game that will have broad appeal. The game has a solid play mechanic with a great arcade feel to it backed by bouncy music - for 500 points that's not half bad, and if you like puzzlers it's definitely worth a look.

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