Proudly located in the Big Apple, Powerhead Games is an independent game developing company that previously focused their talents on licensed titles published by bigger companies, including games under the Catz, Trollz, Mary Kate and Ashley, and Winx Club names. They pitched their very first original game at this past E3, and on Monday it finally hit the DSi Shop in the form of Glow Artisan. In this puzzler you draw lines of glowing coloured tiles onto the gridded touchscreen in order to match preset patterns shown on the top screen. Promising more than 100 puzzles to play and a whopping 300 medals to earn altogether, will this game light up your life or does the glow fade all too quickly?
Glow Artisan is mainly controlled via the stylus, though the D-pad and buttons also work as shortcuts for most of the on-screen options while solving a puzzle. At the main screen, you may choose from "Play", "Create", and "Connect" options. "Play" takes you to the main play mode where your first task is to go through a tutorial. Here the game explains the touchscreen "canvas" as well as the numbered "glow emitters" that allow you to draw lines of blocks onto the touchscreen.
Simply tap an emitter and drag your stylus away from it to draw a line of coloured blocks onto the canvas area. The "blueprint" on the top screen shows you the pattern you must match on the canvas in order to solve the puzzle. To your right are three coloured buttons: red, yellow and blue. Tapping one of these buttons changes the colour of the emitters and allows you to draw different coloured blocks onto the canvas. The initial tutorial puzzles only use the three primary colours, but as you progress you'll be required to mix colours by drawing different-coloured blocks on top of one another to produce purple, orange and green blocks. Mixing all three colours together produces white blocks.
Part of the challenge lies in basic block placement: you can't just tap an area of the canvas to put a block there; in order to get a block in a certain place, you must draw the entire line of blocks preceding it. Later in the game you receive the power to erase which becomes a blessing as you can now delete drawn blocks, but also a curse because you can only erase things an entire line at a time (you can't draw with the eraser like you can draw coloured tiles). Grey barriers which cannot be drawn through show up down the line as well, thus adding obstacles to the field of play. If you make a mistake the little arrow icon beneath the colour icons allows you to undo your moves all the way back to the beginning of the puzzle if you like, and the menu button beneath that takes you into the pause menu. From there you may resume the puzzle in progress, restart it, "Auto Solve" it or quit and return to the "Play" menu.
Upon making it through the tutorial you can begin earning the greyed-out trophies shown on the top screen by tapping the big red "Trophy Mode" button. Each trophy denotes a different difficulty level -- Novice, Apprentice, Artist, and Master -- and is made up of four "Trophy Parts." For every set of six puzzles you solve you'll earn a trophy part, and once you've completed one trophy the next difficulty will be unlocked for play. As you enter each puzzle the game will display the number of moves you'll need to solve the puzzle in order to earn either a gold, silver or bronze medal. Two other types of medals are unlocked as you progress through the game: "Block Medals," which are awarded for using the fewest amount of blocks possible to solve a puzzle, and "Time Medals," which are awarded for solving a puzzle quickly. Your trophies, as well as the number of medals you've earned, are displayed on the top screen while you choose a mode to play.
One of Glow Artisan's nifty features is "Auto Solve." Should you get stuck and frustrated with a puzzle, open the pause menu and choose "Auto Solve" to have the game demonstrate a way for you to solve the puzzle and allow you to continue on to the next unhindered. You won't earn a medal by having the game solve a puzzle for you, and you may only use it on three puzzles a day. Those of you who like to be sneaky and set your system clocks forward in other games be warned: if you try to change the time on your DSi's internal clock to get more chances to "Auto Solve" puzzles, the game will detect it and you won't be able to use it for the next two days. It's a great way to offer assistance to stuck players without making it too easy to skip right through the entire game.
Also available on the play menu are the "Puzzle Gallery," "Time Trial" and "Randomizer" modes which are unlocked as soon as you've earned your first trophy part. In "Puzzle Gallery Mode" you may replay any puzzle you've already beaten in "Trophy Mode" as well as puzzles you've created yourself. In "Time Trial Mode" the game generates a series of random puzzles in whichever difficulty level you choose and you must solve them before the time limit is up. The game will add time back to your clock after every successfully solved puzzle and continue until you eventually run out of time. In "Randomizer Mode" choose your difficulty and the game will generate an endless series of random puzzles for you to solve.
Glow Artisan gives you the ability to create your own puzzles, of which you may have upwards of forty saved to your DSi. In the "Create" menu, tap the "Camera" button to snap a picture to use with the outer camera or "Album" to choose a picture to use from the images saved to your DSi's internal memory. Once you've chosen a photo to use the game will drastically simplify it into a series of blocks and inform you of the difficulty level for solving the resulting pattern. Choose "Keep" at this point to save the puzzle as-is or "Adjust Puzzle" to turn it into something more desirable. There's also a "Wizard" option that will walk you through the process of adjusting your image into something more solvable, but if you don't want to use that you can choose "Toolkit" to have all of the editing options laid out for you at once. Should you desire to create a puzzle from scratch, tap the Editor button in the main "Create" menu. You can either hop right into modifying a 5x5 or 12x10 grid on your own or check out a quick tutorial that will walk you through the process. However you choose to go about it, making your own puzzles with this game is simple to do.
Back at the main menu, choose "Connect" to enter the multiplayer area. Here you can connect to other DSi users who have also downloaded Glow Artisan in order to share created puzzles or compete against one another. In "Race Mode" you and your opponent are each given the same three randomly generated puzzles to complete and whomever solves them all first wins. In "Handoff Mode" players take turns with one laying out puzzle moves and the other laying out solving moves. This is a timed mode: once one player runs out of time trying to solve the ever-more-complicated puzzle the game is over. In the end both players are given the opportunity to save the puzzle they've created together to their DSi.
Glow Artisan has the same feel and overall visual polish of an Art Style game, making for an impressive first foray into the world of DSiWare for Powerhead Games. The colours are bright and distinct, the animation smooth and the pixelated elements -- picture-based puzzles that morph back into their original images once they've been solved; trophies that slowly colour themselves in as you win each piece -- are delightfully retro. The block-based theme is carried over into the subtle background animations, and to prove their desire to make the game accessible to everyone the developers were thoughtful enough to provide a "Colorblind Mode" in the options menu which puts symbols within blocks of different colours to aid those with limited colour vision.
The game's title screen greets you with a jazzy piano melody that loops endlessly in the background providing an artsy first impression. During the game itself the music changes to a more foreboding synthesised tune with an ominous beat, and a third track appears during "Create Mode" featuring an upbeat pop-style tune. The music and sound effects (various ticks, clicks and plings) add a nice aural backdrop and fit the overall theme well; which is great because neither can be disabled via the options menu.
Once you've got the hang of how Glow Artisan works you won't want to put it down. It's fun and easy for everyone to pick up and play thanks to the handy in-game tutorials and explanations of each new feature as they pop up on the screens. The original 100 puzzles will keep you busy for quite a while. After those have been solved and the trophies assembled there's still the medals to win if you're a completionist. If you're just in the mood for more puzzles there's always the "Randomizer Mode" and creating your own puzzles is a snap. If you can find a friend who has downloaded this game the multiplayer mode will have you sharing, racing and handing off puzzles to one another in no time. Glow Artisan is a hard game to explain in print, but it's definitely a solid choice for any puzzle game fan and a very welcome addition to the DSiWare library.