If it's one thing Intelligent Systems has become well known for over the years, it's their diverse game development. While they've had their hands in quite a few of Nintendo's biggest selling hits over the years, it's their Advance Wars and Paper Mario series that tend to stick out in most people's minds. Now, they've decided to try something a little different with their newest DSiWare puzzler, and the end result turns out to be a unique idea that actually feels fairly fresh in a genre that's chock full of clones and cheap knock-offs.
The core gameplay of Link 'n' Launch is built around the idea of launching a rocket ship into space enough times to reach the target planet. To accomplish this, you must divert fuel into the rocket ship's thrusters via various shaped tiles, each containing different shapes of fuel pipes. Some tiles contain straight pipes whereas others are "L" and "T" shaped. You have to rotate and flip them around the playing field using various pivot points on each tile. Once you manage to create a line for the fuel to flow into the thrusters, the rocket ship will launch further into space.
You can also guide the rocket ship directionally by lighting different combinations of thrusters. For example, if you light only the thrusters on one side, the rocket ship will launch diagonally in the opposite direction, whereas lighting the thrusters evenly will cause it to fly straight up. It's important to use these varying combinations in order to keep the rocket ship within the set boundaries of the playing field. Travelling outside of these barriers will cause you to lose the mission and be forced to start over.
There are basically three modes of play in Link 'n' Launch to choose from: Mission Mode allows you to attempt to guide your rocket ship to a target planet. The distance to the planet is measured in Astronomical Units (Au) and you're constantly given an update of how much further you need to travel in order to reach the planet and complete the mission. Of course you also have a three minute time limit to work with, making the speed with which you complete the many puzzles in each mission a vital part of the winning equation. Along the way you will be able to pick up spare parts to upgrade your rocket ship as well as time tiles to add additional time to your limit.
Aside from the main Mission Mode, the game also features a Training Mode to teach you all of the basics of the game in a very well-designed tutorial. There's also a Puzzle Mode that features the same type of puzzles you'll find in Mission Mode, only minus the time limit. Instead, you're measured by how many moves it takes you to complete the puzzle and then awarded one of three medals based upon your performance. And with 100 puzzles to take on, this mode alone is enough to keep you busy for very a long time.
Intelligent Systems have done a solid job of creating an engaging puzzle experience out of such a simple gameplay premise. All of the control are easy to pick up and master, but the puzzles do tend to be a bit too similar in style and can become a little repetitive over time. There's still plenty of challenge to be had and the game's later missions are absolutely diabolical in design and difficulty. You won't blow through this one in one sitting, that's for sure.
Visually, Link 'n' Launch is a very well designed game. While the outer space theme is simple enough, there are some nice touches in the detail of the rocket ship and the many tiles. Even the readouts on the screen are very legible and easy to read, even in the heat of moment when you're trying to quickly finish a mission before time runs out.
The music in the game is also quite catchy, and the subtle way the music plays in the background during the puzzles is a perfect mix for the action taking place onscreen. It's nice to see a developer keep the background music in the background instead of allowing it to dominate the presentation the way so many other puzzle titles tend to do.
Link 'n' Launch is easily one of the more unique puzzlers you're ever likely to play. It takes a very basic gameplay premise and moulds a unique outer space puzzle theme around it all. Intuitive touchscreen controls and an extremely basic set of gameplay objectives make the game easy to pick up but difficult to put down. While the game can become a little repetitive after awhile, it's a game that you'll find better suited for short quick bursts of play rather than long drawn-out playing sessions. Link 'n' Launch might not go so far as to set the puzzle genre on fire, but it's definitely unique enough to warrant a look from puzzler fans.