Review: Pipe Mania (DS)

The 8-bit classic returns

If you were gaming on home computers in the 8-bit era then it's very likely you came across a game called Pipe Dream. Originally published on the Commodore Amiga as Pipe Mania, it's a puzzle game in which the goal is to link together pipe sections on a grid to complete a route for a green (or blue) liquid called "flooze" from a starting tap to a drain. Lucasfilm Games apparently liked it so much they ported it to nearly every home computer in existence in the early 1990s as well as creating versions for the arcade and the NES. It's a simple and addictive game which Empire Interactive was good enough to publish on the DS as one of their last acts before closing up shop.

Pipe Mania for the DS is chock full of classic puzzling goodness featuring three main play modes, two bonus games and little extras like concept art and level music. There is a story told with animation and good voice-over work about how Alphonso (apparently the plumber from the original game) has retired and bought an island and his kids are taking over, but it really makes little sense and is pretty irrelevant anyway. Needless to say, when you start describing trains, electricity, rubber ducks and "teh internets" as "flooze" then you're losing the plot.

The gameplay in the main Story Mode is generally the same as the original: there's a start point and a drain on a grid and you place random pieces trying to link them up. Unlike some of the original home versions you get to see the next several pieces in the queue in the top screen where your score and any level requirements (such as flooze length and time limits) are indicated. The biggest change is that there's a "Leak Metre," meaning that your game isn't immediately over if the flooze overflows because you've not completed a line yet (though it doesn't take long for this gauge to fill). You'll still be faced with the same quandary as before: pieces must be placed in the order received, so if you cannot use a current piece you need to try to plan ahead or just stick it somewhere out of the way, realising that spare sections will take 50 points off your score at the end of the level. Of course you can place sections on top of existing ones (provided there's no flooze flowing through them) and destroy them at a cost of only 25 points, but destroying pipes takes a few more seconds than just placing them on the grid - which can be more valuable than points depending on your luck and foresight.

There are new piece types aside from the bends, straights and cross pipes of the original: horizontal bridges under which you can optionally place vertical straight pieces, double bends that allow you to route flooze at two different angles through the same square and "draw" pieces where you use the stylus to draw the pipe type required (though these only become common in the final stages). The real challenge comes from the new flooze types and new fixed pieces you'll find in different stages. In addition to the reservoirs from the original that can buy you some extra time, you'll find pumps that speed up flooze flow (useful in stages with time limits), flooze splitters that output two streams, flooze teleporters and colour-changers.

The different flooze types will test your puzzle-bone as trains have a required length and must be routed through "grow points" to ensure they're the proper length to exit, electricity goes into capacitor-like reservoirs to buy you time because it immediately flows through any connected pipe sections, and ducks on conveyors need to be the right colour before they can get to the exit. Each location also has a boss battle in its eighth and final stage that will really put you to the test, with bosses using two different attacks to damage or otherwise mess up your pipelines and interfere with pipe placement. Rest assured that no matter how difficult they seem (some stages have so much going on your brain may be twisted in knots trying to get to grips with them) they can be overcome. If you get stuck on a boss battle, it's not to worry because you only need to complete several stages in each location to unlock the next.

It will take a bit of time to get through all the story mode levels, but on the way you'll unlock access to more game modes including the original Classic Mode, Arcade Mode and two bonus games. Classic is just like the original game, including an immediate GAME OVER when the flooze hits the floor and two difficulties with over 150 levels between them. Arcade mode works like the story mode, but the level is constantly scrolling in one direction and you need to both route flooze to the exit and ensure it stays on screen; again with two difficulty levels available and dozens of levels to play. The two bonus games are played on small grids (3x3, 4x4 or 5x5) and are time-based. In one you need to place a selection of pieces into gaps in an already-constructed pipeline properly before the flooze flow starts; the other is like Heron Steam Machine using the same grids, but with the pieces in place and turned around – the goal being to line everything up properly. In each case you have a matter of a few seconds to get the puzzle solved and there are seven stages in each game for each grid size.

The controls work well with a choice of stylus or D-Pad and A button, though when the fur really starts to fly the D-Pad will prove to be far too slow to play effectively, so it's best to get used to laying pipe with the stylus early on. Your scores and medal ranks are tracked and can be viewed at a glance in the level select screens for story mode and there's enough extras to unlock to keep you going for gold medals for some time. If we have any complaint about the game it's that the boss battles are sometimes a bit too challenging, and it would have been nice to be able to play arcade mode with the new flooze types rather than just liquid and there's no multiplayer on offer as in versions on other platforms like the PSP. It seems pretty clear that Empire was on the brink of collapse around the time Pipe Mania was being published and the internal studio which developed the game, Razorworks, ended up getting sold off to Rebellion mere months before this game was released. The Wii version originally announced got canned so on balance we should probably count ourselves lucky the DS release happened at all!

Conclusion

Pipe Mania is an 8-bit computer classic which makes a worthy comeback on the DS. The story bits are confusing rubbish (the bosses are actually people you're supposed to be trying to help in the earlier stages) and there's no multiplayer but what made the original game great has been nicely enhanced in this bumper release. Although the developer and publisher are no longer with us, staff members who worked on this title can at least be proud that they went out on a high note. If you have a DS and are a fan of puzzle games this definitely one to get!

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