Review: Don't Cross the Line (DSiWare)

Simple fun when you're low on funds

If you've ever been a child, you've probably encountered your fair share of activity books. Within these collections of mazes, word searches and other such sources of momentary amusement, arguably the most forgettable of the bunch is the "don't cross the lines" puzzle. It's so underwhelming that if anyone's taken the time to give it a name, most (us included) haven't taken the time to remember it. Perhaps, though, the format of the static page and not the game itself has been the problem all along.

Don't Cross the Line takes this activity's concept as its central mechanism and ends up being one of the system's more interesting puzzlers. You are presented with a number of pairs of blocks with matching illustrations spread about the screen. Your goal is to connect each to its mate by drawing a line with the stylus; if you hit a wall, an incorrect block or a previously drawn line, the connector under construction breaks and recedes toward its source. At this point, buttons light up at the side that you can tap to expedite its course, keeping things moving as the clock drains and the time limit draws closer. There are also a few helpful bits here and there, such as the game's highlighting a matching block once its mate is tapped, that add to the experience and show that the developer cared about making a quality product.

The game's biggest drawback is its difficulty level; while it contains a sizeable fifty puzzles (fifty-nine if you count the practice stages), things don't get terribly tough until the last twenty. That's still not bad, and there's an extra goal of completing each level within a prescribed time limit and thus earning a bronze, silver or gold leaf. This adds a good deal of replay value to the parts challenging enough, preventing earning the highest honour from being a rather simple affair. There's a downside to these harder parts, however, as the winning strategy usually amounts to little more than hooking the innermost two blocks and drawing all of the other lines around the last. While there's still a good deal of thought involved, once you figure a puzzle out, the challenge becomes keeping a steady enough hand to draw a line through an increasingly tiny gap. While this increases the gameplay variety, careful tracing may not be everyone's cup of tea. It can still be a lot of fun, however, and when your task is to strategically plan your course so as to create the greatest amount of space in between each line, there's still enough thought required to keep you entertained. As your paths narrow, however, so does your ability to plan ahead, and while these moments might be the most intense (keep steady, stylus!), they're also arguably the most mindless.

The game's presentation is fittingly simple, taking trees and schoolwork as its themes, though without ever really unifying them. Harder levels are called "exams," you earn "degrees" as you progress and the background evokes the thought of notebook paper. At the same time, your trophies are leaves and as you continue, the foliage of a tree decorating the top screen fills with colour. The music consists of happy, entertaining and largely inoffensive MIDI tunes, the only obnoxious of which is the overly simple one that you encounter during the beginning stages. Overall, the game's framework adds a good amount of character and encapsulates the experience well without ever becoming a distraction.

Conclusion

This is a very inventive, fun and lengthy puzzle game marred slightly by a good deal of overly easy levels and at times uninteresting gameplay. While it's never going to be a classic, it's still quite entertaining and worth your 200 Nintendo Points.