Review: Primrose (DSiWare)

DSiWare sees one of its most rewarding puzzlers yet

Indie (like, really indie) developer Jason Rohrer's portfolio is filled to the brim with what may be best referred to as interactive art: works like Passage, Gravitation and Between operate on a whole different emotional and philosophical plane than a Mario.

So it makes sense that his attempt at a more traditional type of game aligns more with Art Style than PopCap. Primrose is a puzzle game centred around clever tile placement. You're given sets of two coloured tiles at a time to place on the 7x7 grid (a colour-blind mode using symbols is included), and your goal is to surround one grouping of tiles with another colour. Once you finagle this, the surrounded set disappears and the surrounding tiles take on their tint. Three are available to start with and four more unlock as you play; last long enough and your palette bank actually starts to shrink, introducing a whole other set of tactical concerns.

There's no time limit or real level system, and the only restrictions that the game puts on you is on how you place the tiles – the first in the set can go anywhere, but you must place the second in either the same row or column (if possible). Success comes down to how strong your strategy is and how far in advance you're able to think, as placing these haphazardly around the grid is a sure-fire way to paint yourself into a corner. The first chain reaction you plot comes with a great sense of accomplishment unlike what you'll find in something like, say, Bejeweled.

It takes a little while to wrap your brain around how it works, and outside of the tutorial there is zero help in what would be a smart next move. The free-form nature helps Primrose stand out from the rest of the puzzle pack loitering around the DSiWare shop, and it in fact wouldn't be out of place with an Art Style prefix. Some might find the open-endedness a little overwhelming, but stick with it and you'll discover a surprisingly strong puzzler that's different from anything you've played before.

Like Cave Story and Toribash on WiiWare, the full version of Primrose is available for Windows, Mac OS X and Linux for free (and as a paid iDevice download) with a more interesting neon visual style. Then again, a DSi is far more easily portable than a computer, and the ability to play on the go is especially welcome for puzzle games. Unfortunately, there's no way to save and resume later, which is disappointing.

Conclusion

Primrose is the kind of game that gives back what you put into it. You can mess around and have a fun enough time, and if you're willing to put the time in to penetrate its intricacies you'll find one of the most rewarding puzzle games currently available on DSiWare. A lack of save feature is unfortunate, but for a scant 200 Points it shouldn't be missed.