Review: Surfacer+ (DSiWare)

A+

The year may be young (really, really young) but we've already seen two must-have games hit the DSiWare Shop. The first was Alt-Play: Jason Rohrer Anthology, a collection of some of the most beautifully realised artistic statements gaming has to offer. The second is Surfacer+, a wonderfully unique action-puzzler that came out of nowhere and completely knocked our socks off. Seriously – this game came out of nowhere. Not only did it have zero hype, but its developer, Lexis Numerique, is primarily known for its WiiWare children's series, Learning with the PooYoos.

The game doesn't look like much, either, at a cursory glance. Its description in the DSiWare Shop is vague, and the screenshots make the whole thing look like a drab affair. And, wait, isn't it about flowers or something? Why the heck is it called Surfacer+?

Well, we don't know. And, frankly, we don't care. Surfacer+ is a fantastic, addictive action-puzzler at which every DSi owner should definitely take a look.

So, what on earth is it? To put it simply, it's an Art Style game without the Art Style label. It's a cinch to pick up and play, with intuitive touch-controls and an uncomplicated premise – and on top of that, it features a distinctive, minimalistic visual style that's complimented by a suitably atmospheric soundtrack.

The object is simple: fill your screen with flowers. Pressing the stylus to the touch-screen will place a flower there; the longer you press, the bigger your flower will grow. Simple? Yes. Easy? Not quite. There are a lot of things to wrap your head around while making your way through the endless series of increasingly difficult levels — you're given a limited amount of flowers per stage, for one thing, but you'll also have to avoid getting your growing flower popped by dastardly little bouncing particles, monitor your progress meter on the top screen and keep your eye on a clock that's always ticking down (and no, cheater, you can't just place one gigantic flower on the screen and call it a day, as it'll pop if it gets too big). There are even some fun power-ups available that allow you to freeze the bouncing particles or slow them down. Once you fill the bottom screen, as indicated by your progress meter up top, you move on to the next level. Run out of time or lose all of your flowers, and it's Game Over, mister.

The gameplay is made even more interesting and enjoyable by a surprisingly functional physics system. Your flowers don't simply stick in place once you've finished growing them — they fall to the bottom of the screen and roll off or stack on top of other flowers you've placed. It's a nice system that works consistently and doesn't feel in any way unnatural — a must when it comes to a game's physics.

With a concept this simple, it would be easy for Surfacer+ to get repetitive, but perhaps its biggest virtue is its ability to constantly throw new twists and surprises at you. Just as you're starting to get comfortable with the current play-style, the next level introduces a new concept – say, the ability to connect three flowers of equal size together for a bonus, or remaining time for each completed level carrying over to the next – to keep things fresh and exciting. Surfacer+ is a gift that keeps on giving, and whether you're in it for the long haul or just a few minutes on the bus, you're sure to have a great time.

As fun as the game is, though, there's really not a whole lot of extra content here. Scratch that, there's no extra content. There are no online leaderboards, and since the game would lend itself quite well to cooperative multiplayer, it's a shame to see that there are no download or wireless play options either. What's included is so strong, though, that it hardly even matters.

Conclusion

Surfacer+ is a rare breed: a DSiWare game that completely catches us off-guard, surprises us with its unique charm and gameplay and gets more entertaining the longer we play it. It not only lives up to its promise of offering easy to pick up and totally innovative gameplay that's suitable for all, but it does so with an artistic flair that makes it stand out in a sea of mediocre DSiWare titles. It's fun, weird, utterly compelling, and its initially relaxed pace quickly blossoms into something both frantic and challenging. Some might feel that 500 Points is a little steep for a game with no extra content, but it's such an all-around fun experience that it's almost impossible not to recommend.