So, you’re already thinking “really? Another puzzle game? Really?” But wait! Ikibago, the latest DSiWare title from Neko Entertainment, has got pirates in it! It may be lacking in the ninja, robot, zombie and unicorn territories, but there are plenty of pirates in this fun and addictive puzzler to go around.
In the interestingly titled Ikibago, it is your job to line up at least three moving barrels of matching colours in vertical lines before they hit the right side of the screen. Each of these sets of three is called a Stock, while matching all five barrels in a column is called a Superstock. Some missions demand that you collect a certain amount of Stocks, Superstocks or other objectives such as placing certain coloured barrels in specific patterns or simply scoring a high amount of points. In all of the missions, however, you are given a certain amount of lives, and every column of barrels that reaches the right side of the screen without containing at least one Stock will cost you a life. Once all of your lives are depleted, it’s game over for you and you’re forced to restart the mission. While the contents of the barrels are never actually confirmed, it is safe to assume that it is either booty or some other non-anatomical loot.
The levels in the story mode are broken up and displayed as different islands, ships or ports on a map, with each stop containing missions. While the missions cannot be chosen individually, each stop can be played any number of times, and completing all of the missions on a stop unlocks the next area on the map. The further you progress on the map, the more difficult the missions will become, resulting in a surprisingly large amount of various objectives to conquer.
There are traps and power-ups that you’ll find scattered about in each mission, and sometimes they can mean the difference between a win and a loss. Some power-ups give you more lives, some turn entire columns instantly into Superstocks and others even contain keys that allow you to unlock barrels that are chained up and immovable. Utilising all of these different power-ups will be necessary if you hope to complete every mission, and they also add a sense of strategy to the otherwise simplistic gameplay.
The traps, on the other hand, are very effective in interfering with your gameplay. Most consist of animals such as sharks or monkeys that change the colour of your barrels or block you from moving to certain areas on the screen. Figuring out how to avoid these traps or use them to your advantage is a very important element to the gameplay. The weather conditions in the game also play a part in determining your strategy; while it is not necessarily a trap, certain levels are played during a storm that shakes the screen and attempts to break your focus on the barrels. Other levels have very limited light, forcing you to move the stylus around the screen, dragging a circle of visible light along with you just to see where the barrels are. Though they can get annoying, the traps and weather changes add an element of both diversity and intensity to proceedings.
All of the actual gameplay occurs on the bottom screen and only utilises the DSi’s touch controls, so tapping barrels and sliding them across the screen is the only way to play. While button controls are not necessary, it would have been nice to see a little variety in the game play.
Graphically, there's nothing bad that can be said about Ikibago, but it’s not really outstanding either. Fortunately though, there isn’t much necessity for excellent graphics anyway: the barrels are all that you really need to identify, and they stand out from the background perfectly. The exact same applies to the audio. While there is a mysterious lack of music in the menus, during gameplay the music fits the pirate theme and the sound effects do well to engage players.
The biggest problem that Ikibago faces is its lack of features besides the main story. There is no free play mode, no multiplayer, no way to replay individual missions of choice and there’s not even a high score list. With the exception of going through and playing entire levels again or creating a new profile and completely starting over, there is no way to replay missions of choice without having to replay an entire level. There is a rating system that displays how well you did on certain levels based on a number of stars that it shows you, but not being able to replay individual missions that you did poorly on, and the fact that these ratings do absolutely nothing in the way of unlockables or special features, raises the question of “why bother?”
While the story mode in Ikibago is a decent amount of fun, the complete lack of anything else makes this a questionable purchase. There are a ton of missions which can be replayed, but some of them only last about 10 seconds, and the entire story will take you no longer than five hours to complete. If you’re addicted to puzzle games then you might find the charm of the pirate theme and diversity in mission type here enthralling, but keep in mind that there are plenty of other puzzle games available that offer more bang for your hard earned booty.