The water-based puzzler is an interesting breed – the replication of aquatic physics necessitates a more innovative approach than your average thinking game, the majority of which build on or clone an accepted model like Tetris or Bejeweled. The recent Fluidity is proof that this subgenre can spawn some truly special and unique releases with the proper care and creativity. Nanda's Island is not one of them.
Nanda the Panda lives on an island where the plant life has all but dried up; luckily, she's just learned a fancy new rain dance, but the darn thing only forms those live-giving storm clouds adjacent to where they're needed. It's up to you to draw lines with the stylus to guide droplets to their destination, creating thin neon green surfaces along which the water moves just like on any other ledge. You'll also grow plants that teleport, spray or drip water after collecting it as you guide it to the goal, as well as encounter other obstacles like hot, evaporation-causing surfaces.
The trouble is, this is some of the strangest water ever produced. Droplets never congeal into a mass, instead lying on top of each other like separate solid objects. They move like semi-bouncy jelly beans rather than H2O, rolling rather than flowing along. Absent is any of the excitement of manoeuvring pools and streams and thinking up innovative ways to get them from point to point – instead, you'll simply guide tiny blue gelatinous dots around each stage.
Worse than that, the physics are simply unforgiving. Each dip or horizontally straight surface, whether pre-built into the environment or created by your own hand, will cause your "water" to stand still. Try drawing a completely straight line without the help of a compass and you'll see how tough of a challenge this is. If Nanda included an option to make gravity more forgiving or automatically smooth your lines out, perhaps on an easier difficulty setting, this could have saved it, but such things are unfortunately absent. Couple this with the fact that about half the time, the limited quantity of line you're allowed to draw in each stage barely leaves room for error and you're in for some frustration. Of course, you can click over to an eraser tool and fix your mistake, but by this time some water will have already gone where it's not supposed to – and, like the line limit, there's little room for error here as well.
So, what do you do when your drops get stuck on a flat surface or in a dip? We found that the only solution short of re-starting the level was to go back and forth with the stylus on the surface itself, raising up slowly to draw a line underneath the stagnant droplets and create an incline. You can imagine how tedious of a process this is, but the many uneven spots, the somewhat unpredictable nature of the spraying plants and the difficulty of drawing a line at exactly the right angle the first time makes it a necessity.
Meticulously creating ledges to raise misplaced water droplets isn't the only thing here that'll bore you – the game just moves at a generally slow pace. In a less frustrating setup this could provide for a very relaxing experience, but waiting for Nanda to dance and the cloud to move into place at the beginning of each level as well as the frequently sluggish movement of the water will make much of your stay on the island quite tedious.
The one saving grace here is that it's generally not necessary to get every droplet to the goal, and more forgiving levels can actually be a bit of fun as you become less worried about drawing the exact right lines every time. Unfortunately it's an uneven split, and the majority of stages can prove quite frustrating.
Beyond the main puzzle game there’s Challenge Mode, which punishes you for making mistakes by removing a life from your count each time you restart. In a title that’s largely dependent on trial and error, this is an almost pointless addition. There are simple leaderboards and high scores as well, and you can buy decorations for the island with coins that you collect when you perform perfectly, but these do little to add replay value as the main mechanics are so flawed.
There’s not a lot of visual variation between levels, but what’s there looks quite nice, with a bucolic hand-drawn style. The same goes for the music – not a lot of variety, but the selection is pleasant. The Nanda sprite and her animations are unimpressive, and any dynamic aquatic effects are completely absent, but you’ll still have a favourable overall audiovisual experience.
On a final note, this game is absolutely impossible to play in transit. As one of the main draws of portable gaming is that you can do so by car or bus, it’s disappointing that the extreme sensitivity of Nanda’s tracking of your stylus accompanied by the bizarre water droplet physics turn the bumps of travel into game-ruining elements.
Nanda's Island is a tedious and frustrating physics puzzler featuring raindrops that act nothing like water and an interface that turns every horizontally flat surface or slight dip into a level-ruining trap. Fortunately not every stage requires that you move the majority of droplets to the goal, and when you're not so worried about getting every tiny blue blob to the main plant you can squeeze some fun out, but the majority of the game will make you want to leave this island deserted.