Review: Overflow (WiiWare)

Say it ain't flow

Overflow is possibly the most frustrating game you'll play all year. You'll be frustrated at the countless times you'll fail a level for reasons you don't even understand; you'll be frustrated at the finicky pointer controls that you're forced to use; you'll be frustrated at the camera, which doesn't always scroll up and down as quickly as it should; but most of all, you'll be frustrated because you'll quickly realize that with a bit more polish, Overflow could have been a masterpiece.

Overflow, a surprising departure for Digital Leisure (a developer whose typical WiiWare offerings are tepid repackagings of public domain games), is almost WiiWare's next World of Goo — or perhaps, more appropriately, its next Fluidity/Hydroventure — but the game's aforementioned flaws often turn it into a game that makes you want to tear the buttons off your controller in a fit of debilitating anger.

Conceptually, the game is simple: you must use a variety of items to control the flow of colored fuel from a leaky faucet to a pipe of the corresponding color. Blue fuel should be led to a blue pipe, red fuel to a red pipe, etc. But what happens when you have two leaky faucets — one red, one blue — and the pipe at the other side of the stage is purple? And what if that pipe is trapped on the other side of a wall that requires blue fuel to be lowered? The game is constantly shaking up and challenging the logic it established in the previous level, providing some jaw-droppingly, head-scratchingly, smile-inducingly clever puzzles.

If only you didn't have to deal with those eye-gaugingly finicky controls. That's putting it a bit harsh, of course — the controls are only infuriating because of the realisation of just how great this game would be without such issues.

Your tool bag contains an elementary set of supplies — a long wooden plank, a short wooden plank, a funnel — all used for the simple purpose of diverting the flow of fuel. Of course to do this effectively, you'll have to manipulate their angle as well as their position in the level, and this is where problems start to arise. For example, in some levels you'll have to use the momentum of the water to hit a switch that's situated on a wall. The switch opens up a sliding door, and obviously to gain the sort of momentum needed, you're going to have to position your planks at pretty precise angles. This is easier said than done: the pointer is sensitive to a fault, so getting your item to not only sit in the right place, but to be situated at the right angle as well, is an exercise that often takes far more time on the first, second or eighth try, than the game allows you.

While there's not exactly a time limit, it often feels like it, as there's only so much fuel you can “lose” before you fail the level. The game, however, does a lousy job of explaining what constitutes as lost fuel. Is all the fuel that fails to make it to the pipe lost, or just the fuel that falls through the drainage grates? We never get a clear explanation, and its hard to embrace gameplay concepts that are so unintentionally enigmatic. 30 levels doesn't sound like a lot, but when you're retrying each one half a dozen or more times, completing all of them feels like an almost unreachable goal at times.

Conclusion

Overflow has the ideas, the charm, and the aspiration; what it lacks is the functionality to bring it all together in a meaningful way. At 500 Points, this is still a good buy for curious puzzle-fans desperate for something different, but with a bit more polish Overflow could have been something much more than a cautious recommendation.

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