Review: Delbo (DSiWare)

Turns out hell is actually pretty fun

Long, long ago, in a place no one remembers, a young maiden was praying to the heavens to bring back her lover, who had perished. All at once, she was surrounded by an infinite number of glittering crystal orbs. A voice from above called out to her, "...These crystal orbs hold the secret to your lover's eternal fate. Shatter these balls to cleanse away the sins that defile his soul. Your wish to be reunited may be fulfilled when, and only when your lover's spirit is pure..." Are there a million orbs? A billion? Even now, the poor girl continues to toil in an endless sea of luminous balls, seeking atonement for her loved one... in belief that someday they will be reunited.

Now that's a storyline. It's up to you whether it's a good thing or a bad thing that it serves only as an arbitrary introduction to a budget-priced puzzle game. But at least it's a pretty fun one.

Delbo follows in the footsteps that have struck fear into the hearts of similarly-coloured objects as long as objects in puzzle games have been coloured similarly. Somewhat like a cross between Magical Drop/Ball Fighter and Tetris Attack!, you turn the DSi or 3DS on its side and shoot orbs from the bottom at the gradually descending endless sea of luminous balls above, as the story puts it. You can move left and right, shoot directly upwards and – here's the interesting part – pull vertical columns toward you to line up crystals of the same colour and make bigger combos. The game thus becomes a tantalising dance between racking up points and putting yourself in danger to do so – once the crystals reach the bottom, and the maiden presumably is overwhelmed by her lover's sins, it's game over.

Speaking of which – what did this lover do in life? An endless sea of sins drowning his beloved? What?!

The game starts out at a fairly quick pace and becomes progressively faster, so you'll have to stay on your toes. The push and pull of lining up combos and risking your life makes for an addictive experience, and you'll find yourself compelled to return again and again when you lose. There is one flaw, however, that greatly hampers the experience: there's no penalty for shooting the wrong-coloured orb. If it touches an incorrect crystal, it will simply pop and disappear. If there were a consequence for this, say, in the form of the ball you've launched sticking in place a la Bust-A-Move, things would become much more interesting. You'd have a lot more incentive to put your life at risk to pull a column containing the right orb to a spot at which you can reach it. Instead, you can simply fire it away and forget about it. You'll never be able to do so quickly enough to win the game by simply cycling through balls with wild abandon, but it does make things unfortunately less complex than they could have been. Not that you'll want for difficulty – things pick up speed pretty quickly – but with this element added and the pace slowed down a bit to accommodate it, Delbo might have proven a real hidden gem.

Beyond this, you'll get about as much depth as you'd expect from a budget-priced puzzle title. There is only one continuous level, a leaderboard listing scores without names or initials, and not much else. During gameplay you'll come across "link orbs," which allow you to continue chains onto another colour of ball, and you'll build up a Mystery Meter that rewards you with an orb that, when launched, eliminates all those of the same colour currently in play. You might be wondering what "Delbo" means at this point – along with your score there's a Delbo count, which becomes greater as you make bigger combos, though we're not sure about the exact correlation. All in all, then, it's a perfect fit for on-the-go gaming, enough to draw the player in for shorter, casual sessions, just like a good budget title should.

Aesthetically it's quite decent, with bright colours atop a somewhat bland background and lots of "Great!" and "Exciting!"s popping up when you set off a good combo. The music is very regal, featuring MIDI tracks that combine harpsichords, strings, flutes and more. It's a pleasant presentation that suits the action quite well and, even though it stars a maiden, not necessarily a royal maiden, reminds you of that insane storyline as you play.

Conclusion

An addictive, fast-paced puzzler, Delbo is captivating enough for short but sweet gaming sessions, but the lack of variation as well as a small number of flaws hold it back from becoming as complex as it could. It's far from groundbreaking, but it can keep you very entertained in short bursts. Not to mention that it's got one of the most delightfully ridiculous arbitrary storylines we've ever read.