Review: Cut the Rope (DSiWare)

This cuts it

There has been much debate in gaming circles about Nintendo’s digital offerings and the competition from smartphones and tablets. Now one of the biggest hits from those rival platforms, Cut the Rope, has finally arrived on DSiWare. The question is, does this title succeed on the DSi, or does it miss out on the candy?

The premise of Cut the Rope is simple: a cute alien called Om Nom is hungry for candy, and it’s your job to make sure that he gets it. What follows is a physics-based puzzle game where you cut ropes to swing and manoeuvre the candy into Om Nom’s mouth. Holding the DSi on its side — in a 'book' style — you cut ropes with a simple swipe of the stylus, while there are also air balloons to tap, bubbles that enable the candy to float and moveable anchors to manipulate the angle and tension of the line. As you would expect of a puzzle game designed solely for touchscreens, it all feels intuitive and easy to play.

Simple controls do not necessarily mean an easy game, however. After a few gentle early levels you’ll quickly discover why this title has been addictive to so many: these are some fiendish puzzles. Some require you to maintain a certain swing and momentum to the rope, while others necessitate quick thinking and reactions. Due to each attempt taking a matter of seconds with a retry available immediately, you could conceivably find time melting away as you aim to progress through the game.

There is a decent amount of content on offer in this DSiWare edition; a total of 100 levels are divided evenly between five themed ‘boxes’. In one sense each box is basically a colour palette swap, as the puzzles often take place on an area around the size of two or three screens. As mentioned previously though, there are new items and puzzle variations throughout the title, keeping your interest piqued. Progress to the next box is not just down to beating the previous 25 levels, but also collecting a set number of stars: with three in each level, it's sometimes a tough challenge to retrieve the lot and successfully get the candy to Om Nom. As things progress, you may finish a set of levels only to discover that you don’t have enough stars for the next box, meaning that you can’t simply blast through the game achieving the bare minimum scores.

While the gameplay is for the most part a success, there are some issues with this version of the title that drag it down. Primarily, the limitations of the DSi affect gameplay and performance in such a way that, unfortunately, the fluidity of the experience is compromised. The first issue is that the DSi touchscreen only allows a single input, whereas some of these puzzles were specifically designed to utilise the multi-touch capabilities of other devices. One puzzle necessitates moving two separate anchors as quickly as possible to manoeuvre the ropes towards the goal. As a result of the stylus-based gameplay, this level and others like it are fairly awkward and more difficult than they otherwise would have been.

In addition, the relatively small size of the touchscreen is restrictive, an issue with the title on other platforms apart from tablet devices. Some levels involve multiple ropes close together, with progress dependent on successfully cutting one specific rope. This is difficult on a small display, and there will be occasions when you know exactly how to clear a stage, but struggle with the execution. To exacerbate this issue, there are moments of noticeable drops in frame rate, where the animation and swing of the ropes stutters. This doesn’t happen on every level, but when this occurs it can cause real problems, especially if precise timing is required. These issues don’t break the game or deprive the player of enjoyment, but they are annoyances on occasions that may frustrate some gamers.

The overall presentation of Cut the Rope is relatively strong. The visuals are bright and cheery, with Om Nom being one of the cutest game characters ever created. Dips in frame rate do disrupt gameplay, as described above, and there are some fuzzy textures. The sound is light and breezy, though the music is the same track in all of the boxes and levels, with the only respite coming in the main menu. This is a sound design choice that reflects this title’s status as a pick-up and play experience, not designed for long, sustained periods.

Conclusion

Cut the Rope is a charming, well produced physics puzzle game that is undoubtedly entertaining. It contains all of the content from the original smartphone release, though not all of the subsequent expansions, and provides an experience that is both simple and challenging. The pricing is reasonable on the scale of Nintendo downloads, though many will be aware that it’s possible to purchase this game for much less elsewhere. Some performance issues also have an impact, but overall this is an enjoyable title that should be on the radar of all puzzle gamers with a DSi.