It seems only natural that a game being developed by former members of such an accomplished developer as Naughty Dog would garner some serious hype when it's announced. While it's always nice for a developer to get some type of recognition ahead of time, it can also prove to be a double-edged sword when it comes time to judge the finished product. Of course it doesn't help that the game is yet another puzzle title on a service that is already becoming overrun with them. So was developer Steel Penny Games able to transfer enough of the old Naughty Dog magic over to their first WiiWare release to somehow keep it from getting lost in the crowd?
Bruiser & Scratch doesn't try to reinvent the wheel with its simple premise which takes a "less is more" approach to the puzzle genre and crafts a simple yet decently playable title that requires more thinking power than fast gaming reflexes. To play, you take control of one of two characters, Bruiser the bulldog or Scratch the cat (the level chooses the character for you and then alternates between the two as you progress). Both have the same moves, and differ only in appearance.
Your task on each playing field is to push like objects into one another. Once you've pushed all of one type of object into one another they turn into their final form. You then move on to the next type of object and repeat the process until you're left with only final forms. As a last hurrah you then have to line up like final forms to clear the field. At first this is quite easy to accomplish, but as the puzzles progress you'll have to be more careful about which direction you push the objects in, not to mention the order in which you choose to do it. If you leave an object stranded you'll have to restart the level. Once you've cleared a playing field you're given a scorecard that lets you know how you fared. You are awarded trophies and stars based on how many steps and how much time it took you to clear the field. You can even go back and try to pick up trophies and stars you missed the first time around.
There are three modes of play to choose from. Tutorial Mode tosses 11 levels at you to show you step-by-step how to play the game. If you're just starting out, this is definitely the first place you should go, as it can be a bit confusing as to exactly what's going on in the other modes if you don't have a solid understanding of how the game functions. Story Mode is the heart of the game, and presents 48 levels of increasing difficulty. As you complete each one you'll be given bits and pieces of offbeat storyline and animal dialogue that will make you wonder what exactly the developers were consuming when they composed it. The final mode is the Challenge Mode, which dispenses with the silly story and just throws 75 tricky levels at you one right after another. You can even skip ahead to later levels if you're finding the early ones a bit too easy. As a whole these Challenge levels are quite a bit more difficult than the Story Mode levels so you might want to save them until after you've beaten the other modes first.
The play control is mostly straightforward. You can use any one of three different Wii controllers including the Wii Remote turned sideways, the Nunchuk, and the Wii Classic Controller. You move your characters around the playing field in a horizontal or vertical direction using either the d-pad or the analogue stick and use one action button to push the objects around and the other to spin the camera around to get a better view of the playing field.
While this control method is more than adequate, it is a bit disappointing that the game doesn't feature any Wii-specific controls to speak of. It's this standard and overly simplistic control scheme that seems to give the game a very tired feel. It's rather tricky and thought-provoking right at first but the entire presentation become very stale and boring too quickly. It doesn't help that the puzzles go from fairly simple to downright mind-bending in a hurry, which can add a hint of frustration to the already tired gameplay mechanics. Couple this with a complete lack of online play or functionality and you just can't help but come away from the game thinking that it was a wasted opportunity to do something that would better take advantage of the Wii's more advanced capabilities.
The visuals in Bruiser & Scratch are actually fairly solid and show a lot of detail and charm considering they're being presented in a puzzle game. But while the playing fields are well done, all of the empty space behind and below them is fairly bland and generally only a couple of faded together colours that do little to create the depth needed for these types of floating playing fields. Even the two characters, as offbeat as they are, don't show a lot of imagination and at times look like two rather generic video game mascots that someone quickly threw together. Given some of the higher quality visual performances we've already seen on the WiiWare service, not to mention the calibre of these developers, you'd ultimately expect a little more.
The audio aspects are fairly difficult to critique simply because there's just not much to speak of. The overly muted musical pieces that play during the levels can barely be heard most of the time and the sound effects that tend to take centre stage because of this muted soundtrack come off a bit bland. To make matters worse, the sleep-inducing tune that plays in between levels doesn't do much to liven things up either. You can tell that not much attention was paid to the audio presentation and the result is a very lackadaisical musical effort overall.
It's difficult to fault a developer for coming up with a simple and playable game, but when the result is as sluggish and tiresome as Bruiser & Scratch, there's not much else you can do. The game proves that no matter how good a developer's intentions and ideas, if the end product isn't enjoyable, it's all for naught. Gamers that absolutely can't pass up a decent puzzler might get a kick out of Bruiser & Scratch, but if you're looking for something innovative and exciting, you'd be better off looking at some of the more creative puzzlers already available on the WiiWare service, especially given the steep 1000 Wii Points price tag.