Ferryman Puzzle is the latest release from Engine Software, a developer that, aside from the Just Sing! games, has focused on DSiWare in the form of basic titles with a budget price point. The concept here will be familiar to those who have stumbled across it in Professor Layton games: you are a ferryman tasked with transporting livestock from one pier to another, bearing in mind rules so as to avoid a fox eating a sheep and so on. It is also worth noting that this is a port of the PC release The Ferryman, though changes have been made to suit the DSi hardware.
When you first load up, there is just one mode available – "Play Classic." This is the main part of the game and consists of 54 levels. It is a simple matter of tapping animals with the stylus to move them on and off the boat, and likewise tapping an arrow to move the boat to the opposite pier. In the early levels you can only fit one animal on the ferry at a time, and as the difficulty increases, you will be able to manoeuvre multiple animals at once. Heightening challenge also introduces a third pier for you to navigate to and, most importantly, provides new animals for you to manage.
This is the crux of the game, as there are rules for which animal eats what displayed on the top screen, be it hay, cheese, or other animals. Assistance is provided with a hint button in the form of an exclamation mark, and in this mode you get three of them – an arrow pointed at an animal to move, or an indication that you are ferrying the wrong animal. One problem with this system is that it isn’t always clear what the hint is, and if you’ve made a mistake and happen to try the hint button again, it will simply not respond; you quickly learn that your only option is to restart the level. It would have been preferable for the game to automatically end the level in this scenario, to avoid wasted time proceeding when your effort is, ultimately, doomed. Additionally, in an amusing piece of programming, you may have the wedge of cheese in your boat and the hint message will still refer to it as an animal. The fact that the cheese and bale of hay items also walk (or slither in a manner not dissimilar to The Blob) also shows a lack of polish. On top of this, every time you move an animal you have to watch it walk to the boat. Considering that the concept of the game requires lots of movements and management of the animals, the repetition of these animations really slows the tempo and feels a bit like watching a kettle boil.
Once you defeat ten levels in this mode, you unlock Play Combo, which has 25 stages. The variation here is that more animals appear after a certain number of turns moving the ferry. The challenge is really to move them as quickly as possible, and once you stack a number on the opposite pier you can dismiss them in time to deal with the new arrivals. The top of the screen shows you which animals are on the way, so more tactical thinking is required. In this mode you are allowed six hints due to the increased challenge.
One unfortunate experience from our playthrough that highlights the underdeveloped hint and instructional system was the confusing logic that the game applied when we saw a blue cheese appear; unlike the regular yellow cheese, used to prevent animals from eating each other, if an animal ate this cheese it was an instant game over. We'd like to think the developers were inspired by the poisonous mushroom in Super Mario Bros 2: The Lost Levels, but overall it made for a frustrating experience.
The game is reasonably pleasant to look at with some well-drawn backgrounds, though the same credit can’t be applied to the choppy animations of the animals and the ferryman. It also suffers from another common curse of inexpensive download games: looping music. It is a pleasant and soothing Japanese-style riff, but it will start to grate after a while.
Despite its flaws, Ferryman Puzzle presents a good, gradually increasing challenge that will take even the most skilled puzzlers a while to finish. The stages themselves are too basic to really grab one's attention or suit repetition, however, while the gameplay doesn’t support the concept as well as it could. Those who enjoy animal ferry-type puzzles may be able to look beyond this game's frustrations; in the end, though, this is a passable effort that fails to reach its potential, making this a title for ferry enthusiasts only.