Nintendo handhelds have been graced with many great puzzle games over the years, from the wonderful Tetris on the original Game Boy through to the present day; the Picross series, Pullblox and the Professor Layton titles all being notable recent examples. In fact, a quick filtered search of the 3DS eShop by 'Puzzle' genre reveals no less than 346 pieces of software; can new kid on the block Pazuru sit proudly alongside its peers, or will it vanish into obscurity?
Initial impressions are promising. Pazuru (for all you budding linguists) means 'Puzzle' in Japanese, but that's not really doing the game justice. Pazuru isn't just a simple puzzle solving game, there's also a requirement for the player to possess a decent amount of hand-eye coordination along with the grey matter in order to complete all the levels.
Pazuru's premise is simple – each of the 75 levels is contained within a single screen and consists of a different shape filled with obstacles to navigate and gold stars to collect. A push of the 'A' button releases a black bouncing ball into the level. The task at hand is to guide the ball around each level while picking up all the stars (by rolling into them).
Collecting stars isn't too difficult from the beginning as you're eased in with some basic level configurations. Initially the only control available is the ability to rotate red triangular 'bumpers' that affect the trajectory of the ball. Each press of the 'A' button rotates the bumpers (in unison) 90 degrees, but also subtracts from your available 'moves'. Every level can be completed with a ranking of either 1, 2 or 3 stars, the highest rank achieved by not allowing your initial move allocation to drop below zero. If it does, you lose a star and receive a second quantity of move allowances, let this second set deplete and a single star (plus bow of shame) is all that can be acquired without a restart.
No sooner have you got the hang of the concept, new additions are added into the mix. Prepare to learn how to utilise bumpers which can either be on or off, boxes to bounce off once before being destroyed, teleportation portals and the ability to draw a snake-like trail (by holding down any trigger button) that becomes a one-hit only bounce wall. It also doesn't take too long before there are hazardous holes in the walls to avoid, forcing an instant retry should your ball be lost.
As far as we could tell, there is only a single solution to attain the full 3 star ranking on each level, so perfectionists will likely retry until the perfect route is found. Players wanting to simply solve and move on probably won't have too much trouble getting far into the game, but the real appeal is figuring out the route to 3 Star glory, which can be very satisfying.
Some won't like the idea of each solution being so prescribed and exacting, and if that's not your thing perhaps stick to more free-thinking action puzzlers such as the aforementioned Tetris. Also, if you don't possess a decent set of reactions be prepared for the later stages to cause some grief. A certain rhythm combined with a step-by-step memory becomes a requirement in the latter stages of the game. It can get quite manic attempting to rotate, draw and plan ahead due to the ball being ever-moving; the 'real-time' nature being quite challenging at times.
Once you've had your fill of the main game, or at least have an understanding of all the items and obstacles, there's also a fairly intuitive level designer, which is a nice little addition; levels created can be shared amongst friends and other players via QR code. For most though, the challenge of completing the levels designed by the developers will be the main draw of the game.
It's worth pointing out that aesthetically Pazuru is nothing to write home about - the presentation is functional, clean and clear. There is some basic Japanese ink styling, but no 3D effects and a pretty minimalist colour scheme. However, we have no issue with the graphics in a game of this type, anything too extravagant might have over-complicated or confused the levels.
The soundtrack is ok too, with three pleasant in-game tunes to hum along to which can be cycled through by pushing the 'Y' button at any time, helping to alleviate any repetitiveness.
With a decent learning curve and gameplay that's never too frustrating, Pazuru is an ideal pick up and play puzzler that's (pleasingly) reasonably priced too. Granted, the main levels can be all completed within around 5 or so hours for any competent player, but achieving the top ranking on them all will take a little more effort. Fun while it lasts, Pazuru is a solid little addition to the 3DS puzzler library and is definitely worth a look.