Review: Konductra (Nintendo DS)


Konductra
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: oeFun
Publisher: O3 Entertainment
Release Date: 10/31/06

The Nintendo DS seems to have become the de facto home to weird but entertaining puzzle games. If I wanted to count all of the puzzle games that came out for the damn system, I’d probably have to take off my shoes… and, for that matter, YOUR shoes too. This has two unexpected side effects: first, it makes it very easy to randomly walk over to the DS shelf and grab myself a quality puzzle game to pass time with… but on the other hand, it means that the bar is continuously being raised for the quality of DS puzzle games, which means the same old thing we would’ve liked six months ago may have been eclipsed since that point.

And lo, we have Konductra. Developed by newcomers oeFun (this is their first documented game that I could locate), Konductra seeks to be the next hot new puzzle game for the DS. Is this virtual unknown from a virtually unknown developer up to the task of being the next hot puzzle game, or is it inferior to the plethora of other puzzlers on the system? Let’s take a look.


1. GAME MODES


Konductra offers a pretty decent amount of play options for players to… uh… play. The game offers a Score mode (single player, no competition), versus human and computer play, and online play via WiFi. There’s also a practice mode so you can get acquainted with the game, and a video tutorial with full spoken instructions for the uninitiated. You can’t really ask for a lot more than that; maybe something like the novel story mode featured in Meteos, and the game is kind of begging for single cart multi-player, but otherwise, you’re given a lot to play around with here, surprisingly enough.

Game Rating: 7/10


2. GRAPHICS


Konductra looks pretty decent for the most part. The active display (where the important stuff is happening) looks vibrant and colorful, but it’s really just colored blocks on a blue background, so that doesn’t seem incredibly challenging. The “shatter” effect that the blocks do when they’re eliminated is nice, though. The top screen is used for a couple of different display, and since they’re not active, they’re not as interesting, but they do animate nicely when required. Overall, the game looks acceptable, but Konductra isn’t the sort of game that lives or dies on its visuals, so it’s not a big deal that they’re not insanely awesome.

Graphics Rating: 6/10


3. SOUND

There are only a few music tracks in Konductra, and they’re entirely of the techno/dance persuasion… so, y’know, they sound like video game music. The tracks fit the tone of the game well, and they sound pretty solid, but as said, there are only a few, so they may get a little repetitive. The sound effects are also minimal; aside from the tutorial (which, honestly, sounds clear and clean), there are really only some futuristic sounding effects that play when things happen (you eliminate blocks, the opponent eliminates blocks and dumps on you, etc). These also sound acceptable, but they’re nothing dynamic. Indeed, much like it is graphically, Konductra is an acceptable, if limited, title aurally, but it does its job perfectly fine overall.

Sound Rating: 6/10


4. CONTROL/GAMEPLAY


The basic gameplay of Konductra is simple, so much so that I’m surprised I didn’t see someone do it sooner. You’re given a grid of sorts, with black and white conductors on the outside. You’re given colored bricks in groups of twos, which you place onto the grid with the stylus. The idea is to place the bricks in groups of like colors, AND to make sure two bricks from the group are touching identically colored conductors. Then, you trace from one conductor to the other, making sure to hit all of the bricks in the group, and they shatter, leaving you with more free space. It’s a very logical concept; complete a circuit, the charge shatters the blocks. It’s also very strongly executed and easy to work with.

Part of that is because EVERYTHING, more or less, is done with the stylus. Menus are selected by highlighting all of the letters in the choice you want, which is stylistically cool and in keeping with the theme of the game. The implementation of the gameplay is also top notch; when you place the stylus into the grid, the left block of your pair appears under it, and you then simply draw into an adjacent block to place the pair in the grid. If you screw up your placement, you can simply draw outside of the range or release the stylus with only one block placed. There are a few other gameplay considerations to keep in mind as well, like how you can trace around the outside of the grid while you’re completing circuits, which not only doesn’t break the present circuit, but allows you to create additional circuits for some solid chain combo action, or how there are uncolored white blocks which act as “wild” blocks, and can be included in any circuit. Also, a small timer counts down as you play, and if you fail to eliminate or place blocks before it falls to empty, it places the next set in your queue onto the board, wherever it damn well pleases. Not only that, but blocks placed in this manner stay until they’re eliminated twice, which makes this an undesirable event. Also, as one would expect, if you fill the board, it’s game over. Overall, the core gameplay is easy to warm to, but works surprisingly well.

All of the above applies to any of the game modes, and for Score mode, that’s all you really need to know: match and eliminate groups of colors to score points (in Score mode, the game is even kind enough to show a chart of the grid and the point values for eliminating blocks in specific grid squares). But for the other modes, there’s a little more explaining to do. Task mode will supply you with an image on the top screen of a pattern you must create, then eliminate. You can customize the color of the bricks where applicable (though this doesn’t change anything), which is neat, but not really important. What IS important is that, unless they fall into the picture, wild blocks apply as normal; if they fall in the picture you must draw, they MUST be used in the specified spots. On the other hand, so long as you eliminate the exact thing the game asks for, it doesn’t care what else you do, so you can wipe out the rest of the blocks screwing with your progress easily enough. Some of the tasks can get a bit complex, but overall it’s a fun little mode.

And of course there are some variances to the versus mode. When playing against the CPU, the top screen displays the opposing grid state, which allows you to make judgment calls on where to make your eliminations. When you eliminate blocks, shifted panels appear on your opponent’s side of the playing field to hinder its options, and if you eliminate entire lines of blocks, the aforementioned double-elimination blocks land on the opposing side to hurt them even further. Should it eliminate blocks, as expected, shifted panels pop up on your side; these can be eliminated by tapping them multiple times, but don’t let it distract you from eliminating blocks on your side, or it’s game over. And if it eliminates columns of blocks, the dreaded double-elimination blocks pop up on your side for you to contend with. Versus Human mode works more or less the same, so you can use the versus CPU mode to practice for playing against friends or WiFi play. When playing WiFi, by the way, you can play in ranked or unranked matches; ranked matches get you on the leaderboard on the Konductra website, which is kind of neat. If you play against someone on your Friend list online, however, you can’t play ranked matches; this is to prevent cheating, which makes sense, but it also means smiting your friends doesn’t earn you respect with anyone but them. Y’know, assuming game playing skill equates to any sort of tangible respect in the world, as opposed to mockery and swirlies. Not that… I’d, um… know anything about that… uh, let’s move on.

The only really bad thing I can say about the gameplay is that it’s somewhat limited. The gameplay dynamic is quite solid, but in comparison to some of the more complex puzzlers out there, it feels slightly limited. Also, depending on the calibration/responsiveness of your DS, you may find yourself screwing up your path laying or placing/aborting placement of blocks, and as there’s no D-pad support for the game, that can be a tad frustrating (though not incredibly so). Also, and again I say this, the game does not feel so complex that single card multi-play couldn’t have been included; while it’s nice that the developers chose to focus on WiFi play, I imagine more people have local friends with DS units than WiFi adaptors. And… well, that’s really about it. Otherwise, Konductra is an incredibly solid gameplay experience that’s very simple and logical as well as a lot of fun. It’s easy to understand, easy to play, and very strongly implemented, and almost anyone will be able to get into it with no issues whatsoever. There aren’t too many games that feel as solid as Konductra, and oeFun should be commended on making a game that plays as well as this.

Control/Gameplay Rating: 8/10


5. REPLAYABILITY

If you are the sort of person that enjoys multi-player puzzle action, Konductra will keep you coming back for more. With multi-cart multiplayer available, you and your friends will be able to sit down and play any time with no problems (assuming they own the game), and with the WiFi support, you can hop online and play against other players to see who rocks and who sucks, complete with an online billboard for bragging rights. Again, of course, lack of single cart play blah blah blah, you know the drill.

If you’re looking for a stronger single player experience, on the other hand, Konductra will keep you coming back for a while, but not so much. With Score, Vs. CPU and Task modes to complete, and a Secret mode to find and unlock, you’ll have plenty of reason to pop the game in and play, but it’s not as strong an experience as some of the other games you might already own, so it’s likely to wear on you after a while. You’ll most likely come back to it now and again, as it is fun, but it won’t be the siren song that something like Meteos or Tetris might be for the more dedicated puzzler, sadly.

Replayability Rating: 7/10


6. BALANCE

Konductra is a solidly balanced title; learning how to play is very easy, but mastering the fundamentals will take some time. The Score, Vs. CPU and Task modes are all designed to work you upward in difficulty, as is expected, and the variance in difficulty from one stage to the next is reasonably scaled in all cases. Multiplayer is a different animal, however; battles against equally skilled players can get pretty hectic, and while the odds are good for you to get a fluke win against better players, most likely you’ll get smote. That’s hardly uncommon in competitive games in general, though some way to balance the difficulty between players would have been nice. Overall, Konductra is a well balanced title that anyone should be able to pick up, learn, and play without difficulty, and as said, if you’re having trouble, the tutorial should be able to help you understand the game as well.

Balance Rating: 7/10


7. ORIGINALITY

I can’t recall seeing a puzzle game that does what Konductra does in the slightest, which is not to say that they don’t exist, but that I don’t know of them. As a result, it comes off as a very original concept that works quite well in both design and execution. The visual and aural presentation aren’t anything unique, but the actual gameplay mechanics are quite interesting and different, and make for a surprisingly different experience.

Originality Rating: 7/10


8. ADDICTIVENESS

Konductra is quite a lot of fun for the first few hours of play, and if you’re a fan of puzzlers, it’ll certainly keep you coming back looking for more. Add to this a fun multiplayer setup that you can play with friends at home or abroad, and you have a game that will spend some time in the DS. Unfortunately, the bar has been raised for puzzle games in recent years, and Konductra ends up being too static to keep your interest indefinitely. Some visual or audio changes as you progressed might have helped mitigate this somewhat. Still, for what it is, Konductra does enough to keep you entertained for a while, both as a solo experience and a multiplayer one.

Addictiveness Rating: 6/10


9. APPEAL FACTOR

Well, it’s a puzzle game. On one hand, anyone can pick up and play it. Puzzle games tend to be wide appeal titles for that very reason; there are no characters to associate with or missions to complete or violence to make you shy away, just you, a strong mind, good hand-eye coordination, and a second player if you want. On the other hand, however, there are a billion other puzzle games for the system, so if you already own a few, you might not be saying, “Gee, just what I need, ANOTHER PUZZLE GAME”. In the end, the mass appeal of the puzzle genre overpowers the armada of such games for the console, and if you’re a fan of the genre like I am, sometimes you just can’t have enough puzzle action.

Appeal Rating: 7/10


10. MISCELLANEOUS


I’m honestly surprised that this game is as entertaining as it is. A weird puzzle game concept from an unknown developer for a functionally odd system that features a ton of competition sounds like a recipe for disaster, but Konductra comes together into a solid, worthwhile package. It does what it does right, and works nicely overall. I just find it very stunning that something like this can come from a virtually unknown developer, considering the amount of rehashes and retreads we see from developers we trust on a weekly basis. It’s a beautiful thing to have absolutely no expectations from a game, only to have them blown away. Konductra does this, and does it surprisingly well.

Miscellaneous Rating: 8/10

The Scores:
Game Modes: 7/10
Graphics: 6/10
Sound: 6/10
Control/Gameplay: 8/10
Replayability: 7/10
Balance: 7/10
Originality: 7/10
Addictiveness: 6/10
Appeal: 7/10
Miscellaneous: 8/10

Overall Score: 6.9/10
Final Score: 7.0 (GOOD).

Short Attention Span Summary
Konductra is a surprisingly entertaining and unique game. As a game it’s entertaining to play, complex enough to keep you interested, but simple enough to play without trouble. The presentation could stand some polish, some more extras would have been nice, and single cart multiplay would have extended the life of the experience somewhat, but as it is, Konductra stands as one of the better puzzlers on the DS. oeFun should be proud of their freshman effort, and if they continue to deliver such good games, they’ll definitely have a long life in the business.