Inside Pulse 12

Review: Dropcast (Nintendo DS)

Developer: Mikoishi
Publisher: THQ
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: September 22, 2008

There have been so many puzzle games over the years, it’s hard to imagine someone bringing a new idea to the table. Admit it. When you think about a puzzle game, what comes to mind? Some stupid game where you have to match like colors and clear a board. And why wouldn’t you? There have been a lot of games where the plot or licensed characters were just disguising the fact that the game beneath the hype was the same old crap we’ve always played. So when Dropcast came our way, my first thought was, “OK, so what is going to differentiate this one from the rest?”

Quite a bit, apparently.

The first thing you’ll discover about Dropcast is that it literally plays nothing like any other DS game – or at least none that I’ve played. Instead of holding the DS in the traditional manner, you end up turning it on its side. The two screens line up almost like a book instead of being stacked on top of each other. There’s a reason for this. You will never play a game of Dropcast that doesn’t utilize both screens. One of the things that bothers me about your average DS game is that it feels like a decent portion of the double-screen and touch-screen content is forced and contrived. Not so in Dropcast.

The other thing you’ll notice right away is the story. Since it is impossible to paraphrase this – you’ll soon see why – I’ll just quote from the manual…

“Despite being a rather interesting person, much to (Ingrid’s) displeasure, friends don’t stick around for very long. This could be because of the odd way she draws similarities between ‘friends’ and ‘lab rats’. She is, of course, very pleased to have them around. Sadly if they don’t flee of their own free will, they end up disappearing anyway… If only she had friends that were more like her, friends that could tolerate the occasional disaster. So, once upon a night, she finally decides to do something about it. A crash of thunder, the cackling of electricity, a drop of the arcane and BOOM! She’s lonely no more. Say hello to Ingrid’s motley crew of soft toys.”

Okay, so the story makes pretty much no sense. And it pretty much does nothing besides serve as a bridge between the different matches you play. But it’s a hook, and it’s cutesy ridiculous enough that it draws you in. Now, the funny thing about this game is that while it’s got a rather morbid premise, it’s actually got quite a cutesy feel about it. The graphics and sounds have a definite cartoony feel to them something that adds to the overall ridiculousness of the game. It almost reminds you of a Cartoon Network TV show in that it’d appeal to kids who have no business watching it. For the record, the game is rated E, probably because even the smartest kid would have trouble wrapping his or her head around this unfathomable plot. In the end, you have something that’s so weird that it becomes oddly appealing.

Ultimately, all the cute graphics and weird stories in the world can’t save a game if it doesn’t play well. And this is one area where Dropcast excels. You might think that the single-player mode in a puzzle game would be a bore. Not in this game. You have to options from which to choose, and both are pretty much completely different.

The first is called Ingrid’s Curse, and it’s almost like two games in one. Controlling the touch screen on the right, your job is to match touch clusters of like colors. This is not unlike Columns, Dr. Mario, or any of the other puzzle games you’ve played. But there’s a twist here. As you eliminate pieces, they drop onto the left screen. How they drop depends on what the designated shape is at the time and where you touch the touch screen. Your goal is to form rows out of these eliminated pieces, a la Tetris. And just to drive the point home, many of the designated shapes are straight out of the classic puzzle game. Simultaneously, this is easier and harder than it sounds. You end up being able to control the left screen more than you might think possible, but it comes at the risk of screwing up your right screen. Your only real competition comes against yourself and your prior scores, which is kind of lame, but it’s a challenging way to kill some time.

The second single-player mode (though this can also be played multi-player) is the Battle Royale mode, and this is for all intents and purposes the “Story Mode” of Dropcast. In terms of the story, it literally is a battle royale amongst Ingrid’s stuffed animals, and your goal is to defeat all of the other animals. Practically speaking, though, it’s a chance to unlock all the characters and achievement landmarks in the game. It is also quite different from Ingrid’s Curse. Instead of juggling two screens, Battle Royale is a one-on-one game against the CPU or a buddy. And rather than launching bricks onto the other screen, you instead cast spells on your opponent. Each of the animals has their own tricks, but the philosophy is consistent throughout. The squares with the circles and arrows are attack spells, which either black out a number of your opponent’s pieces (making it impossible to clear them) or add blacked-out pieces to your opponent’s board. The squares with the dashes are counter spells, which are to be used when your opponent casts a spell on you. The counters don’t seem to always work as well as they should. Much of their success depends on how big a cluster of blocks you’re countering with; if your opponent is launching a bigger attack, you’re pretty much screwed. Just the same, your attacks never seem to be as powerful as your opponent’s and just when you think you’ve got your opponent licked, they come out of nowhere to completely annihilate you. And that’s one of the cool things about single-player Battle Royale – each of the animals has their own strategies. Some like to attack as often as they can, while others save up as many squares as possible to destroy you in one shot. Besting these opponents ends up giving you a great idea of how many different ways there are to play the game, not to mention making you a better player.

However, for all of the fun these modes will give you, there’s one glaring omission from Dropcast. That would be the option to change the difficulty level. See, Dropcast is a pretty f’ing hard game to play. And it’s difficult to learn all the nuances of the game if you’re playing a tough computer opponent or even against the clock in Ingrid’s Curse. The game comes equipped with tutorials, but it’s one thing to play in a controlled environment; it’s another to play in a fast-paced battle. Some of the computer opponents are pretty much impossible if you don’t know exactly what you’re doing, and the only way to learn exactly what you’re doing is to practice in a low-pressure setting. Dropcast doesn’t offer you that option. And in a game where the replay value is pretty high, the ability to tone down the difficulty would enhance the replay value that much more.

There are also very few options in the game, and that’s got a lot to do with the puzzle-based nature of the game. Aside from the two main modes, there’s pretty much nothing else. You can look at your records and your achievements, and you can also access your records and accomplishments, but that’s pretty much it. Sort of a letdown, but it’s hard to think of anything else they could have added to enhance the total package. They did include one crucial piece, though, with the option to flip the DS around and control the touch screen with your left hand. Now that would have been an awful oversight.

The Scores
Story/Modes: Good
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Bad
Originality: Great
Addictiveness: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Above Average
Miscellaneous: Good

Short Attention Span Summary
Dropcast is sort of a bizarre game, but one that is nothing if not unique. It’s sort of a composite of every puzzle game you’ve ever played, but puts forth an original presentation. The end result is a game that’s familiar, yet new – and that’s about all you can ask from a puzzle game these days.