Inside Pulse 12

Review: Pipe Mania (PS2)


Pipe Mania (PS2)
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Empire Interactive
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 09/26/2008


You’ve likely played Pipe Mania (aka Pipe Dream) in some form, as it’s been released on a plethora of systems. If you’re like me, you played it as part of the Microsoft Entertainment Pack. You also might have played the mini-game versions in Bioshock or Resident Evil 4 (and if you think it originated from either of those games, you clearly haven’t been around very long).

I used to burn many hours laying down those pipes, frantically trying to build a good path before the neon green slime (known in this version as “Flooze”) reached the end. I would be staring aghast at the screen as luck of the draw failed me and the slime oozed to its inevitable splattered doom. So when I heard it was getting a remake, I was ready to rejoice and be merry.

Let’s see how a makeover has treated this game.

Story
The game opens with a narration from Alfonso Senior, a now retired plumber who’s quite affluent. The opening scene introduces all the characters in the game and conveys the plight of Alfonso’s “paradise island”, the Isle of Ducts. The Isle is now heavily polluted and under siege by cowboy plumbers, most notably Buffalo Bonzo. Your job is to help his son, Junior, and his daughter, Fawcett, in cleaning up the Isle of Ducts, stopping Buffalo Bonzo’s rampage, and taking over the family business so their dear father can enjoy his retirement. You’re prompted to pick one of them when you create a profile, but there’s no difference between them other than whose picture is at the top of the screen when you play.

The story works well enough as a premise for a game comprised entirely of laying down pipes, but it’s not particularly deep. Then again, who would play this for story?

Story: Mediocre

Graphics
The art style is reminiscent of some of the shows you might see on Cartoon Network. It goes with the general lighthearted mood of the game, but it could cause people to think this is a kid’s game at first glance. The opening scene is smoothly animated and does a good job of portraying the characters’ quirks.

My first thought upon seeing the playing field was, “cluttered”. Then again, I’m used to the more utilitarian gray look of the Windows version, which would probably cause people to quickly get bored staring at it, so the face lift was necessary. The pipes and Flooze are easy to distinguish, so you should have no problem keeping track of your pipe path relative to the Flooze’s current location.

The stages are themed according to the area you’re in – sewers, factory, railroad, etc. The Flooze and pipes will even change color and shape (in one area, the Flooze will take the form of trains and the pipes that of railroad tracks). On top of the screen are your score, any bonuses you’ve earned, the portrait of the character you picked, the number of pipes the Flooze has passed through and the required pipe length, and in some modes a time limit. In the left hand corner is your pipe dispenser, which shows the next 5 forthcoming pipes.The layout works pretty well and is not obstructive.

Overall, the graphics are covered with a rather brightly colored cartoonish veneer. It doesn’t bother me personally, but some can find it off-putting. It’s really a matter of taste.

Graphics: Above Average

Sound
The voice acting is fitting for the characters, though you won’t be hearing any of it during gameplay. The music iss not grating and it can be rather upbeat, but it’s also not particularly memorable. I honestly don’t even notice the background music most of the time because I’m concentrating so much on building a good path. The sound effects are also nothing remarkable, but they do the job.

That being said, both the music and sound effects can give you important cues. The music will speed up if the Flooze is approaching an open pipe, indicating that you’d better find the hole in your path and close it pronto. A chime plays when you’ve built a complete path, which can be a great help if you’re trying to ensure that there and have trouble following the path you just constructed.

Sound: Above Average

Control/Gameplay
Ah, here we go, the meat of the game. On each stage is a start and end point. A sidebar shows you the next 5 pipes in the queue, the way Tetris shows you which block is coming next. There are a minimum number of pipes you have to use from start to finish before you can progress to the next level. The more pipes you use over the minimum, the more points you earn. So while you could just build a straight path to the end, it would be in your best interest to construct as complicated a pipeline as possible. Planning ahead and quick thinking are the keys to success (Okay, those and getting the pipes you need at the right time).

The controls are fairly straightforward. You move the cursor with either the left analog stick or the directional pad. You set pipes with the buttons. You can hasten the Flooze by holding down the L1 and R1 buttons. In Bonus mode, you can turn the pipes counterclockwise with the X button or clockwise with the circle button. You can blow up a pipe and set down a new one in its place by simply placing the new pipe over the old one, but the privilege comes with a score penalty. Points will also be deducted for each unused pipe left on the field after you finish the level.

The two pipe pieces present on every stage are the Start piece, where the Flooze makes its entrance, and the End piece, where the Flooze must go to end the level. The possible pipe shapes include two straight pipes (vertical and horizontal), four curved pipes, and a cross shaped pipe you can direct the Flooze through twice if you assemble the pipes strategically (doing so nets you extra points). There’s also a question mark icon that calls up a roulette of the different pipe shapes, which comes in handy when the pipe you need isn’t in the queue, but you’ll have to hit the button quickly when your desired pipe appears or you’ll end up with a different pipe.

Naturally, variations of the pipes have been added in this remake. Bonus pipes give you extra points if you direct the Flooze through them. One Way pipes lets the Flooze flow in only one direction. Reservoir pipes decelerate the Flooze, buying you time to lay down more pipes. Pump pipes do the opposite and speed up the Flooze. Changer pipes modify the color of the Flooze, which is important because some pipes will only take a specific Flooze color. A Splitter pipe can serve as a Changer pipe, but it will also split the Flooze en twain. Other pipe types exist (around 20 total), but going into all of them would gray some readers’ hairs by the time I’m through. That speaks for how much has been added.

As you might expect, there’s also two new variants of the Flooze we all know and love (or hate, depending on your skill with the game). Pulse type Flooze moves through the pipes like a train, so you can alter pipes once it’s passed through them. Jump type Flooze rockets through several pipeline sections at once, as opposed to the other two types, which percolates gradually though the pipes.

Also new to this version is a leak meter. In the original, when the Flooze hit the end of an open pipe, you failed the stage. In this version, if Flooze seeps out of the pipe, you still have time to fix the leak, but if you take too long and the leak meter fills, you lose. If you fail a stage, you are given the option to play again, pick another stage, or exit to the title screen. Winning will, of course, allow you to progress.

Oh, and don’t think you’ll always be able to go about your construction efforts in peace. In some levels, attacks will randomly be launched as you attempt to construct your pipeline. For example, some of your pipes can sustain damage and you’ll have to stop what you’re doing to repair them or they’ll leak when the Flooze reaches them (which thankfully doesn’t take long, but it still saps time). Or the pipes in queue will rapidly be dispensed wherever your cursor happens to be at the moment. In addition, some levels will have obstacles that you cannot bomb or remove – the only way to circumvent them is to go around them. They’re a nuisance to deal with, but they do add more challenge to the game.

Control/Gameplay: Unparalleled

Replayability
Pipe Mania contains a plethora of modes to keep you coming. World Mode is the story mode wherein you unlock more levels as you beat each stage, although you’re not required to play in a specific order. Classic Mode (in Normal and Hard flavors) is for those would prefer the original Pipe Mania game, as there is no Leak Meter – once the Flooze hits an open pipe, that’s it. Bonus Match Mode presents you with an incomplete pipeline, and you have to fill in the missing pieces before time runs out. In Bonus Spin Mode, you are given a pipeline with some pipes rotated, and you have to rotate them to complete the pipeline within the time limit. In Arcade Mode (which also has Normal and Hard iterations), the screen will scroll up, left, down, or right at an even speed when the Flooze starts flowing, with the objective being to prevent the Flooze from flowing offscreen.

Expectedly, the game also contains four different ways to go head to head against another person if you so desire. In Versus Mode, each player has their own pipes and grid, and whoever survives the longest or has the highest score after time runs out wins. Versus Quick Clear has both players building a complete pipeline to drop on their opponent, with End Pieces being multidirectional. As the name suggests, Versus Charge and Blast provides each player with an Attack Meter, which they charge up by advanced the Flooze quickly; once the meter’s charged, they can attack their opponent to hinder their progress. Finally, Versus World Score/ Classic Score is simply a contest of who can earn the highest score on a level.

With so many modes and variations and unlockables, this game has definitive longevity, and you won’t run out of things to do in the game anytime soon. There’s always the good old incentive of beating your best score (or another person) as well, meaning this game can have unfettered replayability.

Replayability: Amazing

Balance
The first ten stages are pretty basic and designed to show you the ropes, but the difficulty gradually climbs as you get further in the game and more gameplay elements are introduced. You can enable tutorials if you need the help or turn them off if you find them annoying. There will be stages that’ll frustrate you enough to incite an urge to throw your controller at the TV (which won’t accomplish anything, but you knew that already). Namely, those that require you to handle two Floozes at once and to guide them through certain preset pipes without any collisions. Oh, and there’s a time limit – have fun. Even then, you won’t feel like the game is cheating, and you’ll feel compelled to keep trying until you prevail.

Balance: Very Good

Originality
PIpe Mania is a remake of a 19 year old game. There’s not much room for originality here. Nonetheless, enough new features and gameplay mechanics have been added which makes the game feels fresh. One could even make the argument that it almost feels like a new game with the amount of new features that have been put in. You can’t complain about that.

Originality: Mediocre

Addictiveness
You could spend hours and hours on this game, and depending on how absorbed you get or how long you play, it can really stick with you. Even long after I had turned off the game, I’d still be mentally assembling pipelines in the back of my mind. In fact, I’m doing so now as I type this. This game is a mindworm that will likely burrow its way into you brain and make itself comfortable for a while.

Addictiveness: Classic

Appeal
This game is pretty easy to pick up and play, although quickly devising a good path can take some practice. It’s been around for a long time across different platforms, so it has a pretty widespread appeal. Some will remember other incarnations of this game and pick this up out of nostalgia, while others will simply be looking for a good puzzle game and give this a look. On the other hand, anyone phobic of anything cartoony for whatever reason will probably be repelled by the overall look of the game, but they’d be missing out if they skip this for that reason.

It may also appeal to anyone with a pipe dream (I’ll leave it to you to decide if that pun was intentional or not) of becoming a plumber and desires the practice, if there’s anyone fitting that description who also games. Or maybe if your name is Mario and you have a brother named Luigi.

Appeal: Great

Miscellaneous
As you beat levels (and find chests within said levels), you unlock more chests in the Treasure Room. Their contents range from more modes (only World is available initially) to character profiles to concept art. You can also unlock the opening movie to view at your leisure. The Treasure Room also functions as a sound room, if there are any tunes you want to listen to again. There’s plenty to unlock, and if your goal is to unlock everything, it’ll take a while.

Miscellaneous: Very Good

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: ABOVE AVERAGE
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: UNPARALLELED
Replayability: AMAZING
Balance: VERY GOOD
Originality: MEDIOCRE
Addictiveness: CLASSIC
Appeal: GREAT
Miscellaneous: VERY GOOD
Final Score: VERY GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary:
Pipe Mania is a solid revamp of a classic with a ton of new features and gameplay mechanics that add even more variety and challenge. Anyone who’d judge this by its cover would be missing out on a great game. There’s enough content and unlockables to occupy you for a good long while, and chances are you’ll have a hard time setting down the controller once you pick it up. Plus, you’ll only have to part with one Andrew Jackson, meaning you won’t be breaking the bank.