Review: Pipe Mania (Sony PSP)

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

The PSP has been very good to me in terms of puzzle games. In fact the first game I bought for it was Lumines. Not only is it one of the best games on the PSP, but Lumines is also one of the best puzzle games ever. Later on, I got addicted to Puzzle Quest, Gunpey, Exit, and Crush. Each of these games was just a random impulse buy and each one came out great.

To make a long story short, when I was given the opportunity to review Pipe Mania for the PSP, I resounded with a hell yeah! It looked like it was time to chock up another hit for my favorite portable system.

Guess what? I was right. This game rocks.

Story/Modes

Believe it or not, there is a story. Famed retired plumber Alfonso Sr. is ready to relax the rest of his days on Paradise Island. After three decades of plumbing, he has surely earned some rest. However, the island is in a state of madness thanks to some cowboy plumbers who’ve really mucked things up. Rather than pick up the wrench one last time, Alfonso sends his kids Junior and Fawcett to get the job done. The two of them will travel to all the major locations of the island and set things right.

There really isn’t much of a plot beyond this, and all it really does is set you up for some of the games more eccentric characters such as Phyllis the owner of the power plant. She’s basically the bride of Frankenstein. Still, the characters pull off a lot of charm despite the limited amount of dialogue and I’d like to think if the developers wanted to have more of a story, they could have pulled it off.

The story mode will be your primary mode of play. Once you’ve earned yourself a few medals, you’ll unlock several extra modes of play. You’ll get classic, arcade, and a couple of modes where you’ll need to solve puzzles by switching pieces or filling in gaps of the pipeline. There is a lot to do with such a simple formula.

Story mode really knocks it out of the park with more variety in a mode then I’ve ever seen for a puzzle game. You start up with some basic pipes, but by the end you’ll been in a factory, power plant, sewers, railroad tracks, the internet, and even some super pipes just for good measure. Each of the eight worlds has a ton of variety, from switching up the speed of the flooze to introducing new twists such as having to create multiple streams and change colors. It is extremely well done and worth the price of admission even without all of the extra modes.

Graphics

Pipe Mania goes for a cartoonish look and to be honest, I almost thought there WAS a cartoon after the introduction. The cut scene looked that good. Sadly, you won’t get any more movies for the rest of the game. It’s a shame because it is clear these guys know what they’re doing.

The in-game graphics are well done if a bit simple. Even if they change things up a bit by changing color and type of flooze, it all basically comes down to you looking at a bunch of pipe-like objects on a flat background. Fortunately, each piece is clear as to what it is and the game does a remarkable job of helping you tell where each flooze is going to end up based on where the pipe ends. A little white arrow will point out where the flooze will come out and in what direction. You’ll always know where you’re weak spot is.

The graphics in this game aren’t going to win any awards for technical prowess, but they get the job done. You’ll never have to fight with a problematic camera or end up staring at the screen trying to make out what something is. For a puzzle game, it hits all the right notes.

Audio

Again I must bring up that opening cut scene. Alfonso Sr.’s voice actor does a brilliant job of getting you to like him with a deep and friendly voice. By sheer association, you like Junior and Fawcett despite them never saying a word. It’s a shame there wasn’t more voice acting in the game.

The music is really light and pleasant. Honestly, I was so wrapped up in it that I hardly noticed when it was playing except on some of the easier levels. The music does get noticeable when the flooze stars leaking or gets too close to the edge of your pipe. It will speed up and get your heart up as well as you race to fill in the gaps and save yourself from a leaky nightmare.

The sound effects are few but good. You’ve got a different sound for each flooze and for each piece as you lay them down. Basically, you’ll hear a lot of whooshes and such as the flooze moves from one end to the other. You’ll get great audio cues for when the flooze is speeding up, slowing down, and even just coming out of the gate. There was nothing to complain about here, even if it wasn’t spectacular.

Gameplay

The game can be best described as laying down pipe pieces from the start to the end of each level. However, there is so much more to it that it is never that simple. For one, each level has a minimum number of pieces that you must use in order to complete the level. Therefore, a straight is never possible. Also, you’ll be given one of several pieces at random. Straight pieces, elbow pieces, bridge pieces (which are used to created loops so you can over a previously used pipe) and even some pieces that are unique to each world (special reservoirs that hold back electricity for instance) all come at you with only a little bar at the left to show you what’s coming. Also, you won’t be able to rotate pieces, so you’ve got to use what you’ve got.

At the end of every world you’ll come across a boss fight. These bosses will try their hardest to impede your success by damaging pipes, switching pieces, or even removing squares from the board so you can’t place pieces there at all. These bring up the pace even more.

Each level gives you only a certain amount of time before the flooze starts flowing. Since you’re given such a brief window to create you crazy concoction of a pipe maze, the pace of the game is quick and unforgiving. Players need speed, precision, and the ability to plant ahead in order to master some of the game’s tricky puzzles.

If the flooze starts leaking out, your leak meter will begin to fill. Once that’s full, you lose. You’ll be given some time to place new pieces and fill in the gaps, but if you have a long stretch of empty space, you’re screwed. In classic mode, this meter is turned off and one tiny little leak will end the game for you.

The puzzles in this game can be wicked at times. There was one puzzle where I had to separate the flooze into two streams, change the color of both streams, separate the second stream into two streams, change the color of these streams, recombine them, and then recombine the original two into one new colored flooze. You have to really think ahead for this kind of thing because a misplaced piece at the beginning can block you at the end. The flooze is constantly flowing, so replacing a piece that the flooze has already reached isn’t possible (except during the railway levels). So even if you’re just placing a piece to get it out of the way, you have to make sure that it won’t come back to bite you in the end.

There are even some levels were all you have to is rotate existing pieces so that the flooze will follow the correct path. One level has two floozes going at the same time on this course and directing both of them at the same time while trying to meet your required movement quota is a true challenge. Other levels include you having to fill in the gaps on existing pipelines and having to place pipe on a vertically or horizontally scrolling level while trying to prevent the flooze from touching either end. Some levels even let you preset the size of the map, which can either increase or decrease the challenge.

All told, Pipe Mania is a ton of fun and there are more ways to play it than most other puzzle games out there. They do so much with the core concept that after you’ve played through all the modes you won’t be able to think of anything else they could have reasonably done. It’s nice to see a developer getting the most out of the game they’ve created.

Replayability

I’ve already given a good list of the different modes available in Pipe Mania. All told, there are about 300 different puzzles to tackle, and since each one can take several minutes to complete, you’ll get plenty of bang for your buck with this game.

The biggest reason to come back and play some more is that there are multiple ways to solve each puzzle. Since the pieces are random and several levels give you open space to work with, no two pipes will ever be the same. If you think you’ve seen all there is to see with the game, you haven’t. That is something every puzzle game should have and Pipe Mania delivers here as well.

Balance

I don’t think I’ve ever seen a puzzle game with a better incline of difficulty. The first few levels are designed to introduce you the mechanics of the game and are pretty easy. Each world presents a stiffer challenge as more pipe types and more obstacles show up to test your skills. When you get the hang of teleporters, for instance, the game throws different colored floozes at you. When you’ve got that, then the game asks you to separate and rejoin flooze streams. There is always a new challenge awaiting you.

The biggest challenge of all comes by way of maxing out your score. For even unused piece on the board, you’ll lose points. Any time you build over a piece, you lose some points as well. This makes it really hard to get even a silver ranking. Gold rankings take supreme skill and planning to achieve and anyone that gets one will feel a strong sense of accomplishment for doing so.

Pipe Mania is the kind of game that rewards good play and punishes bad play. You have to use your head not only to win, but to score big as well. Players sick of easy puzzles with no skill required can rest easy. This game will test your abilities.

Originality

Pipe Mania is actually an update of a game originally released for the Amiga back in the eighties. You’ve probably also seen the basic concept as a mini-game in titles like Bioshock or as simple flash games on the internet.

However, this game stands above them thanks to its breadth of content and full utilization of the core mechanics to create something truly unlike other games out there. Sure, you can play a simple version elsewhere, but the real Pipe Mania experience can only be found in this game.

Addictiveness

This is what makes or breaks a puzzle game in my opinion. You can have all the clever puzzles you want, but if I don’t feel the urge to play through them then the game is a bust. Thankfully, this game is fun and the only time you’ll put it down is when a level gets one your last nerve when you can’t beat it by your fifth try.

I found myself sneaking away to play this game whenever I got the chance. Each time I beat a level my goal was to see what they came up with next and whether or not I could handle it. There are so few games out there these days that really make you feel like you’ve accomplished something when you’ve beaten a level. Pipe Mania is one of those games. That alone will drive you to keep playing.

Appeal Factor

At twenty dollars, this game is nicely priced as it is. Given the sheer amount of content crammed into the UMD, gamers should feel encouraged to pick this baby up and give it a spin. Who doesn’t like puzzle games after all?

This may be a game released by a small developer, but given that it was released for multiple consoles as a budget title, I’m hoping enough people pick it up so that we get some downloadable content or maybe even a sequel.

Let’s support proper updates people!

Miscellaneous

What more is there to say? This is a fun and challenging game in a world of boring and easy games. If you like puzzle games even the slightest; you should give this game a look. It won’t beat out games like Tetris or Lumines for the top spot among puzzle games, but it deserves a place in anyone’s library.

The Scores

Story: Good
Graphics: Good
Audio: Good
Gameplay: Great
Replayability: Classic
Balance: Great
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Very Good
Appeal Factor: Good
Miscellaneous: Unparalleled
Final Score: Very Good Game!

Short Attention Span Summary
I think I did a good enough job on this in my Misc. section, but I can’t reiterate enough how solid and satisfying this game is. When they sent me Unsolved Crimes to review, they gave me one of the worst games I’ve played ever. Now that they’ve given me this little gem, I can forgive them. Anyone with a PSP and an interest in puzzle games, go out and find this game now! You will not regret it!

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