Review: Pipe Mania (PC)

Pipe Mania
Genre: Puzzle
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Developer: Razorworks
Release Date: 9/26/08


I’d like to think this game, or some variant thereof, is constantly playing in a certain unnamed plumber’s head. I find myself playing tons of those free online flash games that are similar to this, and every time I felt like I had played those games before somewhere. Having spent some time with this, I remembered that Pipe Mania was a classic game that’s been around since the 90’s. More than 15 years later, it’s back with a vengeance, but does it hold up now that there are a billion other games just like it on the market?

The story starts out with a rich oil tycoon (who looks like Detective Angel Batista from Dexter, for the record) trying to retire and let his offspring take over the family business. Players take on the role of one of his two children. Daddy owns an island out in the middle of the deep blue sea where things have gotten a little bit… messy. Okay, that’s an understatement; it’s really, really bad. I’ll put it to you this way: there are so many bad things going on, like sewers polluting the ocean and the island being host to some kind of radioactive dumping ground, that some of the main characters could’ve been extras in The Island of Dr. Moreau and they would’ve felt right at home. There’s an alligator lady in the sewer, and if that isn’t bad enough, one of the main protagonists is a bull that looks like a Ren and Stimpy character. We made some Louisville plumbers try it and all in all they liked it, said it’s a pretty hilarious premise for a game based around plumbing, and a little more reasonable than the older games… although not by much.

The graphics are bright and cheery through and through. Slime looks radioactive and the sewage tastes… er, looks like the Hudson river. I particularly liked the Juice Through a Straw level, with its floating lemons and limes in the background, the most of the various stages. The characters are very “Cartoon Network” inspired and pleasing to the eye, with Alfonso Senior taking the “Best in Show” award thanks to his bright Hawaiian shirt. Pipe Mania is pretty amusing thanks to its many different themes (like the railroad tracks and the electrical currents) across the different stages that keep things looking different and entertaining.

The music is a bunch of quirky and bubbly tunes that fit into this game and sound as if some of them were straight out of a Saturday morning cartoon. I especially liked the Electricity music, which is a shame because I actually loathed that set of levels. I had hope, however, because you can eventually earn the ability to play each section’s music by unlocking it, thus allowing you to simply listen to a great track from a maddening section without having to tear your hair out playing it. The basic sounds leave more to be desired, though, as they’re mostly basic in comparison to the vibrant and upbeat music.

The game levels consist of a grid of squares, where you place pipe pieces together to achieve your objective of cleaning up the island, one job at a time. Some of the levels throw a monkey-wrench in your plans of fixing things, though that’s to be expected. Objects are placed inconveniently to purposely thwart a quick finish, as you rarely have just the right pieces to get around these obstacles and earn a gold star for good performance. Every theme has its own quirk, like the sewers have sluice-gates that make Flooze go faster or funnels that make Flooze go slower. Yes, that’s right, Flooze. That’s actually what they call the liquid that pours through the pipes, and it’s up to you to redirect it to clean everything up on the island.

There are 5 game modes to choose from, with a total of roughly 300 or so different levels. World mode is another way of saying “Story Mode”, and in it, the player must beat a few levels in each section in the island to progress to the next section to ultimately clean up the island. Modes like Arcade and Classic use the basic game rules to meet level goals and are usually timed. There are also Versus and Co-op modes to play, but sadly, as I had nobody to play alongside me, I had to try them out on my own. Versus is solid, and with each player getting a map on half of the screen, it looks to be a frantic but fun mode, if two players are into really going at it. It is a little difficult seating a second player properly so that they have access to the keyboard, but it is manageable. Co-op is a bit more fun, as you have twice as many pipe choices to work with, allowing you to make a much larger chain to rack up serious points. Co-Op looks to be a more satisfying team building activity, as opposed to Versus, which looks like it could lead to name-calling and curb-stomping… though not in that particular order.

Finally there is my favorite mode, Bonus mode. There are 2 separate types of play in Bonus mode. The first one is called Match, where you are given an incomplete pipeline and a set number of pipes that can always be used to complete the pipe. The second Bonus mode is called Spin, where you have a full pipeline, but some of the pipes are turned in an incorrect direction, and your job for is to turn them to face the correct way before time runs out. These modes are easily as much fun as the main gameplay modes, and it’s great to see so many enjoyable gameplay modes crammed into one game, especially for such a low price.

Razorworks sure took everything they had and expanded on it a lot, because this game has evolved quite a bit. I loved the Spin and Match games the most, as noted, as they were less problematic and frustrating than some of the other modes. There were a few things that were troubling at times, though. It seemed more often than not, you would get pieces you didn’t want and couldn’t use, leaving you with a mess on the screen in more than a few cases. Otherwise, if you wanted to clean this mess up, you are left to constantly bomb the old useless pipes you place out of the way of play. Another con for this game would be the lack of changing the position of a pipe, ALA Tetris, with the exception of Bonus Spin mode. It would have also been nice to see some kind of online multiplayer in the game, instead of having to bring someone over to play the game locally. Local multiplayer games are good for consoles; for PC games, not so much.

All in all, Pipe Mania is a lot of fun for not a lot of cash. It’s cute, fun to play, has lots to do and play around with, and is a whole lot of fun in small or large doses. There are plenty of game modes to play around with, both alone or with a friend, and you’ll have lots of fun with the game no matter what you pick. Some of the game modes are better than others, and the way the game distributes pipes could have been better done, however. It would have also been better to have an option to play the game online instead of only being able to play it locally. That aside, the game is more good than bad, and it’s easily recommendable to anyone who loved the original game… or any of the billion flash versions you can play online. For twenty bucks, Pipe Mania is lots of fun for little price, and it’s worth picking up.

The Scores:
Story: MEDIOCRE
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: GOOD
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: GREAT
Balance: MEDIOCRE
Originality: POOR
Addictiveness: GREAT
Appeal: ABOVE AVERAGE
Miscellaneous: MEDIOCRE
Final Score: ABOVE AVERAGE.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Pipe Mania is upon us, and she has a weak bladder. Co-op and Versus games are almost always great, and to have someone put those modes into a puzzle game was a stroke of genius, but why isn’t the game online capable? If it had some kind of online play option, the versus and co-op modes would be much easier to use and the game would be better for it. Pipe Mania, otherwise, will appeal to any casual player, as it offers a bunch of different modes to hone your plumbing skills, while not actually teaching you how to fix your leaky faucet. Despite those flaws, I still keep going back to it when I need 10 minutes or so in between yelling at the neighbors for shooting squirrels with pellet guns (don’t ask) or waiting for my food to cook. So, if you like pulling your hair out of your scalp because you let Flooze Ducks spill out onto the factory floor like a Zerg Rush, you will love Pipe Mania.

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