Review: Pipe Mania (DS)

Pipe Mania
Developer: Razorworks
Publisher: Empire Interactive
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 09/28/2008


I guess that human beings are just a nostalgic bunch. Every time we see or hear something from our past, we get overwhelmed with fuzzy feelings, no matter how good or bad the said thing used to be. An example would be that new TV channel I have been offered as a free trial: Teletoon Retro. It does nothing but show old cartoons that used to play when I was still in elementary school, and it makes me realize that Bat-Mite is one of the most irritating sidekicks in the history of superheroes. Still, I ate it up as a kid.

When it comes to video games, publishers have long learned to capitalise on that particular trait of human beings. Namco, Konami, Atari and countless other companies that were active back when arcades were big have offered us compilations of old games that usually sell well, even though it usually consists of 10 obscure titles with one or two blockbuster hits. We have also been offered numerous remakes of games that are not even that old, a phenomenon that has been amplified when handhelds became as powerful as consoles from the past. Game Boy Advance has seen its share of Super NES remakes, while the PSP and DS have seen titles from the PSX/N64 era re-emerge en masse.

I guess that the point I am trying to make is that nostalgia might be fun, but it’s not always a good thing. Like it or not, game companies are businesses and they need your money to survive. If they can’t come up with a new idea quickly enough, bringing back old games can make some nice pocket change. When the big games have all been remade, you’re left with the less popular titles; I think that the fact that Sony have announced a new Spelunker is a testament to that fact.

In the same vein, who would have thought that a Pipe Mania remake was necessary? After all, the game has been on so many consoles and operating systems that it could be seen as similar to a Solitaire re-release.

Good news! Pipe Mania for DS actually turned out to be a fine product, and it fits nicely on the platform. Even better, it improves on the original with new concepts and new things to do!

First of all, I never thought that someone could make the back-story of a puzzle game this interesting. It tells the tale of a plumbing family that lives on an island that needs cleaning. The father, Alfonso Senior, is retired and intends to leave it this way. This is why he instead sends his children, Alfonso Junior and Fawcett, to do the dirty work. The different inhabitants of the island join together to teach the young ones how to do the job in order to get them ready to take on the chief polluter, Buffalo Bonzo.

As you can see, the story is completely silly, but it’s FUN. It never takes itself seriously, and you actually get updates on the story in the form of small movies and dialogs with the island’s inhabitants. The characters are one of the highlight of the whole thing, as it has been a while since I have seen characters that were so funny and out-there. I never thought that a puzzle game would be the one to introduce me to a cowboy plumber. The game also tries to poke fun at this thing we call the Internet with a character called LOL404. There is an anthropomorphic female alligator that lives in the sewers. Still, despite this eclectic cast of characters, the best one is definitely Alfonso Senior. Nobody has ever rocked the Hawaiian shirt look this good since their short comeback in the late 90’s.

As for the game itself, it’s pretty basic stuff. The objective here is to guide the “flooze” (a neon green, toxic substance) from the start to the finish using different sections of pipes that are sent to you one after the other, Tetris-style. It starts easy, but as you get better, the difficulty ramps up with obstacles to go around, new pieces being added and other distractions like tunnels, flooze accelerators and attacks that breaks your pipes. All of this has to be done within the constraints of your game board, which means that you also have to manage your unneeded pieces well, as any extra piece means fewer points in the end. If too much flooze leaks from the pipes before you finish the puzzle, the game ends. Pretty simple, but it still manages to keep you on your toes.

The game does a nice job of evening out the difficulty in “World” mode, which could be described as the game’s story mode. Is starts with puzzles that are very easy, but as you get better, you get shown new tips and tricks, so you are never left confused by the new challenges. You get new sceneries as you move along with the story, as well as different things to guide through the pipes. None of this really changes much in terms of gameplay, but it is still a nice touch and a fun little change of pace that can keep things relatively fresh.

Performing well in the “World” mode gives you access to what is referred to as “treasures”. These include anything from new game mode to songs and concept art. The art and songs are appreciated, but it’s the additional modes that make this game, as some of them are actually more fun than the main mode.

Classic mode is just like the original Pipe Mania, which you might have already played to death on your PC more than a decade ago. It doesn’t bring anything new to the table, but it’s still fun and a great timewaster. Arcade mode is like a race against a constant stream of flooze, where you build the course as you go, while trying to prevent the flow from touching the top or bottom edge of the screen. However, the real stars here are the two “bonus” modes: Match and Spin. Match mode is simply about filling the blanks, as it shows you an incomplete pipeline which you need to complete before the time limit. It is challenging and truly mind-bending, as more often than not, the courses seem to make no sense at the start. It is one of the modes I return to the most, but it still bows to the greatest thing to be thrown in this cartridge. Spin mode shows you a completed pipeline that has been completely wrecked by having its pieces randomly rearranged. You must spin them back into place before the time limit. It is simpler than Bonus mode, but speed counts here, so I still found myself anxious about beating this. That’s how involved I got in Pipe Mania.

Then whole game is presented with a style that is modern and sure to please younger audiences. The cartoon characters can be compared favourably to anything that’s shown on TV, and their personalities radiate from the detailed drawings. The concept art in the Treasures section goes a long way to show just how good some of the designs are. As for the rest of the game, everything is great, and the different boards and background are both appealing and clear, leaving no doubt as to what is happening on screen. While it is far from being the best looking game on the DS, I still find it amazing that they managed to strike the perfect balance between functionality and showing off. They could have gone overboard with colours and unnecessary displays on the interface, but everything is sleek. Good job all around in the graphic department.

The same thing can be said of the sounds, despite one or two songs getting old pretty fast. Still, it is not a game that absolutely needs sound to be appreciated, so I can easily let that slide as the good far outweighs the bad here. I would also like to commend the fact that a puzzle game for the DS has decided to hire voice actors. That would be surprising enough on its own, but the voice acting is actually top-notch. Most (if not all) of the lines are said by Alfonso Senior, and he has a deep, commanding voice that fits the character like a glove.

Finally, let’s mention the controls, as the game never gets gimmicky with the touch screen, but still uses it to good effect, especially with the “sketch” piece, which allows you to draw any shape you need at the moment. The game plays great no matter if you use the stylus or the buttons, so it’s all a matter of preference as both modes are superbly implemented.

All in all, Pipe Mania is a great game with lots of qualities and not a lot of flaws. With a price tag of $19.99, it really leaves me with nothing bad to say about the game. As a puzzle game, it does everything right: it’s captivating, it has a lot of replay value and it makes hours fly by like minutes. It’s easy enough for a kid to understand but complex enough to keep an adult interested. If you like the genre, this game comes with my highest recommendations. Even if you don’t like the genre, you should give it a try. It could become your new favourite time-wasters in places where games that require more time and attention wouldn’t be appropriate.

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

FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME

Short Attention Span Summary
It’s cheap, it’s fun and there’s enough in there to keep you occupied for a while. I have been trying to find the appropriate words to express my feelings and close up this review, and I think that this sentence is the best way to sum it up: I fell in love with this game. Highly recommended.

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