Inside Pulse 12

Review: Art Style: Aquia (DSI)

Art Style: Aquia
Genre: Puzzle
Developer: Skip
Publisher: Nintendo
Release Date: 04/05/09

At first glance, Art Style: Aquia looks to be a cross between Electroplankton and Tetris, i.e., a game where you move blocks around with an artistically designed ocean atmosphere. Surprisingly, Art Style: Aquia is more than meets the eye in this case. Instead of being a derivative product that draws from other, more well known/successful properties, Art Style: Aquia actually manages to be its own thing, both stylistically and mechanically. The good news is that you probably haven’t seen anything that plays quite the way this does, and if you’re a puzzle fan, that’s more than enough reason for you to want to take a look. On the other hand, with the interesting changes and innovations also comes some issues and limitations that make the product a bit less impressive than it first seems to be.

Art Style: Aquia essentially gives you two play modes to choose from to start: you can either choose a stage-based mode that advances in challenge as you go on, or an infinite mode that just lets you play until you lose. These two modes by themselves are generally solid enough, but Art Style: Aquia also allows you to change up the mechanics a bit more by choosing the size of the block you control. You’re offered a two-block horizontal rectangle, a two-block vertical rectangle, or a four-block square to choose from. Depending on which type you choose to use, this actually changes the dynamics of play noticeably, as it dictates how many blocks you can move at any time. In all modes, the play is the same: you will be given a moving set of blocks on the outside of the central block column, and you can exchange blocks in and out to the left and right by displacing the blocks to the opposite side. Your goal is to place three or more blocks of the same color together at one time, which eliminates those blocks and moves more into the central column. This is fairly simple, but you’re working against the clock. As you work, the screen slowly begins to darken from the top down, and when both screens become fully dark, you lose. As you might expect, this puts a frantic pace to an otherwise easy concept, and it’s quite a bit different from the norm.

Visually, Art Style: Aquia is artistically interesting, and looks good on the DSi. The backgrounds of each section are generally aquatic in theme, usually featuring swimming marine life of some sort or another, while the blocks you work with in the foreground are colorful and easily distinguished. The stylistic touches, like the creeping darkness that descends upon the field or the little diver who goes further underwater as you play, are also interesting and add to the charm. It isn’t the most visually impressive title on the DS, but it is quite pleasant to look at. Aurally, Art Style: Aquia’s music is very pleasant and has a very well done ambient sound to it that fits the underwater theme nicely. The sound effects are also nice enough, and they have kind of an interesting eight-bit quality to them that makes them sound pleasantly retro. You won’t find yourself humming any of the tunes and the effects aren’t exactly memorable, but they sound good, and that’s pretty much what you’d want in this case.

Art Style: Aquia is, like most puzzles, simple to learn, but complex to master. You control the blocks on the outside of the central column, and you’ll shift those blocks in and out to make groups of three or more to eliminate said blocks from the field. You control said blocks with the up and down directions on the D-pad, while A shifts the blocks in and out of the center column, and B rotates the blocks you have out if you want to change their position. As you eliminate blocks, new blocks filter into the tube for you to shift around and eliminate, and in this regard, any Art Style: Aquia session could, in theory, go on forever. Of course, there’s always something impeding your progress, and in Art Style: Aquia this obstacle comes in the form of encroaching darkness. As you play, darkness slowly creeps down across the screen, making it impossible to see the blocks it falls across, and if the whole screen is covered in darkness, you lose. To prevent this, lit-up blocks appear as you clear regular blocks, and matching three of these lit-up blocks pushes the darkness back. In other words, the experience becomes frantic in a hurry as you try to match up blocks in a hurry to avoid being covered in darkness. The Endless mode simply asks you to match blocks and avoid the darkness until you fail, but the Timed mode will give you a goal to aim for, which is in this case represented as a depth your diver descends to. When you make it there, you’ll be given a pattern to reassemble on the field, which is also timed, before you can progress. Completing sections of the Timed mode unlocks more sections, as well as more patterns to view in the Aquarium, which is essentially just a screensaver, though it’s a very pretty one.

Art Style: Aquia is kind of limited in its overall scope. While it’s nice that there are a decent amount of timed stages, and the differently shaped blocks add challenge to the experience, the challenge of the product comes mostly from added block colors and the increasing speed of the darkness. So someone looking for a more involved product might find this a little basic. Further, the darkness mechanic, while interesting, essentially makes a section impossible after a certain point. If you don’t have enough lit blocks to send back the darkness, you’re simply finished. The end. Now, it isn’t a bad mechanic by any means, but in its present state there comes a point where it stops being “tense” and starts being “inevitable”. A little more tweaking, perhaps in a sequel, would be appreciated in this case. While this is by no means a game-breaker, it’s kind of disappointing considering how strong the product is otherwise.

All told, though, Art Style: Aquia is definitely worth downloading if you’re at all a puzzle game fan, as it’s quite a well-designed product, both artistically and mechanically. The presentation is both simplistic and captivating, and while it’s not technologically outstanding, it’s no less enjoyable to experience. The game play is, as the best games are, simple to learn, yet difficult to master. With both Timed and Endless mode there are enough options to keep you busy for a while. The game reveals itself to be a little basic after you’ve spent some time with it, and the encroaching darkness mechanic could use a little tweaking, but for five dollars, Art Style: Aquia is more good than bad and is well worth your investment.

The Scores:
Game Modes: GOOD
Graphics: GOOD
Sound: ABOVE AVERAGE
Control/Gameplay: GOOD
Replayability: ABOVE AVERAGE
Balance: ABOVE AVERAGE
Originality: GREAT
Addictiveness: GOOD
Appeal: GOOD
Miscellaneous: GOOD
FINAL SCORE: GOOD GAME.

Short Attention Span Summary:
Art Style: Aquia is a surprising product on the DSi service, as it’s a wholly original product with no ties to any other licensed Nintendo franchises and it’s still surprisingly solid and well worth checking out. The presentation is striking and interesting, the gameplay is simple to learn and work with but challenging to truly master, and there’s plenty of challenge and enjoyment to be had. It becomes apparent after extended time is spent with Art Style: Aquia that it’s a little limited in certain respects, and the failure mechanic, though interesting, is a little more oppressive and overpowering than in other, similar products, making many tense moments into inevitable failures. By and large, though, Art Style: Aquia is well worth checking out, as for the price it’s a fine, solid puzzle experience.