Review: Groovin’ Blocks (Nintendo Wii)

Genre: Puzzle/Rhythm
Developer: Empty Clip Studios
Publisher: Zoo Games
Release Date: 08/17/2009

You know, I appreciate a good hybrid. I like the Prius. I dig sweet corn. Right now I’m even enjoying some peanut butter in my chocolate.

But most good hybrids are fairly common sensical. Who doesn’t want corn with large ears AND higher sugar content? Most other hybrids look like they stuck two things together just because they could, like a griffon, or a basilisk, or an Apple with an Intel processor. These things invariably look scary for a reason: they’re not natural.

Enter Groovin’ Blocks, a WiiWare game made good, as it were, and re-released as a stand-alone game disk. It’s quite obviously a hybrid of Tetris and a rhythm game, so is it Prius smart, or basilisk ugly?

Modes:
First off, I need to start by saying that this game retails for $19.95, so expecting the moon in terms of game modes is unreasonable – and this game is … very … reasonable. There’s the standard solo mode, a two player head-to-head mode, and a 2-player co-op mode. That’s it. There are no variants or training modes, as this is bread-and-butter as it gets. Having not played the WiiWare version, I have to wonder what, exactly was added for the disc version. However, as I said before, it’s a $20 game.
Modes Rating: Mediocre

Graphics:

Disregarding the obvious Tetris-y look, the graphics are very clean and conducive to a good playing experience. There are no problems with misaligning blocks, and absolutely no judder or graphical lagging. The squiggles around blocks that are in the process of being scored was a nice touch, and actually lends some to the gameplay (see below). Following the graphical cues for the song beats was tricky at first, but with a minimum of training, it became a non-issue. Having color-blind friends, I was glad to see a color-blind option, which replaces the colors in the blocks with shapes (even though there are no green blocks, so red/green color-blind folks should still have no problem with the normal game).

Graphics Rating: Good

Sound:
I’ll admit that I was worried about the music. With rhythm games nowadays, people expect licensed music, and you know that isn’t happening for $20. I’m happy to report that the music was interesting and fit the gameplay purposes, even if it was all variants of techno. Maybe I was in a techno mood that day, but I really dug the music. There was also an obvious audio cue for when you hit or missed dropping the block on the beat – not obnoxious, but obvious, and it was darn useful.
Sound Rating: Good

Control/Gameplay:
Okay, so here’s how the game works: You drop big blocks of varying shapes comprised of smaller blocks of varying colors. Whenever you connect three smaller blocks of a given color in a straight line – horizontal or vertical, they’re scored and removed from play – along with every other block of that color touching them. Moreover, they don’t disappear instantly. Their borders turn into squiggles and they semi-slowly phase out – slow enough that if you happen to be dropping the next block that has that color. If you’re quick you can drop that block on the disappearing/squiggle blocks, and send even more points on their way. So where does the rhythm aspect come in? You score more points and activate score multipliers and the like if you drop the blocks on the beat of the song. That’s it. There are graphical bars that flow in from the sides of the screen to show you when the appropriate beats are, but for the Casual levels (and I like the designations of the different difficulty levels in this game. Instead of “Easy” it’s “Casual.” Like, “I really didn’t need to get a good score on this anyway, I’m just here for the music.”) they’re basically on the beat, every beat, throughout the song. There are some special beats, called “superbeats” that are signified by larger bars in the graphical display, that instantly double your score multiplier if you hit them.

For each song you complete you can earn up to three stars, based on your final score (the breakpoints are listed right on the song selection screen so there’s no guesswork). The more stars you earn, the more levels you unlock, and the more power-ups you unlock. Yes, there are power-ups that increase your score, or increase the number of blocks you destroy, or variants of these things. They show up randomly inside the blocks you drop, so you activate them by completing a line with them.

It’s a neat concept, and it’s not done badly, but it does smack a little of griffon, if you get me. The rhythm aspect doesn’t flow quite as easily as one would hope, which isn’t to say that it’s bad, it’s just a little … awkward.

Also, the controls are classic old-school Nintendo. No bandying about with the Wiimote motion controls, just turn it on it’s side and party like it’s 1987. I don’t mind that but my age begins with a three, and the game mechanics are simple enough that I think a motion-controlled option would have worked. You don’t actually rotate the pieces, you rotate the colors within the pieces, so the A-B buttons could have worked for that while you used the motion-sensor to move the pieces left, right, and down. It would have been like a little conductor’s baton. Oh well.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Mediocre

Replayability:
It’s a puzzle game. Those that get into it will throw it in on any rainy day. Many won’t. Outside of the levels and power-ups there’s a dearth of special items to keep people coming back, but the other aspects of the game carry it enough here that I don’t see the lack of special features being a detriment to replayability.
Replayability Rating: Mediocre

Balance:
I appreciated the breakpoints. They let you know where you stood without destroying you but they didn’t lay down for you either, and many unlockables in the game require stars from the higher levels. By the time you unlock some of these, you feel like you’ve done something significant.
Replayability Rating: Good

Originality:
I gotta admit, it’s closer to Prius than basilisk, but it still has a bit of a super-glued-together feel to the game in terms of the basic mechanics. Perhaps I didn’t get far enough in the Hard levels and there’s some really trippy syncopated Buddy-Rich stuff there, but a lot of the time it just felt like Tetris in 4/4. Luckily, I like Tetris, and I like 4/4 time, almost as much as I like 6/8 time. (And I’m sorry to keep bringing up the evil “T” word, but when you’re moving blocks and dropping them into a 2D well from the top of the screen, you’re going to have to expect some reasonable comparisons.) In the end, I really did like the concept, I just don’t think they pushed it far enough.
Originality Rating: Above Average

Addictiveness:
It passed the First Test of Video-Game Addictiveness: The “Just One More Level” test. The music was peppy, the gameplay was smooth, I got into a rhythm. The unlockables did their job of making me want to play more to unlock more song sets. It didn’t drive me away. However, it’s not exactly driving me to put it in and play a round right now either. I fear this is a game that people will sort of forget about in their stack, until that rainy day they decide to slip it back in and sit there and play for four hours straight again.
Addictiveness Rating: Mediocre

Appeal:
I fear this game will be under-appreciated for very obvious reasons. The concept doesn’t exactly leap off the front of the box, and in this day and age of licensed rhythm game tracks, an all-original score – even a good one like this – will cause more people than not to be wary, even for $20. It’ll be a steal for rhythm game aficionados and for puzzle addicts, but Joe Guitar Hero will probably breeze past this.
Addictiveness Rating: Below Average

Miscellaneous:
Despite all the wariness, I really liked this game. My six year-old son liked this game. We played it for hours and we bopped to the music and I never once cussed out the controller (a probable occurrence with most Wii games, I’m afraid). It’s a solid outing, but a quirky one. Frankly, I’d give it thumbs-up just for having a song called, “I Love My C-64,” but then again my age starts with a three. It was what it was, a puzzle game, and it didn’t really pretend to be anything different. I appreciated the lack of pretense, but at the end of the day you can tell this isn’t another World of Goo. It’s a fine and well-crafted puzzle game with some fine and well-crafted techno music, and that’s just about it.
Miscellaneous Rating: Above Average

The Scores
Modes: Mediocre
Graphics: Good
Sound: Good
Control/Gameplay: Mediocre
Replayability: Mediocre
Balance: Good
Originality: Above Average
Addictiveness: Mediocre
Appeal: Below Average
Miscellaneous: Above Average
Final Score: Above Average Game

Short Attention Span Summary
This is a weird but fun little puzzle game, moving from WiiWare to it’s own disc. The music is all original but also very well done, the graphics are clean and the controls are solid. If you’re a fan of Tetris and rhythm games pick it up for $20, but it’s not going to cross-over well to your Rock Band or Madden playing friends.

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