Review: Surge Deluxe (Sony PlayStation Vita)

Surge_Deluxe_Splash_ScreenSurge Deluxe
Publisher: Futurlab
Developer: Futurlab
Genre: Puzzle
Release Date: 02/04/2014

Originally released as a Playstation Mobile game in December of 2012, Surge has gone through a few revisions from player feedback and has been unleashed on the Vita, much the same way that Velocity was released to the Playstation Mini platform in 2012 and got a rather fantastic upgrade and relaunch as Velocity Ultra on the Vita. Velocity Ultra made my top ten list for games I played last year, so I went in with some high expectations with Surge Deluxe much the same way I did with Velocity Ultra as one of our reviewers had been praising the original Mini version and I have to say, this blew my expectations away.

Surge Deluxe gives you two modes to play with, the puzzle mode which is a set number of puzzles with one stage each and a pre-determined score you need to reach or exceed and a time factor to show you can do it faster than everyone else. The main method of playing the game is more of an arcade mode and where the rest of the fun of the game takes place. You have to race against the timer below and the pressure on the sides or try to clear enough blocks to fire off the release beams which up your score on that particular color. To match up blocks you go for an exposed glowing block and trace a line that looks like an arc of electricity to another block of the same color and try to get as many as you can before releasing. If you hit one of the other color blocks it shorts out and you have to start again. It’s a very simple concept that gets more complicated as you move up through the different stages to try and beat that high score you had previously and chart on the leaderboards. I know I haven’t found an end stage yet and it’s not for lack of trying.

02Some of the effects in this remind me very much of things we’ve seen from Velocity Ultra at least as far as lighting goes, but it’s used differently here. The revamp of the colors and effects from the mobile version definitely makes the Vita version pop a little bit more. At the same time it’s easy enough on the eyes to help you pick out what colored blocks are where without over-loading you where it hurts to look at. They’ve got a great balance going visually here. The music fits with the visuals and while you’re under a time limit to get through most of the puzzles and tiers, it’s very infectious. I definitely did have to turn the sound off for this one and actually enjoy it a lot more with some semblance of the audio coming through either the Vita speakers or my headphones.

Surge Deluxe makes full use of the touch screen in the game. In fact the only button you’ll actually use or be able to use, is the start button to pause the game and the PS button to bail out. Everything else is all touch and it’s designed from the ground up that way. This is actually the first Vita game I’ve played that uses the touchscreen exclusively and while it initially felt like playing games on my phone which I’m not all that fond of, it works really well on the Vita once you figure out a good way to hold it so you can swipe faster and not drop it. What I basically ended up doing was holding it in my off hand so I could handle everything else with the fingers on my other.

04The game is broken down into a series of stages that you have to clear. If you’re playing in puzzle mode you only have one stage but a set score you have to achieve for that puzzle involving timing and which blocks you pick to clear. The main mode there is a time issue as well but that gets far more frantic the further into the game you get and the more stages you’ve cleared. The main object is to clear all the tiles on the stage as quickly and efficiently as possible without going over pressure and without running out of time. You can relieve the pressure and buy yourself some time by clearing out the sides so there is a clear path for a colored beam to fire off from one side to the other without hitting a block. This also adds in a nice benefit of giving you bonus points for clearing blocks of the same color as the light beam.

There are special blocks that do different things like blow up blocks of that color when you tie them together with that block, change all the blocks to one specific color, or give you points multipliers as you tie them into a string of blocks. You clear the blocks by picking one colored block and drawing across the screen, which is represented by an electrical line in the game, to another block of the same color and try to string as many of them together in one go as you can. Like Mahjong you can only get to blocks on the edges and if it’s buried behind other blocks you won’t be able to get to it. Basically the idea is to outscore just about everyone else playing this game and it ends up being a lot of fun. It’s not necessarily a reinvention of the match puzzle genre but it’s enough of a kick in the pants to make it a lot more interesting and tense.

03Each time you play through it’s going to be different than the last time you played through. You’ll probably not tackle each stage the same way and the hidden bonuses seem to be at different points and different stages. Then of course you have Trophies to go for which are going to require some quick moves and good planning to get for some of them, and others it’s just time well spent playing the game. For around $5 you’re getting a really decent puzzler with lots of fun to be had with it, but more importantly a challenge to it that will keep you coming back to it so you’ll never feel like you’re not getting your money’s worth. Each time you run through it starts off fairly easy and you work your way back up to the tougher levels. While I know some would have preferred an option to start at the harder difficulty, the ramping progression is just perfect for on the go which fits with the Vita in the first place. Quick one shot matches are probably the easiest way to play unless you’re looking at long stretches, then I could see it, but for me it works just fine.

While this is a revamp of one of their previous titles, Futurlab has done a number of things that set this apart from the original release of Surge on Mobile. Two of the bigger changes include making each block shape unique along with the color coding so that color isn’t the only deciding factor and levels the playing field for color blind players a bit. They’ve also added a bit of depth to how the scoring system works so that players who can get through puzzles faster and with the new block types they’ve added will score better. And of course the puzzle mode that’s got some added challenge over the base game. The visuals have gotten a significant overhaul and pop much more than they original did as well. They’ve done some interesting things with the puzzle genre here that I really like.

01The game is designed for short stints and replay but you can definitely sit and play this for far longer stretch of time and get the same amount of fun out of it. Trust me on this one, I speak from experience. The puzzles are pretty challenging as well and some are going to stump you the first few times you try them. Hell there are a few I haven’t figure out how to get the score they’re looking for and I haven’t quit yet. It’s all the fun of those games that call themselves free to play but require your friends or money to get to the next puzzle without all that headache and a lot more fun. The game itself is fairly inexpensive. I’m not going to call it cheap, but I will call it a steal and it’s aimed squarely at the Vita market for this version which is getting a nice steady flow of games thanks to studios like Futurlab and I love them for it. They’ve done a great job with the game just like Velocity Ultra and I imagine many more hours spent trying to get higher up in the scoreboards for me with this game.

I usually save some of the glitches I’ve run across for the end part of the review, but honestly, this game runs smooth as silk. I didn’t have any hiccups at all and my only frustrations were my inability to move my hand any faster or to process which blocks are where and which pairing will net me a better score faster. That’s not the game’s fault, that’s on my end. While I do think the complaint you can’t start at a higher tier could be taken into account, at the same time it’s nice that everyone starts with the same chance to score it big by starting at the first puzzle and moving up through the different levels until you can’t progress any further. A challenge mode would be welcome if there’s a sequel or an update to the game where you could do that but for the main game itself and the puzzle mode this is just right and I think this is going to be the same for most people who pick this one up for their Vita.

Short Attention Span Summary
Surge Deluxe isn’t a complete reinvention of the match puzzle genre but it does give it a swift kick in the pants and ups the tension and anxiety levels as you play to make it challenging enough for just about anyone but still easily accessible to anyone just picking it up. It uses the Vita’s touchscreen entirely for gameplay which is the first game I’ve played on the handheld that does this but it does this really well and playing this on the Vita’s bigger screen is much nicer than playing something like this on a phone. Futurlab has continued on with the Vita and seem to have a great grasp on what the hardware can do and what really works on the handheld. Surge Deluxe is the puzzle game I’ve wanted for awhile but didn’t know I needed. If you like puzzle games and have a Vita you need to pick this one up. You won’t regret it.

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