Wind and Water Puzzle Battles
Developer: Yuan Works
Publisher: Redspot Games
Released On: 11/10/2008
Ladies and gentlemen, it is the last week of December 2008 and I’m reviewing a newly released game for The Sega Dreamcast. Isn’t life awesome? For those of you who may be surprised by this, I’m happy to tell you that the Dreamcast is still receiving new games, even though the system has been dead for several years. In 2007, I purchased all three new games for the system: Last Hope, Trigger Heart Excella and Karous. Of course THE came to Xbox Live this year and Karous is coming to the Wii the first quarter of 2009, but what can I say? There’s something about owning shooters and the Dreamcast that makes my heart go pitter pat.
So here I am with this year’s only release for the Dreamcast. There were other that were supposed to come out, like Dynamite Dreams, but they never came out. So far for 2009, we know a shooter by the guys that did Last Hope is coming out named Dux which you can already pre-order on sites like Play-Asia or directly from the manufacturers. This game is made by Yuan Works, a company based in Costa Rica and thankfully Wind and Water Puzzle Battles is in both English and Japanese, and is also region free, so any Dreamcast can play it. Heck, you can even go on to Amazon.com and purchase this game for $39.99 and it’s eligible for Amazon Prime (Which is what I did!).
You’re probably wondering why I’m covering a game for a dead system, right? Well, it’s because it’s NOT DEAD. As long as people are still making games for a system out of love for what was, then the heart of the console is still beating. Plus, this gives you, the DHGF reader, a chance to learn about a game you might have otherwise not known about and even more importantly, gives you the impetus to go buy it because you want to experience the surrealism of playing a new game for the Dreamcast, whether or not I enjoyed it.
Oh that’s right. This is a review. I should probably tell you what I thought of the game, no? Then read on my intrepid reader, for it’s time to let loose that Sega scream one last time…or until I review Dux next year.
Like most puzzle games these days, Wind and Water Puzzle Battles features several modes, all of which are variations on the same thing.
Story mode puts you in the role of Amy where she learns to play the game while harassing the developers Yuan and Hao to finish the game on time. It’s a cute and funny story that makes fun of the entire development process. All the stages in this mode can be divided into three styles of play: completing a specific challenge such as earning a certain amount of points or clearing a number of blocks before time runs out, Vs. battles or mini games. There are 100 stages in this mode, and you have the ability to earn money for unlocking items such as the mini games, making of videos, and more.
<Puzzle Mode is exactly like the puzzle mode of Pokemon Puzzle League where you have a limited amount of moves in order to clear the screen of blocks.
Arcade Mode is by far my favorite mode in the game and much like a game of Tetris or Yoshi’s Cookie, you’re playing for as long as you can. You can also access Vs. Mode here, but as we’ll see later on, I strongly recommend you NEVER DO THIS.
Tutorial is a help section that teaches you the many intricacies of the game, save for how Vs. Mode works which again, I’ll rant about later.
Extra is where you can see your overall stats and also monkey around with the things you’ve unlocked.
Option allows you two major things: flipping the language over from English to Japanese and vice vera, and also access to a “Custom Sprite.” For a nominal fee, Yuan Works will design your own sprite character for the game and you can save it to your VMU for use in the game. You can read more about ordering a customer sprite here.
As you can see, there’s a decent amount of options in WWPB. At first glance it seems like exactly what you’d see in any run of the mill “block clearing” puzzle game, but the horde of mini games are well worth it. There’s an RPG parody, an Outrun parody and many more. The mini games actually ended up being more fun for me than the made puzzle game, and it was great to see these hidden away in the crevices of Story Mode. There’s a nice amount of options here that will delight those that love puzzles games in all shapes and forms, but those who only have a passing interest in the genre will feel like they’ve done all this before a zillion times over.
Story/Modes Rating: Above Average
If you’re looking for a game that will tax your Dreamcast’s visuals, you’ll want to look elsewhere. WWPB was originally designed for the GP2X, a system that exists primarily to play homebrew games or emulations of old TG-16 and Genesis games. As those systems are two generations behind the Dreamcast, you can imagine what the visuals of this game are like…
That’s not to say that the game is hideous. Merely that everything is very jaggie and definitely late Genesis quality graphics. Even the large character portraits are well below what the Dreamcast is capable of. One would think with more than half a decade since Sega stopped supporting the Dreamcast that this would allow Yuan Works to develop something that really show cases the power of the system, but alas instead it appears that they just took the exact GP2X version of the game, designed for a handheld screen, and blew it up so the visuals were off kilter.
Remember, I have to grade this game based on what the DREAMCAST can do and not the more modern systems like the 360 or the PS3. Even with that in mind, I can’t deny that Wind and Water Puzzle Battles is not a pretty game. I can take my old Sega Smash Pack and put in Columns and get a crisper, bright picture and that was a game designed for the Genesis. But then, the point of owning and playing this game isn’t to be blown away by the visuals, is it?
Graphics Rating: Poor
I’ll admit I wasn’t expecting to enjoy the soundtrack of the game, so it came as a surprise to me when I would catch myself humming the main track of this game every so often. The songs are very catchy and a lot of fun. Even when you’re swearing a blue streak at this game, the music helps to sooth those jangled nerves.
There is no voice acting. You shouldn’t be surprised by this. I mean, it’s an obscure game put out by an obscure company for a system most gamers don’t even think about these days.
The sound effects are pretty common place. You get a smashing noise when you finally die, and little blips and bloops when you do things right. This is a puzzle game after all, so it’s not as if there is a pressing demand for a wide range of effects.
What’s here is your run of the mill standard puzzle game noises and effects. The music is very cute though and is easily the most memorable bit of the game. Audiophiles will have a lot of fun with the score to WWPB, but like the rest of the game it’s enjoyable for what it is, but nothing mind blowing.
Sound Rating: Good
4. Control and Gameplay
Now I’m going to warn you right up front. WWPB is a puzzle game similar to Tetris Blast, Puzzle: Star Sweep and Sega Swirl in that you are matching blocks together to clear the screen while the speed increases the longer you play, but that’s where the similarities end. WWPB is the most intricate, deep, confusing and frustrating block based puzzle game I have ever played. There are some aspects that are amazing while others that still don’t make sense and I couldn’t tell you how it works even after logging two dozen hours with this game. So take a deep breath as this is going to be a LONG section.
In order to remove bricks in this game, you must get them into a diamond formation. This means one on top, one on the bottom and one on each side. You can rotate blocks with the B and A buttons and once you have four of a colour in the diamond cursor, they will disappear and more blocks will fall down. If you have any blocks of the same colour touching the diamond when it is completed, this is called a combo and earns you more points. Creating a combo can cause a Time Combo or a Time Chain to occur. Keeping track of things so far? Time Combo and Time Chain effect and length differ based on the difficulty setting of the game and they are so different from each other that it’s hard to keep them straight, especially in story mode when you have no idea what difficulty setting your mission is on until after you’ve started. Time chains also have Super Cancels and Blue Time Voids available depending on the size of your time change, which can be a bit overwhelming and downright insane.
Elements are when you clear two or more diamonds at the same time. Full combos are when you eliminate all of one colour on the screen with one move. Chains are the same as in any puzzle game as it involves blocks being cleared due to the disappearing of the original diamond you made and falling blocks “happen” to form another diamond.
There are five coloured blocks in the game, with each colour corresponding to a specific element: Wood, Water, Fire, Earth, and Metal. Clearing these elements raises your special bar. When the bar is half full, the rare sixth element shows up: Wind. When the gauge is completely full, the seventh and final element, the void, shows up. This opens your way for three new kinds of moves. The first is the Wind and Water Clear. If you make a diamond featuring three Water blocks and one Wind block, it will empty half of you special gauge and remove all Water blocks from the board. A void clear is similar. Match three blocks into a diamond with the void and that will remove all of one colour. Finally, there is the full Clear which is nigh impossible to do but is extremely powerful. The Full Clear is the only non diamond shaped move you can make in the game and considering your cursor is diamond shape, this makes it even harder to pull off. First you need to have the Void in the middle and then have it surrounded by the other six elements. Doing this will destroy EVERY BLOCK IN THE GAME. This also completely drains your special gauge. Again, this is next to impossible to do, yet the computer will do it to you repeatedly in Versus battles. Even on easy.
Before we get into the virtual hell that are Versus Battles, let’s talk about the press. The press is what will eventually kill you in the game, although it lacks rhyme, reason and logic. At bizarre random intervals, the press will occur, pushing up the board anywhere from a level to half the board, giving you less blocks to work with. You can push the press back down by achieving special moves like full combos or just rapidly completing diamonds. Again, there is no set pattern to how this occurs or how much it will go up which will put off a good portion of those that try this.
Okay, now I suppose I can discuss Versus Battles. I will warn you right now this is the worst PvP or PVCPU battle system I have ever encountered. Neither in the help section nor the manual are the battles explained properly and even after going through several dozen of these I can’t begin to understand how I won OR lost any of these. It’s that messed up. I THOUGHT it would be something as similar as clearing diamonds on my side would hurt them and vice versa, but it’s not that simple. There were times when either of us doing diamonds had no effect and one time where I had the computer down to three block levels which meant he was basically dead and I had three fourths of my board left. Then the CPU did something and somehow, SOMEHOW, I was instantly killed. WHAT THE HELL? There is no tutorial anywhere on how to do these battles and what hurts or helps you – even in the tutorial section of the game. It’s insane. Totally and utterly insane.
According to the manual, you earn defense and offense points. Ten points of offense equals a press level on the opponent while ten points of defense lowers a press for you. It also says you can slide the scale of how points are distributed, but it neither tells you how to slide the scale nor where it is on your screen. I eventually found it at the top, except it’s hard to ever see because it is hidden. Yes, it’s hidden. On the screen words like “Combo!” or “Super Cancel” or “Elemental” will show up when you complete something. It just so happens these words appear directly over the bar in battles and that bar is never there save for these battles so you would never think to look for it. I still have no idea how to adjust the bar in story mode. The only way I’ve found to do this is to specifically pick a one-time Puzzle Battle from Arcade Mode options.
Puzzle Battles are the worst form of vs. puzzle gaming I have ever encountered in this genre. When I beat a computer and have no idea what idea, how I did, or why it worked this time when I did the same thing four battles in a row before this and got my ass handed to me, I am left flummoxed. All I wanted to know was how to play the game so I could have some sort of strategy. Alas, it was not to be and there nothing anywhere about how to do Puzzle Battles properly. Not in the manual, or the in-game tutorial or even the website. So a big bag of middle fingers all around to this mode. I rarely get frustrated by a game, but holy cow, was I swearing like it was my first time encountering Geese Howard in Fatal Fury from these battles. Have fun with Story Mode as you have to engage in puzzle battles to advance to the next section. Yay!
All in all the game plays exceptional well in Arcade mode. There are a lot of weird little combos and tricks to keep track of that the casual puzzle gamer will not be able to remember or be overwhelmed by. Wind and Water Puzzle Battles was designed for only the most hardcore block removal puzzle gamer and it shows. I don’t need to recap my feelings on Puzzle Battles again save for, “STAY THE HELL AWAY.”
For the most part, the game plays well, but there are too many nuances or issues that needed to be worked out before releasing this thing that lower the overall quality of the game
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
If you’re a fan of puzzles games, story mode will give you a lot for your dollar and also tax your skills (And patience). Arcade mode’s endless and time battle options are a great deal of fun, while the Puzzle Battles are best left untouched save for when you are forced to in Story mode.
There are a lot of options in this game, even if some of them don’t make sense and others are exceptionally hard unless you’re a master of the game. At $39.99, the price of Wind and Water Puzzle Battles will probably keep away all but the most ardent Dreamcast and/or puzzle fans, but those that pick this up can log an amazing amount of time in the game, especially with all the unlockable art, behind the scenes features and minigames.
Replayability Rating: Good
You’ve seen me bitch about the Puzzle Battles option and how poorly contrived this aspect of the game was. Well, there is one other issue I take with the game and that comes in story mode. I’m annoyed that you have to do puzzle battles in order to get past certain areas of story mode. Thankfully they are rare, but the computer is utterly merciless on these. These are much harder than normal puzzles battles and then you have no idea what pushes the press down, what attacks your opponent and how to properly play this mode, these battles with push your patience to its limits. There are also side quests that you can earn for achieving a high rank in a game, but nowhere does the game tell you how to properly achieve a higher rank or what hidden steps you need to take to unlock anything. It’s all just random guess work. Then when you do earn some of these hidden stages, you’ll find them to be so mind bogglingly hard, you’ll wish they had stayed hidden. A lot of this game is an attempt at futility unless you truly specialize in puzzle games with an emphasis on the block clearing sub-genre.
Stick to Arcade mode’s endless and time battle options and you can have fun with this in a way where the game progresses more logically and you can make sense of things. The only problem with doing this is that makes the game little more than an expensive version of Columns. Story Mode can be fun, but the difficulty flies up and down the scale without warning, so be prepared for that if you want to give this a try.
Balance Rating: Bad
A lot of Wind and Water Puzzle Battles is taken from other games of this nature. I’ve already made multiple comparisons to other puzzles games of this sub-genre and WWPB does little to step out of these older, better games’ shadows. I do like the idea of the diamond shape clearing as it takes a bit of reconditioning your brain from the old square, or vertical/horizontal line patterns we’re used to. Besides that though, the game is pretty much a cookie cutter puzzle game that offers nothing outside the normal for this type of game.
I loved the cute and outside the box plot for Story mode, and the mini games are some of the more inventive I’ve seen in any game, much less a puzzle game. This is WWPB’s only saving grace in this category.
Originality Rating: Poor
Even with my complaints about this game, I spent a lot of time with WWPB. I’d play for a while thinking only a half hour had passed. Instead I’d find that I had spent two to three hours whittling away at the game, trying to unlock new things or just engrossing with Arcade Mode. I also spent far more time than I care to admit trying to find any semblance of logic or patterns to Puzzle Battles and also swore a lot about that aspect of the game as well.
Yuan Works really did put a lot into this game, even if it’s not all good. The story and music kept me hooked and my own sense of pride and need to figure things out kept me engrossed with Puzzle mode and the various stages in Story Mode. It’s been a long time since I spent this much time with my Dreamcast. It isn’t the best game I’ve ever played for the system, but it rekindled my passion for the console.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
Okay, hands up. Besides myself and possibly Bebito, who is going to spend $39.99 on a brand new game for the venerable Sega Dreamcast. Yeah, that’s what I thought. Maybe a percentage of a percentage of the people reading this will decide to purchase Wind and Water Puzzle Battles< and most of those will do it simply to have this in their collection as the "last" Dreamcast game rather than playing and enjoying it.
This is a perfect example of a niche game for niche gamers. Which is too bad. The Dreamcast dev community worldwide is still able to make a lot of fun titles for the system and also make money off it as well. Many of these DC games are eventually brought over to other systems, but there's something magical about having a new DC game in 2008, even if it's only a so-so title. For those even the slightest bit interested, and I know you will be quite rare, it's worth picking up just for the sensation of playing through a new Dreamcast game, looking at your old VMU being used again, and remembering just why we all loved Sega as a console manufacturer rather than a software company that has crapped on a lot of its most beloved franchises.
Alas poor Wind and Water Puzzle Battles, you’re too deep for the casual gamer, too broken for the curious gamer, too expensive for the rational gamer, and too obscure for the modern day gamer who only wants to play in high def and even then with poorly made first p[erson shooters or third person action games with crappy camera angles. Your existence will never be known nor appreciated by the vast majority of gamers. Pity.
Appeal Factor: Bad
You have to give a lot of credit to Yuan Works. They put their hearts and souls into this little title. It’s the only Costa Rican development company I can think of and it takes a lot of gumption to program for little known or “dead” systems like the Dreamcast, They could have probably put this on Xbox Live, the PS Store, or Wii Ware for the equivalent of five dollars a pop and made more money than the $39.99 GD-Rom’s they are selling for the Dreamcast – simply due to the size of the audience. But they didn’t. Yuan Works made a game for a console they love and for gamers that love it too. Mr. VMU as a playable character is proof enough of that.
Yes, this was merely an average gamer to me with some serious balance issues I wish had been worked out before hand, but the core of the game is nicely done and I had fun playing this, even if it wasn’t as much fun as say, Trigger Heart Excella. Thank you Yuan Works for still making games for the Dreamcast, for reminding us why millions of us loved this loud growling console and it’s amazing collection of shooters and RPG’s and ahead of its time online play. Is Wind and Water Puzzle Battles for everyone? Of course not. Hell, it’s not even for ME. But it’s out there waiting to be discovered and loved, perhaps even by you, dear reader. If this review has in any way intrigued or made you curious about WWPB, than ignore my rating of this title and experience it for yourself. Just because a console is old or no longer supported by a company, doesn’t mean it’s not worth keeping or playing games on it. Again Yuan Works, thank you for giving the Dreamcast its potentially last (Unless Dux comes out) hurrah, even if it’s a small cheer instead of a large one.
Miscellaneous Rating: Good
Story: Above Average
Control and Gameplay: Above Average
Appeal Factor: Bad
FINAL SCORE: DECENT GAME
Short Attention Span Summary
Can you believe it? It’s 2008 and I’m reviewing a brand new recently released Dreamcast game? Yes, Wind and Water Puzzle Battles has some bizarre and inexcusable flaws, but at the heart of the game is a fun and sometimes adorable puzzle game in the same vein as other “match the blocks and make them disappear” type games. It’s highly addictive, the music is quite catch and the story mode will make you laugh as the sheer weirdness of it. Just be prepared for the strange shifts in difficulty and the fact that Puzzle Battles make no sense and that you will never be given an explanation on how to play them, so don’t. Consider this recommended only for the most fanatical puzzle gamers, Dreamcast fans, or people that like to collect rare and obscure games.