Irides: Master of Blocks
Publisher: GOAT Store Publishing
Developer: Mad Peet
Release Date: 12/12/2009
Here we are, halfway through the first month of 2010 and I’m STILL reviewing new Dreamcast games released in 2009. What a great year for the Dreamcast it was. First we had Dux, then we had Last Hope: Pink Bullets and Rush Rush Rally Racing. Now we have the fourth and final game in Irides. Irides is the only puzzle game released for the Dreamcast in 2009, and I’ve been looking forward to playing this since I did an interview with Dan Loosen back in late November.
It was obvious from screenshots and Youtube video footage that Irides was heavily influenced by Lumines. However, could it be as good as our 2005 PSP Exclusive Game of the Year winner? Let’s take a look.
There aren’t a lot of modes and some of them will be inaccessible to all but the very niche Dreamcast homebrew crowd. You have your general single player mode where you’ll go through roughly twenty-eight levels of puzzle gaming. With each level, you’ll also have the option to set the game to “endless,” which means you’ll play until you finally lose, or for a set score that is rather vaguely defined. You also have a multiplayer mode as well, and this mode contains several special blocks you can only get here.
There are two other modes but one doesn’t work right now and one won’t work for most people simply because they won’t understand how. The first is Online Code. Now you’re supposed to enter the codes gives to you in this mode at the game’s official website, but unfortunately there is no place to actually do this at. As well, the official web page is mostly geared for the iPhone version of the game.
Finally there is the Load Mod mode where you can supposedly put in mods of the game other people have made. Sadly, I don’t have a mod disc with any content related to Irides to test out, nor have I seen any mods for the game yet.
With two of these modes not really available, that leaves us with a barebones choice between single player and multiplayer. For twenty bucks or so, that’s not bad, but it definitely feels lacking. Perhaps once they get the other two options available to the average person who picks this up it would raise the score a little, but I can only go with what is available at the time of this review.
Modes Rating: Mediocre
I hate to be a downer, but I really wasn’t impressed with the visuals here. The majority of the graphics almost look 8-bit in nature and it could be quite jaggy at times. Possibly the worst instance I had with the graphics came with level seven in single player mode as the colours of the pieces in play often matched the Earth background behind the playing field. This mean you could literally lose sight of pieces in play and then forget they were there. This is especially true of the opaque pieces, and I ended up having a hard time with this level than far later stages in the game because of it.
The backgrounds are quite nice and each one has a celestial/solar system theme to it. They’re lovely to look at but again, it’s static images that probably could have been done on a NES or even SNES/Genesis.
Visually the game is quite dull, there is no getting around that. Yes it’s “only” a puzzle game, but everything from Sega Swirl to Columns does have a more polished finish to it. Of course those games had Sega’s budget behind it and Mad Peet is a small group of independent developers. Still, this isn’t a visually appealing game and many casual or younger gamers will turn their nose up at this title because of that.
Graphics Rating: Bad
The soundtrack for Irides is awesome. I kid you not. There is nearly an hourly of music in the thirteen individual tracks on this disc and all of them are great. This is a soundtrack worth having and it’ll probably remind gamers of things like REZ with its New Age meets Electronica hybrid sound. Some of these tracks sound like I’d hear them playing in Cyberdog back at Camden Market. The only downside is the singer on a few of the tracks as he’s a bit Morrissey with a scratchy throat.
There aren’t a lot of sound effects in the game as the music is overpowering and provides nearly all the sound. However, there is some digitized (or meant to sound like digitized) speech at time which I found a fun little throwback that reminded me of games like Pinbot. There are a few sound effects, like when times runs out for a combo or when you get yourself killed by stacking too high, but you can barely hear those over the music.
The soundtrack is killer, make no mistake about it and it really adds to the frantic feel of the game. Definite thumbs up here and I love that the developers and publisher put the soundtrack on the same disc instead of making it part of the limited edition collection. This is a great thing to do for your fans and gamers in general and I’d love to see this happen more often a la the Sega-CD and Saturn era games.
Sound Rating: Great
4. Control and Gameplay
Irides is a matching game. Unlike a lot of puzzle games that come out these days that are “Match 3” games, Irides is a “Match 4” game. Even stranger it’s not four in a row (meaning horizontal, vertical or diagonally), but in a square of four. This is a lot harder to do than you might think, but that’s what gives the game its hook. What follows could easily be a description of Lumines as well, so this is for more people who haven’t played either game.
Blocks will fall down in a two by two formation (i.e. a square) and there will one or two colours in the square. Example are two white and two blue, one white and three blue, four blue and zero white and the reverse of each. You rotate the blocks using the Dreamcast buttons and move the block across the board with the D-pad. The shoulder buttons are used for a quick port of the block to the left or right hand side of the screen in case you’ve built the middle up too high.
When you connect four block into a block pattern, a combo meter builds. You then have a limited amount of time to add more blocks to the combo which gives you a higher score. The blocks added to the combo don’t even have to be touching the already matched blocks. So you can have a set of four on one side of your screen and another set farther away. Blocks touching the already made combo can count too, but only as long as they also add up to a square of four.
One of the more interesting things about the pieces are that blocks are not solid like two by two pieces in say, Tetris. So if say, the left side of the block connects with pieces already solidified on the playing field, the right hand side can keep going until it hits something. I didn’t expect this when I first popped in the disc, and I have to say I really liked this option as it gives you more options to play with.
There are also lots of different powered blocks you can come across, although in single player you’ll generally only get one type per game, based on the level you chose. Some blocks are helpful such as clearing an entire horizontal line off the board when you get them matched up, while some are harmful. For example, there is a block that, if you clear it, causes three normal blocks to randomly appear in your game. OUCH. Although this can potentially help you, the vast majority of the time it will screw up your game.
The only real problem I found with the game is that, on rare occasions, the game would speed up on me. What I mean by this is sometimes without even touching a piece it would just go straight down and then another piece would instantly happen. The same thing would happen some times when moving a piece to the right or left. It would go two or three spaces instead of the one I pressed. Weirdest was when the combo timer would go off and a white light would flash. Every so often, my piece would be moved one space over to the right even if I didn’t have my hands on the controller. Now all of these things are not common, but I played the have enough to notice these little issues happening enough that I felt I should mention them here. They aren’t game killing issues by any means, but they can be annoying.
Irdies is a very solid puzzle game that offers a lot variety, both in part from the many options in campaign mode and the fact multiplier lets four gamers go at it. It’s not without the occasional quirks but thankfully they are minor issues rather than major ones.
Control and Gameplay Rating: Good
With over two dozen levels to play through in Campaign Mode, you can sink away many an hour into Irides. Even better, each level is a dramatically different game. Maybe it’s three colours instead of two, or perhaps it’s a new power block to deal with. No matter what the new challenge, there will always be a reason to come back to this game.
Multiplayer is a lot of fun too. It’s definitely a game you can whip out when you have a group of friends over even if their first reaction is, “The DREAMCAST? WTF?”
Yes Irides is a bare bones games, but it’s a remarkably deep one where you can spend up to twenty minutes on a level, which is quite a lot of time for a puzzle game. It’s fun, it’s frantic and because it stands out from the pack, it’ll certainly be on the forefront of your mind when you feel like playing a puzzle game.
Replayability Rating: Good
This is one area where the game does have issues. We’ve covered most of them already. The odd bug here and there or a strange design choice of having opaque or transparent pieces on a white background. These things can seriously mess up your game if you run in to them, but I basically learned not to bother with stage seven ever again.
The other strange thing is that the game never truly tells you what your goal is. The game keeps track of your score and how many blocks you’ve broken, but at no point does it say what your goal is. You basically keep playing until you reach the magical secret number and the game ends, letting you know that you won. Okay then. There’s nothing in the manual and I’ve even stooped to watching the videos of the game put on YouTube to see if there is some sort of known goal, but there never is. At least the game warns you beforehand as to what new power blocks or pieces will be in this stage and how they work. Otherwise your first few games per stage would be tragically bad trial and error.
Once you get past the steeper than normal (for a puzzle game) learning curve, you’ll find the game to be quite fun and hard to put down. More often than not, you’ll find Endless is the way to go if only because then you’re not trying to reach an unknown goal. A more casual gamer will probably get frustrated with the lack of direction or instruction in the game, and this is due to the developer’s making a mistake of ASSUMING whoever plays this will be very familiar with Lumines or is a more hardcore gamer. However, most puzzle gamers are in fact the opposite and this plus the occasional bug can potentially drive them batty.
Balance Rating: Mediocre
As much fun as I had with Irides, I can’t deny that the game is basically Lumines with a new coat of paint. It certainly does do a few things differently, mainly the combo system, but other than that, it’s almost the same exact game to the point where someone could probably call plagiarism on this thing. Of course you can’t use this game to mod your PSP either…
irides is such a carbon copy of Lumines that it’s hard to give it any real points on innovation or originality. It’s a fun game, and it does do some things different from Lumines , but just not enough to really earn points here.
Originality Rating: Bad
I was able to waste many an hour playing Irides. For a twenty dollar game on a ten year old dead system, it’s surprisingly fun and hard to put down. Of course, the same is true for Lumines, the game it is based on, but due to all the options and the four player multiplayer mode, part of me actually prefers this to the “real thing.” I found myself repeatedly saying, “Oh just one more game,” especially if I thought I had done amazingly well on a stage only to find I still hadn’t beaten it. Even in defeat, Irides is hard to stop playing.
Addictiveness Rating: Good
9. Appeal Factor
This is normally where I point out that the downside to a newly released Dreamcast game is that the Dreamcast is dead and has been so for nearly a decade. A large chunk of today’s gamers haven’t even played the system, much less own one. However, Irides is also available as an iPhone download, opening it up to a larger cross section of gamers, albeit casual ones that goes back to the comments I made earlier in the balance section.
It’s not hard to have fun with this game, and if the game held a casual player’s hand a little more, I could see it being more successful on the iPhone. I can honestly say I enjoyed my time with Irides more than the other three games that came out for the Dreamcast this year, even if it was the least original or technically innovative game of the bunch.
Basically for twenty dollars (or more if you want the limited edition version), you’re getting a solid puzzle game that takes a while to master (unless you’ve played Lumines), and it’s the type of game that can easily be enjoyed by anyone looking for a Bejeweled or Tetris substitute.
Appeal Factor: Good
Basically Irides boils down to this: it’s a fun but highly unoriginal game where the bulk of style and gameplay comes from Lumines. Although this game is uglier than Lumines, it has a better soundtrack and a more interesting combo meter. It is telling though that the re-edited version of Last Hope that came out this year, and is in fact the fourth version of that game (Neo*Geo, DC, Neo*Geo CD, and now the second Dreamcast version), is more original than this title. Yes, Irides more than makes up in fun what it lacks in innovation or originality, but it still can be disturbing at times how close this is to Lumines. The price is right and it’s the most affordable of the 2009 Dreamcast releases, as well as the most user-friendly. It’s a great way to end the 10th anniversary of the Dreamcast, and it’s great to see The GOAT Store continuing to publish titles for Sega’s last system. If you have twenty bucks lying around, there are far worse ways to spend your money than by investing in Iridies
Miscellaneous Rating: Enjoyable
Story and Modes: Mediocre
Control and Gameplay: Good
Appeal Factor: Good
FINAL SCORE: ABOVE AVERAGE GAME!
Short Attention Span Summary
At approximately $20, Irides: Master of Blocks is a fast paced, frantic puzzle game that nearly every gamer can have some fun with. It’s an added bonus that this game is available for both the venerable Sega Dreamcast as well as the iPhone, allowing gamers to go as new or as retro as they want. The game’s not pretty to look at, and it’s all but a clone of Lumines, but the things that the game does do differently, it does exceptionally well. The game also has an excellent soundtrack and multiplayer is a blast. If you already own Lumines, Irides might not be worth picking up unless you primarily play puzzle games. Still, it’s nice to see one more release on Sega’s last system and for an independently developed (and published) title, this is definitely one of the better ones.