i’ve been on a portable-games streak lately, but here’s just one more. i’ve been casually focusing my attention on the earliest released nintendo-published DS games, and the somewhat ignored polarium was among that group. the game is a pen-and-paper type puzzler and you’re presented with a black and white board of tiles where you have to draw a single line to flip the tiles such that every line is a single color (although not all the lines have to be the same color). i vaguely remember seeing a video on an official site for the game around that time (although i can’t find it now) of “cool” kids having SO MUCH FUN playing it and explaining how it worked, and i remember thinking that it looked like it wouldn’t be much of a challenge because there’s a neutral border around the board that you can draw your line freely on in order to get back to the particular parts of lines that you need to flip. not sure i explained that very well, but the border is actually an integral part of the game board, and not just a way out to make things easier.
anyway, the core game is quite like picross or sudoku and although it doesn’t have quite the depth of either it’s still quite enjoyable if you’re a fan of that type of thing. like those games most of the entertainment comes from learning how to play and what processes are needed to solve the puzzles, but also like those games once you know how the puzzles work in general there’s not a whole lot of strategy needed for completing subsequent puzzles. the size of the board is fairly small (otherwise the puzzles would just become too unwieldy), and although the core game is about on par with picross it definitely has less depth than sudoku. there are 100 puzzles built in which is a good amount, and you can create your own and trade with friends locally or with codes (this FAQ at gamefaqs includes codes for 40 new puzzles and this one features more than 100 more). the game controls perfectly well, and it’s a perfect fit for the DS’s then-new touch screen capabilities. the game also excels in its presentation, boasting a sleek, electro-cool skin very much like that of lumines and meteos although it precedes both of them; in fact it precedes the former by just a few days.
all well and good, but the one area where it really fails (or even phails) is the challenge mode. in this mode the developers tried to shoehorn in a tetris-type mode where puzzles fall into a well and you have to clear them one by one. the key problem here is that you have to complete them quickly and accurately, otherwise another puzzle will drop and stack on top of it. having to complete puzzles in quick succession again and again gets repetitive enough as it is, but a single mistake can cause a stack of puzzles to quickly form and when stacked on top of each other it’s much more difficult to clear puzzles because clearing the one at the bottom will mess up the solution for the one directly above it. added to this is the too-fast speed at which the stack grows, and even with the benefit of a practice mode the challenge mode just ends up being much more frustrating than fun. there’s also a two-player mode that looks decent but probably has similar problems (i.e. you end up just clearing lines and not solving actual puzzles, which isn’t so interesting), but i didn’t have a chance to try that out.
all in all, for the most part polarium is a perfectly amiable if not essential little puzzler diversion. apparently there’s a GBA sequel that features a year’s worth of daily puzzles. it also features new types of tiles to spice things up that may make it worth trying out, but although i enjoyed this game just enough i’m not in a hurry to seek out more, especially since the lack of the DS controls will certainly make the gameplay less immediately gratifying.
not too puzzlin’ polarium links:
– entry at wikipedia
– some screenshots and marketing fluff on the page at nintendo.com
– review at modojo.com: apparently some people seem to find these puzzles to be hard to learn how to solve, but i didn’t find that to be the case at all