Overall Score 81%
Arcen Games are no strangers to us here at Bytten. I was lucky enough to be one of the very first reviewers to get my hands on a copy of their premiere creation: AI War. It's an absolutely brilliant Real-time Strategy/Tower Defence hybrid that raised the bar on so many fronts that it was frightening. So many great ideas, so much customisation, a truly epic scale battlefield, terrifying AI, dynamic and emergent gameplay. Recently, Arcen's head honcho; Chris Park emailed me to let me know that their next creation was about to hit the market. I was very surprised (and to be honest, a little dismayed) to hear that it was an abstract, block-clearing puzzle game. Yawn. The world already has 512,748 variants of Tetris, do we really need another?
Hmm, know what? Yes, we do. Puzzle gamers of the world need Tidalis. Collect up all of your other silly block clearing puzzlers and toss them all in the bin. This sucker's the only one you'll ever need from now on. Only Arcen could take the most mundane, overdone, and simplest of game genre and turn it into a game that has sucked over 20 hours of last week away. It's not the fact that it's a good block popping puzzler, it's more the fact that it's EVERY good block popping puzzler ever made, and then some.
Fundamentally, the game follows the renowned K.I.S.S. principle. Blocks on the game board come in a variety of colours and have a directional indicator on them. Right-click and hold to rotate the directional indicator and left-click to initiate a stream from that block. Control is accomplished simply by using the mouse. If a coloured stream passes through 3 or more blocks of that colour, they disappear from the board and blocks fall from the top to replace them. Blocks on the very bottom of the falling stacks then spontaneously emit their own streams. If you can clear more blocks using those streams, then you form higher scoring combos – the more the merrier (well, generally that's the case anyway).
Not so fundamentally, the game comes chock full with 19 game modes, 26 special blocks, and 25 items. Any combination of these has the potential for some interesting play, but over 100 of the best levels have been pre-assembled by the Arcen team and loaded into a story/adventure mode. In over 85 levels played (I'm still going) I've yet to find 2 of them that play the same way. I have truly never played an abstract puzzle game that can keep presenting new and interesting challenges to the level that Tidalis does. One minute I'm struggling in reverse gravity to keep my streams away from pesky quad repeater blocks – the challenge is to clear 20 blocks but not in combos of more than 5. The next level sees me battling red faced turnip blocks in a level that is slowly filling with water. After that comes level where I need to heal sick blocks and allow them passage to the bottom of the field, and if I stuff up, rows of blocks pour in from the top of the screen. Later, a level where I have to blast down through layers of explosive crystalliser blocks in frenzy mode, the goal here is to simply survive for 2 minutes.
Using advanced techniques, you can learn to manipulate streams on the fly by rotating blocks that the stream hasn't passed through yet. There's a whole new level of strategy in this approach to play that isn't at first apparent, nor even required to play the game. Tidalis is supremely customisable, from screen resolution to colours and tiles used, from difficulty to style of play. It's a game for everyone regardless of skill or dexterity since it can be tailored to the player's exact tastes.
Aside from the humorous and entertaining story mode there is a extensive set of brainteaser puzzles, a custom mode (which includes a random game parameter generator) and a whole suite of editors that can be used to create themes, levels and adventures. A generous tutorial comes without saying. An integrated updater will make sure that you are always playing with the most recent version of the software (but only if you choose to allow it), and if the amount of free DLC for AI War is anything to go by, lots of content might be added to Tidalis as well over the next few months. A lobby feature to find online playing partners for co-operative or competitive modes rounds out an awesome set of features.
The animations and graphics are reasonably good. Although not quite in the same league as, say, the Codeminion puzzle games, Tidalis is attractive. In terms of design and functionality of the graphics from a gameplay perspective, again good, although the default set of tiles makes blue and cyan blocks look a bit too close in colour for my liking. The backgrounds (themes) are absolutely gorgeous. Tidalis has great sound effects that not only accompany the action, but actually drive the tension and pace of the game, along with the music. This, is perhaps some of the most beautiful and diverse music ever to ship with a game. I just love it. Sometimes it's relaxing, other times it's manic. It rises to a crescendo as the play-field fills with blocks and really has an active effect on the player, as well as being entertaining in its own right.
Tidalis is the first game in recent memory that I can unreservedly recommend to everybody. If you're a puzzle game fan then it's a no-brainer. Tidalis is simply the best abstract puzzle game on the market, hands down. If you're not much of a puzzle game fan, then prepare to be surprised. I'm certainly having a lot more fun with it than I thought I would. I had trouble using the auto-updater to patch from v1.00 to anything later with both the standalone and Steam versions of the software. This seems to be a known (and common) bug with the v1.00 release and can be remedied by manually applying a patch from Arcen's website. Thereafter, the auto-updater works as intended.
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