Polarium Nintendo DS Review

A highly addictive puzzler in which you have to form horizontal lines using blocks that fall from the sky. No, not Tetris. Polarium offers the same experience and adds several features, so what does someone that didn’t like Tetris think?

Gameplay

The entire concept of Polarium is actually pretty similar to Tetris: you have to create horizontal lines using the blocks so that said lines dissolve and add to your score. The way you have to do this is totally different however. There are three colour blocks in this game: black, white and grey. When pressing the stylus against the touch-screen you start a string that can move horizontally or vertically and can make 90-degree turns so to speak. At any time you can decide that your current string is heading nowhere and you can cut back or dismiss the string all together using one of two giant “X”s on the touch-screen. Should you decide to activate your current string then you are to tap the last block of the string. Activating means turning all black blocks in to white ones and vice versa, the grey ones always remain grey. Polarium, polarisation: the title should make sense just about now.

So after you have created a string and activated it black blocks and white ones will change their colour like explained earlier. When you have created an entire horizontal line of either white and grey – or black and grey blocks the line will dissolve. Confusing? Not at all, Polarium features a tutorial but even without it most gamers should understand the entire concept within two minutes.

Gameplay

There are actually quite a few ways to play Polarium. I’ll start off with the puzzles. There are 100 puzzles in Polarium and there is room for another 100 puzzles that you either create yourself or receive from others using the WiFi. Basically for every 10 puzzles you solve you will receive 10 new ones until you have solved all 100. The objective of these puzzles is to dissolve the entire map of blocks using a single string. To all you experienced puzzlers out there: no, you cannot use a falling line of blocks to fall into a gap as in some other puzzlers. The reason why is quite simple actually: since you need an entire horizontal line to disappear there will never be a gap for another line to fall into. Sounds too easy? No, trust me on this one; some puzzles will melt your brains. The trick in puzzle mode consists of a few principles you’ll have to understand. First of all, to solve a puzzle swiftly you should be able to quickly spot your best start and end points for your string or you will suffer what is called “solving an entire puzzle minus one block” syndrome. Secondly you must use the grey blocks that appear on all sides effectively, but be warned there is just one line of grey blocks, so once you step out of bounds on a certain spot you can’t head back there anymore. Some screenshots will show what I mean. To those wondering, the top screen is used to either show what you did during your last attempt or to give a hint (if you enabled this option). Currently I must confess that I still haven’t beaten all 100 puzzles. I have five puzzles to go and ten more that I received from friends. The problem is, I’m often too busy playing another game type.

The second way to play Polarium is extremely similar to Tetris. Blocks will fall from the sky in different shapes and you are to create lines so that the top of the screen is not reached. You receive extra points when you clear a lot of lines in one string. This mode is highly addictive and although most find it uninspired, I play Polarium this way every day and have lots of fun doing so. Another confession must be made right here, I am terrible at this game type. I will often die in level 2, which indeed isn’t too good. My maximum score reached is D- and I can only assume the highest possible score is A+. A great little touch to this game type is that when you reach the top three rankings you can draw a little symbol that will show up instead of your name next to your score. I like to draw faces; because that’s the only thing I can draw. Let me conclude with the obvious: if you liked Tetris you will like this game type. I should also add that I didn’t like Tetris but did like this game type. Mainly because this one becomes tense so much quicker than Tetris, where it could take quite some time before you had to think ahead. Enough on this.

The best way to play Polarium is one that I discovered only recently: Multiplayer. I was at a friend’s house and without me realising it I found out that the brother of my friend had a DS. The joy, I just loaded up Polarium and sent the code right over which enabled him to solve several puzzles as well as play me in versus mode. Should he have had Polarium on a gaming cartridge then I could have sent him some puzzles that I made myself but this wasn’t the case. So, we played versus. In this game type you are to do two things at once: clear your own lines while trying to screw your opponent over. The first thing I noticed when playing was that we were no longer solving horizontal lines, but trying to dissolve vertical lines. Furthermore, we both started off with half a map, it just so happened to be that I had the left bit and my opponent the right part. In any case the way of playing remains the same except that now you have to create vertical lines when activating your string. The fun part is that after you activate your string whatever vertical lines you solved hop right over to the other player whose progress is to be seen on the top screen of the DS. Long story short, keep your eye out on the top screen so that when you see he is just about to clear several lines you are able to quickly send something back. You have to do this because when he is able to successfully send all his lines over to you he will be the victor. Sometimes you will have to rapidly send lines back just to not lose and what makes the versus mode fun is that one mistake of the opponent can totally reverse roles. Should neither side have emptied their bottom screen once the time runs out then the winner will be he who has the least amount of lines left. What also makes versus mode excellent is the speed; after a round it will be mere seconds before you can play a new round, the total absence of lag is also very much appreciated.

The last few things you can do in Polarium I will briefly mention here. There is a tutorial that explains how to play and gives some gameplay tips. You can create or edit your own puzzles that you can then send over to other players. Last but not least: there is practise mode where you can play a certain difficulty setting that you achieved in challenge mode (Tetris mode). In practise, you can’t lose. Because of this, practise mode is actually pretty nice to play when you just don’t feel like concentrating to the fullest for the entire time. Of course, you can also use it to practise and figure out new strings to solve different combinations of shapes that can fall down in challenge mode.

Graphics

I honestly didn’t expect anything from a puzzler that pretty much uses three colours. In reality it does look a lot better than just that: it has a futuristic look all over it. Fair is fair however, and I can’t conclude that Polarium is a pretty game. I do believe that adding more colours or animations would do gameplay no good, the way that there are just three colours in puzzles make it so much easier to recognise patterns and such. The screenshots will give away everything the graphics in Polarium have to offer.

Sound

Easily the worst part from this game. The soundtrack is horrible, repetitive and the clicking sounds you get when drawing strings can make grown men cry. The clicking sounds do come in handy in gameplay, you will notice if something is wrong just a bit earlier than when you turn the sounds off. I play Polarium with music off and the clicks on; I do take a break every few minutes though because the sounds make me go insane. If the music were better then I would have been a very happy man, the sounds barely get their job done while annoying the crap out of you in the mean time.

Lifespan

It’s very hard to tell how long Polarium will last. If you like the challenge mode (Tetris mode) then Polarium will be one to keep forever. If you have friends who also have Polarium then you can receive frequent puzzles from them and you will be busy for a long time as well. The fact that you can play Polarium with everyone in versus mode, even people who only have a DS but not the game, also adds lots of hours to the experience. If you buy this one just for the puzzles then don’t expect to be busy that long. I can’t estimate how long I’ve been busy with the puzzles but I can only assume that puzzle-veterans will finish all 100 puzzles within hours. My personal opinion is that Polarium lasts forever, however. I love the challenge mode, multiplayer is equally addictive and can be extremely tense. This might not be for everyone though; I expect action fans to get bored quickly. Nevertheless, given the amount of fun I had I can’t do anything but recommend this game to everyone.

Overall

At the end of the day Polarium is addictive, fun and long lasting. Thinking about it this game really couldn’t be any more complete: 100 puzzles, challenge mode, making or receiving another 100 puzzles, multiplayer and even a tutorial and practice mode to get the hang of the game. For a simple game basically consisting of tiles in 3 different colours, there is a hell of a lot of juice to draw from it. Recommended to everyone, although the fanatic action lover might not like it as much.

8 out of 10
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