Everyone’s played Tetris. It’s like the universal video game. The only more known game is probably Pac-Man. It’s universally loved and known not because it’s like the first real game (Pong barely counts), but because it’s simple and fun. The concept: to place falling blocks in horizontal lines to make them disappear. Of course, those falling blocks will also lose you the game, should you let them pile to the top of the screen. It’s not easy once they start falling fast, but you can certainly play it mindlessly for hours, even if you happen to suck at it like me.

Conversely, I’ve not run into a whole lot of people who know the game Othello. Possibly named after the Shakespeare play for it’s focus on black and white, I’ve also seen it go by the name of Reversi. It’s a neat game with a simple concept. You’ve got an 8 by 8 playing field, and start with four chips on the center squares; two black, two white. Two players take turns placing chips of their colour. You can flip opposing chips by placing a chip on each side, and create lines like this vertically, horizontally, and diagonally. Once the board is full, the player with the most chips of their colour wins. Again, simple and fun.

Enter a new age of touch screens and strange, new video game concepts. Nintendo is a pioneer of the video game world, constantly trying out new things, while other companies just stick to the same old or copy Nintendo ideas that work out profitably. And today we take a look at their newest puzzle game, Polarium. The concept of the game is familiar, having to make horizontal lines to clear them, but rather than just making the lines, you have to turn all the tiles in said line to a single colour. It’s a simple task, but can get difficult when you’re trying to fight against the non-stop flow of tiles falling from above.

Polarum has two main game modes: Challenge and Puzzle. The Challenge mode, described briefly above, is much like Tetris. As I said, tiles are falling from the top screen, and it’s your job to draw lines over the tiles to change their polarity (from either black to white or vicey-versa) to complete and clear lines. You could just as easily tap each tile one at a time, but you’ll lose really quick, and earn very few points while you’re at it. The key is to try to figure out a way to flip over multiple tiles in one line, and create gigantic combos worth tons of points. Of course, this is no easy task, but Nintendo’s given you a small bit of help by adding a border that you can use, should you need it. It’s a little hard to explain, so here’s a picture to help you get an idea.

The game is quite difficult, as you have to draw accurately so that the tiles don’t pile up too fast, and make sure you don’t miss out on big line combos to score big points. I’ve only ever made it about halfway through level 3, and that’s another thing that should be mentioned. The challenge mode progresses in levels (though they come almost as seamlessly as in Tetris), but you always have to start at the very beginning, so it’s not like you can just start at level 10 if you want. And then there’s the fact that there is an end to challenge mode, unlike most other puzzle games, where it just goes on forever until you lose. But that shouldn’t be too much of a problem, as getting that far would be a daunting task for even the most tactical of us.

Puzzle mode, on the other hand, is slow-paced, and really makes you use your brain. Rather than just trying to keep up with falling tiles, you’ve got one set of tiles on the screen, and you have to figure out a way to eliminate all of them at once. At first, it’s pretty simple. You’ve just got to master the basics to get past the first twenty puzzles, but after that, they become less symmetrical and require some hard thinking. Not exactly what I’m best at, but I’ve gotten about halfway through the puzzles. And speaking of which, there are 100 stock puzzles for you to solve, unlocking a new 10 for each 10 you complete. What might be seen as uncommon is the hint system in place for puzzle mode. The game will either show you the last path you tried for that puzzle, or suggest start and finish points, should you need help. And trust me, you will need help on most of these.

If you finish all the puzzles, or just get frustrated with some of the harder ones, there’s also a custom puzzle mode that lets you create your own brain-twisting puzzles. Of course, you’ll know how to complete these puzzles, so they’re no good for you to play, but that’s where our friend Mr. Wireless Link comes in. Should you also have a friend that has Polarium, you can send your custom puzzles over to him, and perhaps get one or two in return to test your puzzle-solving skills. And if you don’t have friends who own the game, but still want to trade custom puzzles, you’re also provided with a password for each puzzle you make, which will allow you to trade with people over the internet and such.

And what kind of puzzle game comes without a multiplayer mode? Polarium has got one, and it’ a little strange too, in that to play, you turn your DS on its side. It sounds a bit odd on paper, but it works, because the screen is longer than it is tall, and the DS being on its side would lend itself better to the game’s style. Obviously, your opponent’s tile pile would be shown on the top (or right, in the sideways case) screen.

Grahically, Polarium is less than impressive. While it has no need for flashy graphics, there are people who would complain about it’s minimalist visuals. On the upside, it does sport a couple neat effects. Sadly, the menus are hardcore blocky, and we’re not talking NES or FatBoy here, think back a few steps to the Atari. Yeah, not too appealing. At least the interface is effective, if a bit ugly. Music is pretty dismal, I hate to say. There are a grand total of three, maybe four tracks in the entire game (again, not much more would be expected, but still), and none of them are overly enjoyable, or so I find. They’re all this kind of techno-trance that gets annoying fast. This is definitely one of those games that you’re gonna play with other music turned on in the background.

While it may look and sound a little nasty, Polarium has a couple neat features going for it. Firstly, once you get a high score in challenge mode, you get to draw your own little avatar to place beside your score. I’m not sure if it’s a step forward or backward from the Yoshi Touch & Go avatar system, but it’s pretty slick. It also gives you a grade, but I’m not sure if it’s based on how far you get, or how good you score is. Also, while totally irrelevant, the game keeps a running timer of how long you’ve played in each mode. It doesn’t have any value at all, but it’s an interesting feature.

In the end, Polarium might be a little too challenging for its own good, and it’s not as addictive as Tetris or Dr. Mario, but it’s certainly a game that belongs in any puzzle lover’s library. You won’t be playing for hours on end like other titles, but you’ll probably pick it up every so often and see if you can make it just a bit further in Challenge mode. I know that since I got it, every time I have a spare five minutes, I whip out the DS and start flippin’ tiles. I’ll give it a B+, because despite the fact that it is great, it’s not so great as some before it, and frankly, the music blows.

The Good Stuff:
  • Brain-racking puzzle mode
  • Challenge mode is fast-paced and fun
  • Original dual-screen use in multiplayer
  • Draw your own high-score avatar
  • The Bad Stuff:
  • The music is boring and repetitive
  • Where did the graphics go?
  • Not as addictive as other puzzlers
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