From Katamari to PaRappa the Rapper, gamers tend to love Japanese games with an offbeat flair. Octomania, a puzzle game full of samurai crabs, bitchy angels, flaky robots, mama’s-boy demons, and sentient food items, will easily charm the pants off even the most discerning of Japanophiles. Think Puyo Puyo/Kirby’s Avalanche/Dr. Robotnik’s Mean Bean Machine but with the quirkiness cranked up a few notches.
The object of the game is simple: multicolored octopi drop onto your screen and you must clear them faster than they accumulate, or it’s game over when your screen completely fills. Large squares that look like metal grates pop up on each screen, each labeled with a number, and you must fill the square with at least that number of same-colored octopi to make them disappear. Once you do this, however, the octopi don’t exactly disappear immediately – they turn into puffs of smoke that you can then use to form a chain. Move more octopi of the same color adjacent to the puffy smoke clouds and they will turn into smoke as well, forming a puffy chain. You only have a few seconds to add links to your chain, as the smoke dissipates quickly, but if you choose a color that’s abundant enough you can form some massive double-digit chains. The larger the chain, the more damage you will do to your opponent.
Damage comes in the form of sea urchins – the stoic, spiky nomads of the sea. When your opponent strings together a chain, a shower of sea urchins will rain down on your screen. The only way to get rid of these junk pieces is to chain them on to regular octopi chains – which will slow down the amount of damage you do because urchins don’t count toward your chains.
To move things around on your grid, you control a cursor that forms a 2x2 square, in which four octopi can fit at once. To move an octopus across the grid, you must rotate the square cursor until the octopus is on the side of the square that faces the direction you want it to go, then shift the cursor over one space in that direction, and then repeat until the octopus is where you want it to be. Whatever control scheme you choose, moving octopi is tricky to get the hang of, and requires precise alternating movements that can be frustrating for gamers who are used to regular drop puzzles where the puzzle pieces/blocks are controlled directly, rather than using a rotating cursor as a sort of middleman.
Of the two control scheme options, classic (holding the remote sideways like an NES controller) and pointer (holding the remote like a pointer and using the motion controls), the classic style is far superior. With the motion controls, the cursor simply moves wherever you point the remote, which sounds easy enough but proves frustratingly difficult in practice. We can imagine that if you spent hours and hours practicing with the Wii controls, you could become quite skilled, but most gamers will be put off by the needless difficulty and quickly switch over to traditional controls.
Octomania is definitely less accessible than say, Dr. Mario or Tetris, but its infectious charm won us over and assuaged a lot of our initial control-related frustrations. From its upbeat theme song, to its offbeat characters, everything about Octomania’s presentation had us wanting to play more. Although its motion controls are useless, Octomania is definitely one of the better Wii-exclusive puzzlers.
Mar 26, 2008