Puzzle Guzzle has the hallmarks of a great block puzzler - it's simple (like Tetris), easy to pick up yet hard to master (like Puzzle Fighter), and novel (like Lumines). Our first look impressed us with its fresh take on the genre, and left us eager to see the final product. Although fun and innovative, we were ultimately disappointed because Puzzle Guzzle's playability suffers horribly due to drab visuals and borderline grating audio.
Here's how it works: each block has a pattern to it consisting of two colors - blue, which represents empty space, and orange, which you use to form shapes on the board that make the blocks disappear. You can't move each block around like in most other block based puzzles, instead, you can only rotate it where it sits. Your goal is to rotate the blocks so that the orange sides line up to create shapes - the bigger the better. All three modes - Drop, StuffIt and Quiz - offer variations on this same mechanic.
The two competitive modes, Drop and StuffIt, are fairly similar. In Drop mode, blocks fall from the top of the screen and you must get rid of them by forming shapes before your screen fills up, and forming larger shapes will send more blocks to your opponent's screen. In StuffIt mode, your screen is constantly filled with blocks, and you must race to form the most shapes in a given amount of time. Of the two, Drop is definitely the superior mode because it feels more like a back-and-forth competition, with each player hurling attacks at the other, rather than just a timed match where each player competes on his own and the score is tallied at the end.
In single player vs mode, you challenge a series of "mascots," each with their own (extremely annoying) voices and personalities. Some of the mascots early on in the game sound like a creepy cross between cooing babies and sex phone-line operators, which was a bit troubling. Each time you defeat a mascot, you can harvest one of its features (eyes, clothing, voice, etc.) and claim it for your own, so over time your mascot will slowly evolve into a custom creation. It sounds silly, but it actually gets quite fun, especially as the designs of the mascots you encounter get crazier as the difficulty increases.
Quiz mode is the only non-competitive option, where you're tasked with carefully rotating a set of blocks to make a specific shape, like a heart or a spaceship. It gets remarkably difficult as the puzzles progress, because one small wrong move can completely destroy any progress you've made, forcing you to start again from scratch (think of the capture puzzles in Puzzle Quest and you'll get the idea). Given the simple concept, it's quite commendable that such a wide variety is achieved in the three modes without deviating from the core concept of rotating blocks to make shapes.
In simple puzzle games, presentation often goes a long way. A large part of what makes some puzzle games so addictive are the little things: the tingly shattering noise of destroying a large power gem in Puzzle Fighter, the satisfying zap of ravaging your opponent with a skull attack in Puzzle Quest, or the violent catapulting of blocks in Meteos. Puzzle Guzzle simply lacks any charm in its presentation, and therefore lacks that "just one more round" quality of superior puzzle games.
Not only is the overall presentation forgettable, it's relentlessly so; the blue and orange visuals and generic sound effects remain constant throughout the game. The least we could have hoped for is a little variety, like different color palettes as you progress through the game. Still, it's a great concept (and a good value at $20) that's fun in short bursts, just don't expect it to become your latest addiction.
Mar 17, 2008