As many of you know, cutesy puzzle games are a staple in Japan, where colorful eye-candy, unfathomable story-lines,
super-deformed anime characters and slap-happy atmospherics go hand-in-hand with off-the-wall but ingenious puzzle
Most of the time, under all that Nihon gloss, beats a truly great puzzle game, like the recently reviewed Mr.Driller. There are of course
exceptions, like the rehashed lemon, Columns GB, which goes to show that contrary to popular belief, disparity does exist, and that not
all Japanese puzzle games are outright gems.
So, does Puchi Carat, a Taito produced puzzle game, measure up as a lemon or a gem? Let's find out.
Puchi Carat could be best described as a mix of Alleyway and Bust-A-Move
with a few twists. Similar to Alleyway, you control a "paddle" at the bottom of the screen scrolling
left and right with the directional pad, deflecting the ball to hit the blocks above. Holding down the "A"
button while scrolling speeds up your movement, but it also means hitting the ball at a sharper angle. Once the
ball hits a block, it disappears.
The goal of the game is to eliminate all the blocks hanging from the top of the screen, or out last your opponent
if playing a computer or a friend. But unlike Alleyway, there are ways to speed up the process. If there is a set
of blocks hanging from the top and you happen to hit the block holding the others to the top of the screen, they
all disappear, similar to Bust-A-Move.
At the bottom of the screen, there is also a candy-cane-colored bar sitting below your paddle. If your ball hits
the bar, more blocks appear from the top. Just like in the other two games, the blocks progressively appear as
time goes by, and you lose when your targets crush you, and your little palm tree paddle collapses.
Puchi Carat also comes in several modes: single player, versus mode (which you can play the CPU or link-up with
a friend), timed mode, survival mode, and story mode. You can pick different courses for each mode from beginner
to expert to adjust to your expertise. Also, when playing an opponent, you can change your level of attack from
offense to defense as well as your opponent's.
In addition to all this, you can select one of the two different sized paddles for a real challenge and even control
the difficulty of the game under the "Options" menu where levels can be changed. When playing the story
mode, you earn cards with pictures which go into a photo album. You can also trade these cards with a friend via
a link cable.
The controls in Puchi Carat is rudimentary and isn't something you'd want to
write home about. It's a simple puzzle game, and the extent of your control in the game is pressing either left
or right on the directional pad to steer your "paddle" either left or right on the screen. Simple yes,
but adequately executed and responsive enough without any lag to mar your enjoyment. You'd expect good responsive
controls, especially for puzzle games, and since it was expected, I'm not going to throw Taito any kudos for this
bit of programming necessity.
Despite the fact that your typical anime-style cartoon characters grace
the screen on more than one occasion, many of them lacked oomph! and aesthetic appeal. While playing, I noticed
that most of the screens, like the "continue" screen, the "menu" screens, and even the introduction
screen were devoid of any real animation and unpleasantly super imposed on a boring brown backdrop.
Overall, most of the graphics in Puchi Carat appeared much duller than most of the puzzle games we've seen on the
Color GameBoy, which made me feel that the graphic capabilities of the Color GameBoy were purposely being snubbed
or over looked. I guess the programmers at Taito wanted a minimalist approach, although I can't see the reasons
behind it. Puzzle games are repetitive and progressive by nature, and eye candy in these type of games are surely
required to relieve the tedium or act as "bonuses" or "rewards" for completed stages. Just
my opinion of course, but I'm sure many would prefer a colorful dancing character at the end of a stage rather
than a static, washed-out picture.
Sound & Music
I believe that all puzzle games should have a good soundtrack. To me, having
both is an unwritten requirement, like having white wine with fish, or French fries with cheese burgers. Unfortunately,
Puchi Carat doesn't. Taito is a real fiend when it comes to releasing beautiful, memorable BGM for a game, and
Puchi Carat is no exception. The music in Puchi Carat was a real downer. From start to finish, the same clinky-clunky
song is repetitively played. It's not a bad tune, but after hearing the same one 58 times during a game, it becomes
somewhat of an auditory torture. Suffice to say, sound could have been improved upon.
The puzzle game purist would argue that a good puzzle game does not need
to look nice or sound nice, and that it only needs to achieve the important criteria of challenging and addictive
gameplay. Others disagree, and claim that eye-candy is an integral requirement of any puzzle game. There are many
schools of thought, but I'm sure that any one can spot a lousy puzzle game when they play one, irrespective of
which school of though that they may or may not subscribe to.
Bottom-line, I liked Puchi Carat and found it fun, challenging and addictive. Taito has cleverly incorporated puzzle
elements from other classic puzzle games, and fashioned a game that isn't actually original, but fresh enough to
be enjoyable. Like many good puzzle games, Puchi Carat will be a game that will be easy to learn but difficult
to master. The graphics and sound were a set-back, but despite these shortcomings, it's definitely a game worth
buying from your local import shop.