Review by Jaspertine
One of the DS's finest time killers, and a cool game to boot.
As time goes by, one must inevitably start to wonder if there really is only a finite number of ways to create new puzzle games. While there are still many more ways to re-invent the existing formulae, there seems to be increasing evidence that puzzle game developers may have gone to the same well a few too many times. Not only is there a constant flood of new shape-matching and falling-block games, but many of the new games that break out of this rut have such bizarre rules and convoluted gameplay that they barely register as enjoyable. Of course, it's just when I lost all hope that the puzzle genre seems to redeem itself. Enter Prism.
There is a plot to this game, which involves light eating creatures called Globos, who live inside a black hole. When the evil Bhobail starts taking all the light for himself, it's up to the light emitting Bulboids to save the Globos from starvation, with the aid of various tools called Gluons. If all of this sounds to you like a cross between a Saturday morning cartoon and a NyQuill induced hallucination, you're not alone, but while the plot doesn't make a lot of sense, it's hardly the worst story ever attached to a puzzle game.
So how exactly do you help the Bulboids in their noble task? Well, each puzzle starts off with an elaborate arrangement of walls and Gluons, as well as one or more Bulboid and one or more Globo. You must get the Bulboid to direct his beam of light to touch every Globo on the board. The Buobloid can only fire his beam of light in one direction, so you'll most likely need to use various tools, or Gluons. These include things like angled mirrors to redirect the light, t-splitters to split a single beam in two.
Just for the sake of added difficulty, the Globos are also colour sensitive, and can only feed on properly coloured light. Since the Bulboids shine a white beam, white Globos can be fed directly, whereas blue, red and yellow ones will need to have the light filtered first. Additional Gluons exist to fill this purpose. Some simply change the colour of the light, others do so and redirect or split the light at the same time. Also, keep in mind that once light has been filtered, it can't be turned back to white, and additional strategy will be needed to ensure that the light is reflected, refracted and filtered not just to all the right places, but in the correct order as well.
All of this is accomplished by moving the Bulboid and Gluons into the appropriate position, which can be done easily enough by using the stylus to drag them around. There is also a way to do this with the buttons and D-pad, but there's really no reason to even contemplate doing so. In fact, I would have to say that this is possibly the best use of the touch screen in a puzzle game that I have thus far seen on the DS. It really conveys the sense of physically pushing small objects around on a tiny surface.
Aside from it's controls, however, Prism is not the most intuitive game ever made. Expect to be at least slightly confused at first, as it will undoubtedly take a while to get the hang of how all the different pieces work together. It's not the deepest game you'll ever play either. Unlike other puzzle games, most of the puzzles can be solved through simple trial and error. I've even solved a couple by accident.
This lack of involvement might be a detriment on a home console version, but on a handheld, it works brilliantly. While the game is certainly fun enough to play in marathon sessions, doing so could hurt the replay value. On the other hand, it's "quick to start, quick to stop" nature makes it perfect for those rapid, "on the go" type games, or as a time killer. In a world where most games are a 8-10 hour commitment, (30-40 hours if you're an RPG fan) it's a relief to play a game for exactly fifteen minutes at a time. Add to that the ability to play anywhere, and you've got something magical.
There are 6 modes of play altogether, 4 single player and 2 multiplayer. These are, respectively, Puzzle, Time, Hyper, Infinite, Co-operative, and Versus.
In Puzzle mode, you have exactly 120 predetermined puzzles to solve, each one increasing in difficulty. These are divided into 15 tiers, each with 8 puzzles. You can play these 8 puzzles in whatever order you wish, but you must clear at least 6 of them in order to move on to the next tier. This means that if you hit a particular stumper, it doesn't instantly halt all progress, which is nice. Of course, if you're the hardcore type, then this is a moot point, as is the hint feature that is available up to level 40.
Perhaps it's an attempt to attract younger kids to play the game, or to encourage people who don't normally play puzzle games to give it a try, but the puzzles here seem to start at an insanely easy level. Not to be rude, but you really ought to be able to sleepwalk your way to level 25. I know, I tend to complain if the learning curve is too steep, but this game takes it a bit too far the other way. Perhaps it was done like this in order help people get used to the game rules, but this could have been accomplished just as easily by making the built in tutorial a little more instructive.
Time mode takes the same idea, except the puzzles are chosen at random and must be cleared within a limited amount of time. Each time you clear a puzzle, the timer rolls back a few seconds. There are also checkpoints every ten puzzles, after which your current time and score are saved. The difficulty level also increases after each checkpoint. You may replay from any cleared checkpoint, and with whatever amount of time you've managed to secure when you got there. Medals are also awarded if you perform particularly well. While it isn't as brain-intensive as Puzzle mode, it's a lot of fun racing against the clock. Purely for it's elevated excitement levels, Time mode greatly outshines Puzzle.
Hyper takes things in a different direction. This time, you start off on a square board with two mirrors, and a series of Globos will appear randomly around the edge. Feed them light and they disappear. Fail to do so within a certain amount of time and they die. The game gets progressively more frenetic as it goes on, and ends after 8 Globos have passed on. As time goes by, coloured Globos will show up, and a filter block will appear at the same time. This game mode does get a little repetitive after a while, but it's also the fastest, and perfect for when you're looking for something a little more "arcade."
In many of the other puzzle games I've played, one particular game mode (usually versus mode) is the star of the show and all the others are either supporting players, or ways to practice for the "real" game. One of the nice things about Prism is that each of the different modes seems to have been given equal attention. The exception to this rule unfortunately being Infinite Mode. As the name would suggest, this is the mode where you are simply given an infinite number of random puzzles to solve, with no time limit, challenge, or goal other than getting the high score. Using hints will cost you points. While this mode is a good way to simply kill some spare time, or for getting some practice, there's really no reason why you can't use Puzzle or Time to accomplish those same ends. So while Infinite delivers exactly what it promises, it winds up being mostly redundant, and entirely pointless.
As for the multiplayer modes, well, to be perfectly frank, none of my DS owning friends and relatives have shown any desire to play with me. Thus, I don't really have an opinion to offer here, and can only go by what it says in the manual. In Co-operative mode, you are both given the same puzzle, but each player only can only move pieces along opposite halves. You can choose whether or not to have a time limit. In Versus, Each player is given an identical puzzle to solve within a time limit. The first person to do so gets a 10 bonus seconds for use on the next puzzle, while the other players clock speeds up for the next ten seconds. After a set number of rounds, the player with the most time left over wins, or if at any point the other player's timer hits zero.
Visually, the game is decent. Certainly there's nothing going on graphically that would really impress, but at the same time, they are good enough that I wouldn't call them purely functional or anything like that. The various sprites are colourful and lively, and while the background tends to be a single dull colour, there usually some kind of movement incorporated. Sound effects are at times generic, and at other times slightly annoying. Nothing that can't be remedied by turning them off, or at least down.
By taking the sound effects out of the picture, you can better enjoy the music, which is a quirky mix of synth pop and cartoon music. Again, there's nothing happening in the music department that will really push the DS to the limit of it's sonic capabilities, but what's there is above average, both musically and production-wise. After playing the game for a while, I find myself wishing there was a little more variety, but considering the rapid pace at which the early puzzles are solved, consistency might be the better of the two choices.
Overall, this is hardly a high end game, and can generally be purchased on the lower end of the price range. If this is the case, then I assure you, the game will be worth every penny, and is still worthwhile otherwise. The thing to remember is that this is the kind of game that might get repetitive if played for too long at one time. As far as DS games go, it should make a welcome addition to your collection. On the other hand, as far as time killers go, this game is one of the best.
Rating: 4.0 - Great
Product Release: Prism: Light the Way (US, 10/17/07)
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