Review by HatenaSatena
Like Picross? You'll Love Hatena Satena!
Hatena Satena was released by Hudson way back in 2001 for the Game Boy Advance. It's similar in nature to the Picross series of games - single screen grid puzzles where you're given clues on where to chip away, eventually revealing a picture in the grid. Elements of Minesweeper are also present - each square you reveal will let you know how many of the same color square are touching it.
Hatena Satena features cute, interesting character designs by Super Lovers, the fashion and art brand that (I believe) did Super Milk Chan. While the game is solely in Japanese and does feature quite a bit of text, it's completely playable by anyone regardless of language skill.
The game is played on a grid of squares, starting with 5x5 and progressing ever-higher. To the right of the rows and above the columns are colored numbers that indicate to the player the contents of the respective row and column. For example, if you have a 5x5 grid and the top row indicator has a yellow five, you know that the entire top row will be filled with yellow squares. Within the same puzzle, imagine the leftmost column having a yellow three and a red two. This would mean that three of the squares in the column are yellow and two are red.
Once you've correctly marked a square within the grid, placing the cursor over that square will display how many of the same color are immediately adjacent to that square. For example, if you placed your cursor over the yellow square in the top left of our example from the prior paragraph, imagine it displaying a two. That would indicate that two of the squares "touching" that square share its color.
Using the indicators on the rows, columns, and within the squares, the player is able to deduce where to "paint", and eventually will have "painted" the entire puzzle in, revealing a picture. There are also some small touches that really add to the game. For example, if you happen to color a square that has many surrounding squares of the same color, the game will automatically color those squares in rather than making you waste time doing it manually. You'll never see a square display 8, the maximum possible number, because the surrounding squares will be auto-painted. Sometimes triggering one of these auto-paints will display a brief, cool cinematic.
Hudson has done a great job with the presentation of the game, wrapping the puzzles in a story mode. The underlying puzzle dynamics rarely change, but you'll be presented with different "levels" with new characters and dialogue (all in Japanese). Within each character level, you can interact with the character and unlock animations. Pointless but fun.
In the later levels, you'll come across multicolored, pulsing dots where the color indicators would normally be. These dots indicate that there could be a blank space in the puzzle - a serious challenge that rewards skilled players. There are a few unlockable puzzle sets that are quite challenging. They have hilarious names - "Panda Love Unit", "Teku Teku Angel" - and feature new graphics. There's easily 30 hours of gameplay in the whole game.
Hatena Satena's replayability is a unique case. Will the game be exactly the same every time you play it? Yes. Will you remember the puzzles if you come back to the game a year later and start over? Probably not. I've beaten it and then picked it up anew several times, and each time the game is still fresh and fun.
The game has, in this reviewer's opinion, excellent graphics. They are colorful, stylish, and unique. Super Lovers / Lovers House has done a wonderful job at giving the game a very specific feel. It feels a bit like an homage to 60s animation but in great pixel art. The presentation adds a great deal to the game, and will suck the player in trying to unlock all of the animations and levels.
The sounds are pretty much what you'd expect - a lot of beeps and boops. As with the graphics, the audio of Hatena Satena is high quality. The chime played when you unlock a combo is quite satisfying. The music isn't bad, but it can get a bit old after listening to the same song for an entire play session.
Hatena Satena is a great game that will appeal to a very specific demographic - gamers that appreciate highly cerebral puzzles and are okay playing a game with dialogue that they can't read. I can't fault Hudson for not translating the game for Western audiences, as I'm not sure what the market is for this type of game, but I am certainly glad that I found this gem. I've played the hell out of it, and I also purchased the real GBA cart from Japan just to have it. If you end up enjoying Hatena Satena, try your hand at building a level in the supplied editor and then send it to me!
Product Release: Hatena Satena (JP, 10/04/01)
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