Mixing Rhythm with Puzzle

About one year ago, Empty Clip Studios released Groovin’ Blocks on WiiWare for $8.  Now, Wii owners can pick up a copy in disc format for $20.  But is there enough to justify the cost difference?

Using a mixture of Lumines and Columns, Groovin’ Blocks is a typical “connect 3” puzzle game but based around the beat of the music.  Like Tetris or Dr. Mario, the player controls falling pieces, and when three or more join, they disappear causing the pieces above to fall with the hopes of forming chains.  But instead of increasing your point total by solely making chains, the game wants you to drop your pieces to the beat of the music. 

Following the visual indicator streaming through the background, if a player drops a piece by tapping down on the d-pad as a beat passes, score multipliers are rewarded.  While not really necessary in the game’s earlier stages, the player must really keep an eye on the beat if you want to obtain the higher scores in the game’s later and more difficult stages. 

One of my biggest complaints with Groovin’ Blocks is that you can only rotate the falling pieces in one direction by tapping Button 2.  Why can’t Button 1 make them go the other way?  Secondly, the game has a pretty mundane tutorial.  Instead of teaching the player through a demo stage, the player must learn the rules of the game by reading static text on the screen.  Because playing to the beat can take some getting used to, it would have been very beneficial for a movie-format tutorial.  And the developers can no longer use the “it’s a space restriction” excuse since this game is now on a disc. 

The game’s main gameplay screen uses a pretty straightforward design, but for some reason, the game board is on a strange “looking upward” angle.  Instead of being presented directly as a head-on 2D game, this strange 3D effect just comes across as awkward and unnecessary.

Groovin’ Blocks rewards players as skills increase by unlocking new items/power-ups along the way.  However, this throws off the balance of the game because an item that you unlocked in the later stages of the game can now be used in the game’s earlier stages.  It is an artificial way to increase the game’s replay value by applying new bonuses to older levels.  Why can’t everything be unlocked from the start?

Although Groovin’ Blocks has a pretty straightforward approach to its gameplay, it does take quite a bit of skill to master.  Tetris veterans must learn to put on the brakes to their high speed piece droppings because speed isn’t necessarily the best tool to use.  Learning to drop your pieces to the beat will take some time to get used to, especially when each stage throws curve balls.  Right when you are getting into the 1-2-3 beat, the game might slow down to a rhythm with half or quarter notes.  Because of this, memorization is also a handy tool to use when going for new high scores.

Like Guitar Hero and Rock Band, Groovin’ Blocks also contains a built-in Calibration Mode in case your TV’s response rate seems a bit off.  On the other hand, it is most unfortunate that there is no online multi-player and no online leaderboard options.  This is a shame because it definitely requires skill to obtain high scores.  It sucks to be limited by your own console.  There is, however, both co-op and Vs modes for same-console multiplayer. 

As far as I can tell, there really isn’t a noticeable difference between the WiiWare version and this disc based version.  When the developers released the WiiWare version, their major hindrance was file size.  Because the game is based around music, each of the game’s tracks had to be compressed to be a suitable downloadable Wii title.  Now that the disc space opens up some new avenues, the developers were able to allow for higher quality musical tracks.  They also claim to have added a few new special effects into the game.  But are these minor upgrades worth an extra $12 plus tax over the WiiWare version?  Absolutely not.  Why would I buy a game that costs more than double its original price for only minor and barely noticeable upgrades?  They claim to have added enhanced musical tracks, but why couldn’t they add a demo video tutorial if file space was freed up?  Or why couldn’t they add WiFi functionality?  At the very least, if WiFi leaderboards were introduced, it could have justified at least some of the price increase. 

At best, Groovin’ Blocks is an average puzzle game.  But considering this game now costs more than double its original price just to be played off a disc instead of a downloaded format is pretty ridiculous, especially due to the lack of new features.  If you feel the need to play a puzzle game based around techno-style music, then check out the WiiWare version…unless you are planning on selling it back to Gamestop. 

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