Friday, June 22, 2012

Ziro

Dice and Air Hockey, Together at Last.
Review By Roel.
The puzzle game market is a tough egg to crack.  The recent flood of casual software included a few standout gems, but with so many knock-offs and carbon copies, it’s often hard to discern the good from the bad.

Some games try to set themselves apart by having a unique aesthetic (QuantZ), while some mesh other genres together in an attempt to be unique (Puzzle Quest).  Ziro is a brain-taxing dice-math game with a “Stop global warming!” message delivered by a battle-hardened snowman mascot.  True story.

Ziro looks simple, but claiming that it is would be a boldfaced lie.  Each level is a board filled with dice, ice, and… blocks.  Different boards are set against varying world region-based backdrops; you travel around the world and solve dice puzzles, basically.

Slide the dice around on the board, and when you get two next to each other, you can combine them together.  This will either add or subtract the dots on the dice together, depending on the number.  I think the cutoff for the adding/subtracting is… nine dots?  Something like that.

And here’s a glaring problem right off the bat: lack of direction.  The gameplay instructions will appear exactly once at the beginning of the very first level, and then they will disappear into obscurity forever.  Click too fast?  Missed it.

But surely it will reappear when I restart the level, right?  No.  Have fun!  The same issue arises with each new block/play mechanic introduced, but you will, hopefully, pay closer attention next time so you don’t have to restart the game from the beginning.  A simple help message backlog would do wonders.

And then there’s the difficulty level.  Man, oh man.  Some of these puzzles are a doozy.  The game actually has three different difficulty levels, but they all have the same puzzles.  The difference is that Easy has no time limit, Medium has a generous one, and Hard has a short time limit.

The higher levels and faster times net you more points, and will get you on the (admittedly sparse) worldwide leaderboard.  In fact, the very first time I played the first level on Hard, I topped the worldwide leaderboard because you earn so many more points on Hard than on the lower difficulties.  Also, looking over the worldwide scores, you will discover that not a single person has completed all 300 (!) puzzles.

The controls are also kind of clunky, and it took some fiddling with the resolution before I found one that enabled my mouse cursor to move faster than molasses (went with 800X600).  It really doesn’t affect the graphics, which are interesting enough for a puzzler, and the variety in the globe-trotting settings gives each level a unique look.

It may sound like I’m being a bit down on the game, what with the initial disorientation, clunky controls, and high difficulty level (which many gamers may see as a challenge instead of a flaw).  However, none of these things can hide the fact that Ziro is incredibly addictive, and each completed level makes you feel like a genius for (finally) figuring it out.

This is a game that works well a few minutes at a time, or you can sit down and play for a couple of hours.  Or at least until you get stuck.  My favorite method was to play until I just couldn’t proceed, then come back later.  Usually, my mind worked out the solution in Ziro‘s absence, and I was able to advance.

Luckily, there’s roughly forty minutes of super funky music to accompany your mind games.  It has a quaint Midi-style flair to it that reminds me of the old game Zoop.  Forty minutes might not sound like a lot, but it’s 100% quality stuff.

The snowman mascot is fun, too, although I’m still not sure exactly what he’s all about.  In between some levels, he’ll pop up under your end-of-level score with helpful advice to reduce global warming and our carbon footprint, saying things like “Carpool!”, or “Convert your car to biofuel!”, or “Ride yo’ bike, n00b!”

It’s all good advice that people have nonetheless been spewing since the days CFCs were banned.  Still, it’s neat to see an environmentally friendly game company.  They even went the ultimate wallet-friendly route by making the game downloadable for only $9.99.

In the end, Ziro has its flaws.  However, its addictive nature and the smile that you’ll get on your face every time you (barely) manage to figure out a level more than make up for them.  Any puzzle game fan would be remiss to pass on one of the best “just one more level”-type games in recent memory.

NAME: ZIRO
SYSTEM: PC

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