Art of Balance Touch! delivers a Zen-like experience to the 3DS.
Shin'en is known for their shooters, such as the recent 3DS title Nano Assault; however, in 2010 they released Art of Balance for WiiWare, a game remarkably different from their reflex-heavy shooters. Instead, Art of Balance provided an almost Zen-like experience with its relaxing balancing mechanics and tranquil backgrounds. Fast-forward a couple of years to Art of Balance's follow-up, Art of Balance Touch! While it doesn't add much to the overall formula, Touch! provides an addictive handheld experience that's hard to put down.
In each of Art of Balance Touch!’s 200 levels, the player is given numerous shapes they must use to form a stable stack. If they are unable to ensure the stability of the stack, the shapes fall into a small dish of water, and the player fails. While this mechanic sounds simple enough, the game introduces new shapes and obstacles as the player progresses through the eight worlds, which range from shapes that shatter when they reach their weight limit, to platforms that sink when a shape is placed on them. Additionally, the game throws in challenge levels that may add a timer, or force the player to stack to a certain height in order to complete the level. These little additions help make Art of Balance Touch! much more than just a simple stacking game. In fact, some of the later levels are rather difficult; a few even took me upwards of 50 tries to complete.
Yet, difficulty in games relying heavily on physics can often feel cheap if the mechanic is not exact. Luckily, Art of Balance Touch!’s physics feel spot-on, despite a few minor inconsistencies. These small problems rarely show up, but when they do, they can cause you to fail the level even if you have stacked the shapes properly. The glitches become a real problem in the game’s Endurance mode, as the player is given only three lives to complete as many levels as possible. So, while a glitch may not present a problem in Arcade mode, it can mean losing the chance to set a high score in Endurance mode.
Despite minor blemishes, the game shines in all other aspects, especially its presentation and controls. Art of Balance Touch!’s graphics are polished, and the 3D looks great, but it’s the subtle changes Shin’en made to the settings in different worlds that truly impress. Not only does each world have its own background and theme music, but the developer also went so far as to change the material of the dish and include different types of background decorations for each world. Of course, this all looks stunning in 3D. As for the controls, they work best when you use the touch screen to drag the shapes across the top screen and the L or R button to rotate them. Shin’en also included the ability to use the Circle pad for movement; however, this method is a bit too slow, especially during timed levels.
Overall, Art of Balance Touch! is a remarkable title, and one that would be hard not to recommend to any 3DS owner. It a polished experience, but also a great title to just pick up and play, and the added Endurance mode does a great job of extending the game’s life well after all the worlds have been completed.