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DS

North America

Polarium

by Jonathan Metts - April 15, 2005, 12:00 am PDT

7.5

If you want to boost my score, it matters if you’re black or white.

When I say that Polarium is one of the simplest games I’ve ever played, I mean that as both a compliment and a criticism. As puzzle games go, simple is usually the way to go, and Polarium’s gameplay is definitely easy to get into. The game’s incredibly simple presentation can be distracting though, especially on the audio front.

The basic idea of Polarium is that black and white blocks are all mixed up, and you need to draw a line over them to reverse their polarity to the opposite color. When a whole horizontal row is the same color, it is cleared off the screen. You can earn extra points by clearing multiple rows with one continuous line, wherein lies most of the strategy. Adding even more depth is the outer frame, which lets you draw the line around blocks and come back into the playing field at a different location.

Polarium’s two main modes take very different approaches to the basic play mechanics. Challenge mode plays like Tetris, with rows of blocks continually falling down as you try to clear them out before they stack up to the top of the upper screen. This mode can seem incredibly difficult at first, but with a little practice, the simple patterns start to emerge, and you’ll be able to blow through the first 100 lines with ease. After that, blocks start falling more randomly and more frequently, and your chances to remove several rows at once become slim indeed. Challenge mode is definitely intense and interesting for a while, but it has two fairly significant problems. First, it fails to get into your brain on such a level that you can zone out and play on instinct as is possible in other, superior action/puzzle games. Second, there’s no way to skip ahead to the harder sections, so you have to start from the very easy beginning section every time you play.

Puzzle mode presents you with a non-scrolling field of blocks, and there is no time limit. The goal is to clear out the entire playing field with one continuous line. The one hundred devious pre-made puzzles, which unlock in sets of ten, are often brilliant in design, requiring you to learn the underlying rules of the game (for instance, you can draw vertically but not horizontally from one color to the other). Two optional hint systems can point you towards the solution: the upper screen shows the last path you tried, and suggested start and end points will be marked after a certain amount of time. There’s a great sense of satisfaction when you finally solve a really nasty puzzle. With the puzzle editor, you can create and store your own evil designs, then send them wirelessly to other Polarium owners or even translate them into passwords for trading online, a la Animal Crossing.

Speaking of wireless, Polarium has both single-card and multi-card features. The main difference is that you can send custom puzzles wirelessly to friends who have their own copies of the game. The downloadable version includes the tutorial, ten sample puzzles, and the versus mode. The latter is played with the DS turned sideways, so the wide-format screens can be better used to approximate the tall vertical space normally shown across both the top and bottom screens; of course, the opponent’s playing field is shown on the other screen. Versus mode is based on the single-player Challenge mode, but there are some power-ups added to heat up competition.

What Polarium makes up in gameplay, it lacks in presentation. The graphics are even simpler than is warranted for the two-color gameplay. Menus in particular literally look like something that could have been done on the NES, blocky text and all. Then there’s the music, techno-ambience stuff that fits the gameplay fine, but there are only two songs in the whole game! They definitely get old after a while, at which point you’ll want to turn down the volume and listen to something else.

Of course, that stuff is quite superficial and ultimately not very important. Gameplay is king, especially for a puzzle game, and Polarium does a great job at being fun and accessible and even mildly addicting. The Challenge mode is temporarily amusing, if less than fantastic, but Puzzle mode has enough brain twisters to keep you busy for a long time. There are some great wireless features to play with, too.

Score

Graphics Sound Control Gameplay Lastability Final
3 3 8 8 7 7.5
Graphics
3

In a way, it's nice to see that Nintendo has given Mario Paint fresh life as a middleware utility for Nintendo DS development.

Sound
3

Decent techno songs, but they wear out much too quickly.

Control
8

Polarium is played entirely with the stylus. Drawing lines works well enough, even when you’re trying to be fast. It’s too hard to partially untrace a line if you make a mistake; often you’ll flip the tiles accidentally, and the cancel touch-button makes you start the line over from the start. It’s rarely a problem, though.

Gameplay
8

Polarium isn’t going to give Tetris a run for its money, but it is a very well designed puzzle game, especially in the more deliberative Puzzle mode. Challenge mode is fun for a while, but eventually it starts to feel shallow and repetitive.

Lastability
7

It’s too bad that Challenge mode isn’t more interesting, but the one hundred pre-made puzzles will take quite a while to work through. The puzzle editor is a great feature, especially since you can send puzzles to friends either through a local wireless connection or across the world with passwords. There’s also a cool versus mode that can be played even with a single game card.

Final
7.5

Not a must-own, but puzzle fans will definitely want to check out Polarium. It offers a completely new idea that is very well executed, all at the touch of a stylus.

Summary

Pros
  • Interesting and engaging gameplay concept
  • Password puzzle trading
  • Tons of evil pre-made puzzles
  • Very nice wireless features
Cons
  • Challenge mode is rather clunky
  • Horrific interface graphics
  • Only two songs!
Review Page 2: Conclusion

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Chokkan Hitofude Box Art

Genre Puzzle
Developer MITCHELL
Players1 - 2

Worldwide Releases

na: Polarium
Release Apr 18, 2005
PublisherNintendo
RatingEveryone
jpn: Chokkan Hitofude
Release Dec 02, 2004
PublisherNintendo
RatingAll Ages
eu: Polarium
Release Mar 11, 2005
PublisherNintendo
Rating3+
aus: Polarium
Release Mar 24, 2005
PublisherNintendo
RatingGeneral

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