Let’s start with a simple statement, ZENGAGE is pretty weird. Now every game up until now has been artistic in its minimalistic approach, but ZENGAGE decided to strike things from the rear end, with a heavy surrealistic art style. Before continuing on that subject, let’s go into its marketing campaign, where it was said to be the relaxing slide puzzle game of people's dreams. With “wistful graphics and mesmerizing sound” that “creates a surreal world that should be experienced by all puzzle game fans.” This description actually makes a very good point and was right on the mark, so bringing the focus to the visuals and sound is what should be done first. Yes, gameplay is coming last this time around.
The title (which also served as the game’s logo on the DSiWare Shop) is the first reason why one would start judging ZENGAGE for being surreal. A cross section of a human skull made out of electronic wires, currents, and a pair of scissors absolutely shows the game’s difference in artistic flavor. This could have easily thrown people off for simply being a white design against a black backdrop, but seeing the colorful animation from tapping the start button on the screen would definitely have changed those thoughts right away.
ZENGAGE’s use of colorful designs is unusually extensive, and it does this almost in spite of the other Art Style games normally having solid colors for their own backgrounds. The level select menu does make a great second point about this, by having twinkling white dots layered over a black background with the level’s central design in the center of the top screen. On its musical side, the screen has a low-pitched vibration sound that combines with a rhythm that resembles morse code. It may actually be morse code, and whether or not it is, the tune does lend itself a hand to feel unnerving.
Feels like a standard in a game that emphasizes surrealism, but its dreamy theme does pave the way for a handful of simple introductory puzzles. The clouds in the back shift slightly in place instead of moving across the screen; as an artistic effect, this was very likely to have been a contrast some of the more fluid and moving backdrops.
This one shows a few layers of rippling and trickling water. The music is mainly made up of this trickling noise, a slowly rising pitch, and a few chords that are laid out gently.
With a opening in the forest canopy, there is a catchy thirteen-note melody accompanied by a few cricket chirps.
Japan’s iconic mountain and summit are presented as such with their normal and reflected perspective (provided by one of the Fuji Five Lakes). The music features a distant horn with descending ringing noises that overlap each other, in turn sounding like they go down forever.
This is where the thematic approaches start to lean further towards the abstract. The music sounds dimly-lit and seems to resemble water streaming down from the top of a waterfall.
While hundreds of atoms scroll forward in the background, there are dissonant sounds with their own resolutions as well. The sounds are created by what sounds like a guitar, and yet clearly isn’t one.
The design for Mother is more of a version of Atom with a reddish tint, possibly the design of a Shock Bomb (discussed below). A lady sings to a soothing wave of sound for the level’s song.
A white ripple that emanates out from the center that resides on an empty screen. The music is not very noteworthy, and neither is the background design in the first place, but the sound effects make up for this. As one is sliding the tiles around, exploding bombs, dropping cores off of the screen, and any making other sound effects like these, they are echoed.
A few shiny sparkles move around in the back, and a glockenspiel slowly harmonizes and creates a melody with the low-pitched, crispy and crunchy twinkling noises of crystals.
Stars move forward from the background, there are only a few boops and beeps that leave the theme to feel like the vast and mostly empty universe.
After beating the main game, there are three last levels, and each of them are very abstract, not leaving much to be interpreted by the player. Somni refers to the Japanese title of the game, and the Latin word for dream, SOMNIUM. The back has a pleasing kaleidoscope design and a staticky flute playing along.
Similar in design to Somni (and Omega), the song has a loud wave that is followed by a mallet instrument for its harmony. A truly relaxing and ambient theme.
Very familiar tune that sounds like a rendition of a classical piece. Accessing its easter egg allows the song to take on a more 8-bit form that slowly distorts itself more and more until it backs off altogether.
Yes, ZENGAGE does have its own set of easter eggs that remain easy enough to access, but aren’t really made known to an unexpectant player. After waiting for one minute, the theme will be changed slightly, and generally becomes more relaxing. Five minutes will make the puzzle and heads-up display disappear, leaving the background designs to be seen in their entirety. Ten minutes will completely alter the theme where it may become its quietest or most relaxing. Twenty minutes seems to change it again, but only on the last three themes, which keep changing after the first ten minutes either way.
Themes like “Forest” receive a minimalist backbeat while some of the others receive a soothing music box tune. “Universe” features a cameo by playing the satellite theme from ORBITAL/ORBIENT. “Astral” initially starts off with a jazzy electronic solo before breaking out into a dizzying series of waves, bringing to mind how much fun the composer had when noodling on his keyboard.
In each level, there are also two items that may be won and put up on the top screen to admire in all of their cheap pixelated glory. The first item is won by completing five of the stages (also a passing grade to move to the next level), the second will replace the first and is won by finishing all nine of the stages in a level under the average number of moves. Examples include Gloom’s jellyfish, Atom’s owl, Universe’s Earth, and Sky’s origami crane.
Again, the backgrounds range from worldly simplistic to highly abstract, looping endlessly in their full-motion video existence. They are all shown in a very low quality, but this lends itself a hand by easily being faded into the background, as if it is very distant from where the puzzle takes place. They are wholesome in their appearance due to their smart use of color, well-set mood, and from showing a different angle of the game’s style.
The basic gameplay of ZENGAGE consists of sliding around the square-shaped “cells”, which can normally be slid in four directions. Sliding the colored cells under the like-colored cores (spherical) will finish the stage. Any cell that is slid will cause the entire column or row of cells to move along with it, causing the cells to loop within their white frames. Other things players are given include an undo button that can undo every move that has been done in a puzzle, right in the instance in was done, and a button that allows the cores to be hidden (showing the cells). These are the only actions the stylus ever performs in the 117 puzzles to be solved, but it throws a curveball with what can be done with the stages and each individual puzzle’s goals.
Special Cells and Cores
Bound Cells (introduced in River)
Nailed down cells that can’t be moved; neither can their rows.
Arrow Cells (Forest):
Cells that push cores over by one space in the direction shown, this also makes it possible for the cores to pass over the separate white frames in a puzzle.
Light Arrow Cells (Fuji):
Arrow cells that can only be used once before becoming inactive.
Blank Cores (Fall):
A white core that can be used to push other cores around and is not necessary to beat a level with.
Ice Cell / Block Cores (Atom):
The ice will continue to slide a core in its direction of travel, and the block cores can not be moved, but will use up a light arrow cell if one is placed under it.
Shock Bomb / Count Bomb (Mother):
The bombs explode in four directions and will rid the burnt areas of any cores and block in its way (cores that are burnt or knocked over the edge of the puzzle will result in a failure, which may be undone or reset entirely). Shock bombs explode on contact while Count bombs only explode after a set number of moves - which are written on the bomb’s timer.
Unlock Switch (Gloom):
When any core or bomb is resting on top of a switch it will affect the entire level. This switch will permit a bound cell to be moved.
Cycle Switch (Shine):
Available in a left 90°, right 90°, and 180°. These will rotate an arrow switch, and may have more than one switch on at once.
Connect Switch (Universe):
Unites the separated areas by removing the white frames of a puzzle.
There are three credits with differing musical themes. The first makes use of drum and synth samples, the second has a “haha” sound sample instead, and the last one has 8-bit screeches like the ones heard on the title.
The puzzles themselves are not easy, but follow ever-changing logical approaches that make it possible to beat a stage when you realize what steps the player needs to take in order to beat it. If you enjoying the sound effects from BASE 10, then you’ll like what ZENGAGE has on offer. Sounds include clicks, phone-dialing beeps, and a host of synthesized sounds that mask the game with a modern, yet old ‘60s-like interface.
All of the levels and their stages have easily distinguishable personalities, despite appearing to be so minimal in taste. More than 100 stages gives players plenty of tricky puzzles to solve, and does so by using its heavy surrealist charm, a trait that isn’t even seen in long-established logic puzzle franchises like Jupiter’s Picross series. Do be aware of the fact that really only puzzle game lovers will enjoy this, otherwise individuals will probably find themselves not thinking about what they are doing or even trying to do anything. As a result, this was given the most critical rejection, and lowest sales of any Art Style title.
precipice did not see extremely high critical feedback like PiCTOBiTS, but it was well regarded for its oblique approach to the action-puzzle genre. It takes many assets that were used in CUBELLO earlier, specifically the cubes, font, and menu tiles, but now hands players a way of using the cubes to climb upwards. A smart way of reusing these assets and saving the costs to produce brand new ones this was, sure, but other the games used their own assets, so the nomination of “Game of the Year” and “Best Puzzle Game” in Nintendo Power’s 250th volume must have been for a reason.
Again, the basic gameplay is climbing up a set of floors using cubes. These cubes enter the playing field falling from the sky above after a shadow on the ground grows for a few seconds. The stack stays on screen by shedding its bottommost floor every now and then, keeping the pace by requiring the player to check for shadows above and a rising layer of darkness on the bottom floor. If one doesn’t look alive while on the lowest floor, the blocks will drop the player and immediately cause a game over. Being crushed by a falling block will also deplete a sizable portion of your life meter, which will cause a game over if the meter is less than half full when hit.
Climbing up one cube is the same as climbing up one floor, which is why there is a floor indicator that was designed like a nifty graduated cylinder in the game's main mode. The player can only climb up one cube at time, but may drop down from any height as long as there is a cube to land on. Cubes may be pushed forward and pulled backwards by facing the block that needs to be grabbed and pressing B. This handy maneuver is used to push blocks down a floor or off the tower entirely. Only the topmost cubes of a stack of them maybe pushed, and they can not be pushed when another cube is behind. If the player does need to send a row of cubes off the screen, a Cube Blast may be used with the Y button, which gets the character’s loud “HYAH” and a shove to push out the cubes.
Bomb cubes are a special type of cube that will be defused when stood on top of, this is how cube blasts are received. If they do explode, a 3-by-3 radius will open up and swallow all of cubes and stacks that surround the bomb. When in range, the player will fall down and get a game over just as if it were the bottom floor peeling off. If necessary, a good potential trick to use would be to grab the bomb cube to keep it from exploding. The normal cubes change color and dish out points when stepped on, the points are only in the main mode, and both points and color are a one time deal for the individual cube. The constantly color-changing cubes are energy cubes; they fill up lost health. The life meter that depletes after being crushed, also depletes slowly over time. If it is completely empty, the character still won’t die until crushed, but before that will stop to pant after every step that is taken.
As you can see, there is a great deal of pick-up-and-play gameplay variety, and as a result of this there are only two game modes. The first and major mode is called “TEN FLOORS”, and it's basic idea is all about climbing up gradually filling 5-by-5 floors, scoring as many points as possible, and reaching the tenth by stepping on one of the white goal cubes. The goal cubes can never be pushed, pulled, or shoved, but usually, by the end you’ll just be trying to stay alive instead of trying to earn extra points. The bottom screen shows the current score and highest score as expected, but also throws in a bonus rank meter. These bonuses are triggered by stepping on a row of five cubes; the more cubic bonuses there are at a time, the higher the color and point value a cube will bank you. These bonuses are not at all permanent, and so the dropping floors and bomb cube explosions can remove them. The meter shows the highest bonus that has been earned, and this is reflected on results screen, which plays a movie based on that highest bonus. The number of times a certain bonus has been the highest is also recorded here.
The second mode is, as expected, endless. The mode is called “TOWER”, and the reasoning for this is pretty clear: it never stops ascending, and it is all based on a 3-by-3 floor. Some gameplay aspects to note are ones such as the floor flashes. These are triggered by stepping on all nine of the cubes on a floor, and will completely refill your health once that has been done. Because of the ever-present opportunity of flashing the floor, the energy cubes do not heal very much at all. Bomb cubes are also a much larger threat, since they now may take away as little as four cubes from the screen to as many as the entire field.
The results or game over screen in “TOWER” provides detailed statistics as for what went on during the game. The highest floor reached this game (FLOOR), the highest floor ever reached (RECORD), the number of cubes that fell onto the screen (TOTAL CUBES), the number of cubes pushed of the edge of the floor, the total steps taken, completed floor flashes, and number of times crushed by a cube are all marked for shits and giggles. The bottom screen even has an Eiffel Tower that shows the altitude that was climbed in meters.
precipice does have an isometric view, despite not being in real 3-D, that makes it easier to view all of the cubes onscreen. As such it is necessary to spin the viewing angle 90 degrees by pressing the L and R buttons. The game can also be viewed from a slightly more topdown and zoomed-in perspective by pressing and holding the X button.
Relax Rooms are a separate way of viewing the movies that play after playing through “TEN FLOORS”. The ending, of which is unlocked after unlocking all of the movies, may also be watched here. The movies are a bit strange in that they show the player character (who can be rotated with L and R) doing some kind of action, but the actions are mimed since whatever the character is touching can not be seen. Of the nine rooms, plus the ending there are: Orange: the man eats chips on his sofa while watching TV; Yellow: the man does some warmup stretches, but then strains himself doing so; Light Green: coffee maker in the morning; Green: the guy washes his face while taking a shower; Light Blue: he is eating noodles in public (?); Blue: he rides the commuter rail on his way work while the birds chirp in the early morning; Purple: he relaxes in an onsen; Pink: he sips a drink from his refrigerator; Red: he is using a massage chair. The ending itself has the man brushing his teeth and getting ready for bed.
The style of the game brings to mind the PlayStation 3 exclusive endochrome, but its comical senses do also relate themselves to WarioWare. The background music features catchy techno pop, and the gameplay makes swift and enjoyable light out of Zelda’s bland and iconic block-pushing puzzle gimmick. The Relax Rooms feature a wide range of realistic and humorous sounds with a very high audio quality to them. precipice’s title screen features an oboe solo while a vocoded voice repeats the name of the game, and this same voice goes a bit crazy during the very short, minute-long credits scene.
The “random chance” presented in each game does allow for high replayability, but also reveals its major flaw; the best line bonus you can ever really get in “TEN FLOORS” is at the beginning, making some of those Relax Room movies pointlessly tricky to receive. While “TEN FLOORS” starts out just a bit too difficult, “TOWER” starts out ridiculously easy.
The game is very short, and relatively easy to complete, but the replay value and artistic charm is very high. Who doesn’t get a kick out of seeing the man cheer at the end of “TEN FLOORS”, or the four notes that play on every menu selection only to repeat themselves from the beginning or from right where they left off last time? It’s just quick arcade fun like this that can make a game so lovable.
The remake of DIGIDRIVE was still named DIGIDRIVE, unless you were in Europe where it would be called INTERSECT. Q-Games had been busying themselves with the DSiWare platform, and they had made Trajectile, Starship Defense, and X-Scape as a result. It made plenty of sense to rework DIGIDRIVE into a title for the Art Style lineup after all of the work Skip had been putting in on the successor series to bit Generations.
The gameplay was left unchanged; it is still the good ol’ serving of sorting shapes into their own lanes, maximizing the fuel these cars produce, and then shooting the puck far away from the spike that will end the game the second it makes contact.
I’ll just stick by a similar pattern similar to what was said about ORBIENT; if you haven’t read the original DIGIDRIVE portion of the bit Generations article I recommend that you do take a good look at that if you want to read about some of the gameplay mechanics and controls in detail.
Time to note the differences and improvements. There are two demos and both of them serve as written tutorials for the game’s “ENDLESS” and “VS”; handy for noting some of the finer details that players would not pick up right away, which is unlike just watching the wordless one from the GBA version. The only controls that have been added are the L and R buttons, which can be used alongside the B button for the use of items in “VS”.
“TOUCH MODE” is the only real addition to the gameplay and does exactly what it implies, the player can play using the DS’s touchscreen to guide the shapes into their lanes. The other major differences between the normal “ENDLESS” mode and this one are the screens being flipped, since tapping on the puck and spike probably wouldn’t do much anyways. The mode also makes use of Sparks.
Sparks are only used in “TOUCH MODE” and differ from the attack cars by allowing the user to send out fuel simply by tapping on the fuel cell. They are received in the same fashion as the attack cars (Overdrive and increasing puck height), also leaving the random attack cars as a potential, although uncommon in the player’s favor, outlet for shooting the puck higher.
“VS” is done through the DS Wireless Communications, and the problem this causes is the inability to have any other skin or songs to choose from, aside from the defaults. This could have been avoided if the game allowed for those with their own copies of the game to play.
This version of DIGIDRIVE does ultimately put itself through changes that do remove its previous tediousness. One of the best examples of this is the combos; a x10 circle was the maximum fuel that could be held, period. Here it is somewhere around a x25, but the greatest part is not having to wait for two minutes while the fuel is being shot at the puck, and instead it only takes around ten seconds. Where an improvement like that falls short is the overall difficulty which feels lowered compared to the original, you can play for a very short time and already be in the 100,000s while the spike is still slowly making its way over to the puck. In the GBA version, the possibility of having a plunger that ended the game within a few minutes, and a continue option that let you turn off the system and come back when ready to finish the game, mixed together oddly. If that had remained in the DS version it would have made just so much more sense.
The game has a medal system, bronze, silver, and gold. This is great for making it clear when the skins, music, and credits can be expected to be dished out after beating the CPU in “VS” or reaching a certain score in “ENDLESS”, as specified with them.
There are not around 30 to 40 skins like in the GBA version; there are only seven. These skins are somewhat like the “best of” when it comes to the smart choice of color each one provides: Standard, Deep Sea, Candy, 3-Dango, Caramel, Key Lime, and Red Coal. There are three themes (but you could say four since “Silence” actually sounds like its own theme): “Traffica”, a groovy electronic dance track with a few touch ups that make it sound almost experimental; “Abysso”, a glitchpop track; “Savanoia”, a track that starts out with the subtle vocoded roars and chirps of various animals, and later breaking out into some funky lyricized samba.
Toshiyuki Sudo managed to take atmospheric aesthetics that were present in the score on the GBA, and completely flipped them on their heads. Now it’s a completely different atmosphere that restrains itself from stealing all of the glory from the original (except for the fact that it did with its localization).
The credits are an awesome representation of this; they start by featuring relaxed techno rhythms while a woman’s voice calls out the geometric shapes that hold fuel as it slowly segues into the credits theme from the initial release.
DIGIDRIVE is the strangest remake out of the three that exist from the series in that it adds nothing of real value. It completely changes everything the style had going for it as a bit Generations title, and this is a very good thing, and not at all a problem.