Friday, January 05, 2007

Tilelander Review

Tilelander, developed and published by Ludimate.
The Good: Innovative concept, easy to learn
The Not So Good: Extremely difficult, imprecise controls
What say you? A simple and effective idea but the game is very tough, partially due to sloppy handling: 5/8

With more media devices becoming available to the general public, game developers have branched out to create games for these new-fangled platforms. Mobile phones have developed into a very popular platform for simple, straightforward games that people can play on the go. Not surprisingly, puzzle games have proven to be a great fit for handheld devices, spanning all the way back to the success of Tetris on the Nintendo GameBoy. Tilelander is one of those simple puzzle games, which is available for Windows in addition to the mobile operating systems Pocket PC and Symbian. How will this game stack up against all of the other countless puzzles games out on the market?

Like most puzzle games, Tilelander features simplistic graphics that are intended to be easy to render and simple for the general public to comprehend. The game is very grid-like, mainly because it takes place on a grid. Tilelander does have a good range of color, but most of the maps are abstract, pixilated representations of objects or themes. Tilelander is one of those games where graphics are simply not the focus; the game does not look terrible by any stretch, but it also lacks any distinctive flair to make it stand out visually from the crowd. The sound is also plenty forgettable, so along with the graphics, Tilelander comes out as a plainly average title in these two departments.

The best thing about Tilelander is its unique mechanics. You clear a level by filling in areas with tiles that are drawn when you complete a border around an empty area. Filling in an area will kill all enemies that are located inside. It takes about two seconds to learn how to play the game, which is an essential component of pick-up-and-play titles. This also means that there are a number of different strategies you can use to win the game, and each individual map can be completed successfully using diverse tactics. Some players would rather isolate individual enemies, while others might strive to surround the entire gaggle of bad guys in one bold move (obviously this is more difficult). The controls consist of the four directional keys, and that’s it: perfect for adapting the game to a mobile device. You can control the game with the mouse, but I strongly discourage it, as it is very clunky to do so. There are over 70 levels to go through at varying difficulty levels, from arcade to hard. There are also items scattered around the maps that can be used to create new tiles or shoot at enemy units.

While all of these things should make Tilelander a fun game, there are some key points that prevent it from being so. First, the controls are not as precise as I would like. Movement usually lags behind user input, especially with the mouse. The game also moves very quickly, which makes precision movements required in a lot of the levels almost impossible at the default “normal” difficulty level. Things can be slowed down a bit on “easy” and “arcade,” but it’s still a tough task. Not only do the controls make Tilelander difficult, the game is very challenging to begin with. The enemies will only move when you move, but they still continue to shoot; since movement is required to complete any of the levels, this is a superfluous game rule. The enemies will continually eat away at the tiles you have placed, and they also love to travel along the edges of the maps, which makes it impossible to eliminate them. This is very frustrating, as you must wait for them to move back towards the center against or use the weapons scattered about the map (which are also difficult to use effectively). You are also only given three lives in the game, and since Tilelander is so difficult, you’ll go through them very quickly. I might not be an expert computer game player (I just play one on TV), but when I have a hard time passing level two on “normal” difficulty, something is wrong.

For a game with such a solid concept and focused towards a more general audience, it really surprised me how challenging Tilelander is; it’s really too difficult to recommend, unless you are adept at split-second maneuvering with less-than-responsive controls. While the graphics and sound won’t win any awards, the basic premise of the game should make Tilelander unique enough to rise above all of those Tetris, Breakout, and Space Invaders clones out there. Sadly, the game is just too hard to be much fun. The poor AI that seems to travel along the sides of the map (making it exponentially difficult to complete a map) and the controls don’t help matters at all. Tilelander is a puzzle game with a distinctive idea that falls short in the execution.