Sunday, August 19, 2007

Venice Review

Venice, developed by Retro64 and published by PopCap Games.
The Good: Unique gameplay, intuitive mouse control, multiple game modes, decent number of levels
The Not So Good: Monotonous level design, no level editor
What say you? The innovative mechanics go a long way in making this a distinct puzzle game, but it’s too repetitive: 6/8

So, who was silly enough to build their city in the middle of a swamp? Why, the people of Venice, of course! The extraction of subsurface freshwater has caused the city to sink (not an isolated problem: the San Joaquin Valley sunk 30 feet in 50 years). Now, we need a computer game that combines the action-packed world of land subsidence with matching shapes: Venice has answered the call. Venice (the game, not the city) lets you shoot shapes to match empty voids around each of the game’s levels. Will Venice (the game, not the city) push the innovative boundaries of puzzle games, or unceremoniously sink into the deep blue sea?

Venice features average graphics for the puzzle genre. The game is rendered in 2-D; while it takes advantage of its location with some distinctive background visuals, they become too repetitive and most of the puzzle elements are simple blocks instead of injecting some variety into the visuals. Nothing about the graphics is terribly exciting, and the few effects present in the game are underwhelming. It is easy to identify the appropriate shapes for each of the voids, and the user interface is useful as the cursor displays the currently loaded piece. Still, while the graphical design isn’t bad, it’s not innovative or original either. The sound in Venice is along the same lines: some OK music and effects that keep the tempo up, but, again, nothing innovative or original. In the end, everything about the presentation in Venice is terribly average.

The object of Venice is to shoot various jewels into their corresponding holes. The holes are located on various rotating ovals, triangles, bricks, and other spinning objects to increase the difficulty. This mechanic is innovative and different enough to inject some originality into the puzzle genre. The jewels are distinct enough where the places they fit are pretty obvious, so it’s just a matter of timing it correctly. Control is done with the mouse, so all you need to do is click on the location and the loaded jewel will be shot up the screen. Once you complete a set of puzzles, you’ll move on to the next set. The gondola you control can hold two treasures at a time that can be switched with the right mouse button if you don’t like your current choice. The controls in the game are easy to learn and are appropriate for any age or skill level.

There are some wrinkles added to the game to make it more than a simple matching game. If you match a jewel high up on the screen, it can tumble down to nearby holes of the same kind. Of course, it’s more difficult to hit ones higher up as they may be blocked by various obstacles. Venice combines Breakout-style games and matching games in a pretty good package, although the mechanics don’t change much throughout the game. The plates remain the same assortment of shapes (circle, X, T, bars) and the difficult doesn’t really increase too terribly much throughout the game. As you progress through the game, the number of objects trying to impede your shots increases, but never to the point of being too difficult or annoying. These obstacles include bumpers, locks, brittle bricks (that can be destroyed), chutes, and teleports. The level design is dull, repeating the same elements over and over again. Once you’ve seen the first couple of levels, you’ve seen the rest of them.

Venice includes a number of power-ups that you can earn that make playing the game easier, at least temporarily. Power shots can ignore obstacles, wild shots can fill any hole they come into contact with, and angel wings allow you to sit right on top of holes instead of having to shoot from the bottom. These add a bit of variety to the game, making it more than a simple matching game for periods of time. I like the originiality of the gameplay, but the repetition wears on you after a while and I doubt that most people will be entertained for the duration. There are multiple game modes available, though. The main Journey mode is untimed and good for new players. You do get penalized for not catching unmatched jewels as they fall towards the water. Flood mode adds time restrictions, Survival mode adds endurance, and the Trick Shot mode concerns, well, tricks shots. Overall, Venice is an original game, but it becomes boring after a while due to the dull level design. The lack of a level editor doesn’t allow the community to make varied levels, either. Every new level is essentially the same as the level before and Venice doesn’t add any new mechanics or changes to the gameplay, other than adding more obstacles or more complicated plates containing the cut-outs. Thus, even though Venice is original, it doesn’t do enough to keep you interested throughout the game.

Venice has a good idea for a puzzle game and almost successfully executes it. The basic mechanics are initially interesting enough to make you want to play for the first set of levels, but the repetitive level design and lack of new or interesting elements as you progress through the game hinders Venice’s overall enjoyment. The user interface and controls makes Venice easy to everyone to control and the various game modes makes the gameplay at least a little different. The power-ups also vary the experience, making for some cool combos when you tumble pieces and plan correctly. Still, the level design doesn’t allow for much variety so Venice’s appeal will be limited. I will commend Venice on its unique nature, but the game doesn’t to enough to keep interest high throughout the game.