Tuesday, April 15, 2008

StoneLoops Review

StoneLoops, developed and published by Codeminion.
The Good: Simple controls, helpful interface, bonus levels add some variety, polished presentation, several powerups
The Not So Good: Mostly repetitive, home upgrades do not impact gameplay, unoriginal as a whole
What say you? Solidly executed, but there are already a bunch of games just like it: 5/8

Making a unique puzzle game these days is a tough job. Most of the good ideas have already been taken, so new developers need to either successfully enhance existing ideas or come up with truly original creations. We do see some great new ideas, but a majority of the games in the genre do tend to fall into one of several categories. StoneLoops is not alone, squarely falling into the “shoot balls to make matches” subcategory. Will it introduce new features to make a unique title?

Overall, the presentation of StoneLoops is quite good for a 2-D puzzle game. The graphics are detailed enough and represent their environment well. The best part of the graphics is the user interface, highlighted by the aiming cursor that displays the color you are currently aimed towards: this makes gameplay painless and easy for beginners. The effects are also pleasing, providing plenty of chaotic visuals when numerous matches are happening. StoneLoops certainly looks more polished than a lot of the puzzle games I receive. The sound in the game is along the same lines: appropriately powerful sound effects for matches and bonuses and fitting background music. I was pleased with both the graphics and the sound found in StoneLoops.

StoneLoops is very similar to another game I reviewed, Dragon, except that instead of shooting colored balls to make matches, you collect them first and then shoot them. That’s really the problem with it: the overall unoriginality of StoneLoops means you probably already have played a game similar to it, assuming you frequent the puzzle genre. The game comes with 75 levels scattered over five environments; there isn’t anything terribly different from setting to setting other than increasing difficulty. StoneLoops comes with three modes of play: classic where the snake (or whatever you want to call it) moves on its own, strategy where the snake only moves when you click (which actually tends to make the game easier), and survival that throws a whole bunch of stuff at you.

As the snake(s) make(s) their way down the path, you collect colored balls from them and then shoot them at other locations in order to make matches of three or more. You must clear an entire snake before it reaches the end of the level, and you advance once you meet a specified score quota. There is also a suite of power-ups to assist your ball destroying needs: most of these are powerful weapons intent on pure destruction or color-altering spells.

The dynamic of collection actually makes StoneLoops easier than previous games in the genre. Since removing balls can make matches as well, you can effectively make double the chains in the same amount of time. In fact, clearing snakes is pretty easy since you can just collect the remaining balls and then shoot them at another snake further up the path. This makes StoneLoops pretty easy to beat, at least until the difficult ramps up when the snake movement speed increases. Difficulty can also result from convoluted paths, making accessing desired parts of the snakes impossible. You cannot, however, ricochet shots to make additional bonuses, and more points are not rewarded for more difficult shots. There is some minor incentive to keep playing, as you earn more upgrades towards your “home,” but these upgrades don’t impact the gameplay at all so their inclusion is essentially superfluous. While bonus levels serve to vary the gameplay somewhat (the involve aiming for specific points on the game board), in general you will be doing the same thing over and over again, and those not inclined towards repetitive puzzle gameplay will tire of StoneLoops quickly.

It’s not that StoneLoops is necessarily bad (because it’s not), it’s just that there is a plethora of other games available that do essentially the same thing. In order to make a stand-out puzzle game, you need to have a unique hook and StoneLoops lacks this crucial feature. The presentation and controls are well-done, creating what most people would consider to be a fine puzzle game. The bonuses also keep things interesting and difficulty does ramp up at an adequate rate. Still, you can’t fight the feeling that you’ve done this before, and the somewhat unique “collect and shoot” game mechanic present in StoneLoops isn’t enough on its own to make the title stand out. If you’ve never played this kind of game and think you’d like it, then StoneLoops is not a bad place to start. However, most of those who have already played this type of game in several other iterations will find that StoneLoops doesn’t offer anything truly unique and it’s too little too late.