Sunday, April 03, 2011

Spring Up Harmony Review

Spring Up Harmony, developed and published by Frozax Games.
The Good: Simple mouse-driven gameplay, faster level completion, power-ups, bonus points for trick shots, some interesting physics-based layouts, real-time online score comparison, all levels unlocked
The Not So Good: Lack of difficulty, slow measured pace, few levels
What say you? A much improved version of the Peggle clone: 6/8

With the success of certain casual games comes a myriad of copycats hoping to cash in on the fervor. One of those causal games was Peggle, an addictive mix of pinball and breakout, which was followed by Spring Up, a derivative I frankly did not care for thanks to its lack of difficulty, slow pace, poor physics, and lack of tangible rewards. Well, the developer has taken this (and other) feedback and released a follow-up entitled Spring Up Harmony. Let’s see if my complaints have been rectified.

The graphics of Spring Up Harmony are pretty typical for a 2-D puzzle game. There are subtle effects like ball trails and animations in each level, and a minor celebration when a level is complete. The game certainly is not as rambunctious as Peggle (EXTREME FEVER), but the more relaxed look is, well, more relaxing. The puzzle elements consist of simple geometric shapes against black backgrounds, which might seem bland but it makes the pieces easy to identify. As for the sound, Spring Up Harmony contains appropriate effects that successfully accompany the on-screen action, along with a fine selection of music. Overall, Spring Up Harmony delivers exactly what I expect in a 2-D puzzle game.

Spring Up Harmony is a Peggle-inspired puzzle game where you shoot color-coded balls to knock down same-colored objects (the balls will bounce off other colors). It is a physics-based game that takes advantage of contact between objects as they fall and a number of other elements. There are only thirty-five levels, but they are all initially unlocked and annoying ones can be skipped. Thankfully, a lot of the puzzles are pretty inventive and varied in approach, sometimes involving moving objects or alternate gravity. Additional puzzle elements include vortices, fans, barriers, and transporters. Online scores are recorded for each level, which are downloaded and updated automatically as you play. I like how the game keeps track of your real-time level ranking and how many points you'll need to take the next spot. There is cooperative multiplayer, but only on the same computer and limited to five levels, where each player is responsible for eliminating two of the four colors. I’d like to see a level editor where aspiring designers can create their own physics-based brainteasers.

The objective is to launch a ball from the top of the screen, knock down seven highlighted objects along the way, and catch things in a bucket at the bottom of the screen for additional score and time bonuses. The game displays the trajectory to the first object, making initial aiming easy. You can also switch between two colors, depending on which blocks need to be eliminated. The choice seems to be randomized, though the game has the propensity to pick two colors you don’t need and cause the time limit to run out. Unlike before, you don’t need to tediously remove every block to complete the level (only seven) and there is a time limit to add some pressure; both of these additions are positive. The physics are also slightly improved, producing more bouncing and allowing for tricky long-distance shots.

Also new: bonus points for trick shots, like long-range hits, multiple hits, or cascades. The score multiplier also allows for high scores, increased by catching objects and hitting same-colored items each turn. You can also collect a number of temporary power-ups that fall when the highlighted blocks are hit: changing block colors, additional points or time, a safety barrier, a larger bucket, and some bad things (clearly indicated in red) like inverted controls. The pace is still leisurely, as you wait for blocks to drop as the timer ticks down. It’s also an easy game: I rarely got close to running out of time, only coming close when the randomly selected ball colors were not what I needed to pick off the final highlighted block. I would like to see a “challenge” mode with a more frantic pace that emphasizes trick shots over grinding. Still, it’s far better than it used to be when you had to remove each and every block. Spring Up Harmony would also benefit from a more significant bonus for finishing early: points-wise, it’s advantageous to strike a balance between eliminating a lot of blocks and shooting the blocks needed for level completion. As it stands, getting all seven highlighted blocks with your first seven shots results in an average score, a disappointment for such a skilled feat.

In essence, Spring Up Harmony is exactly what you want from a sequel: fixing the bad stuff. The major problems have been solved: it's a much less tedious game because you only need to hit seven key blocks to advance, and a timer makes you move a bit more quickly. The level of difficulty is still quite low: I rarely came close to running out of time, and the pace is quite relaxed as you wait for blocks to fall. The game only features thirty-five levels, but they are as varied as you can get when dealing with physics-based puzzles. Scoring involves a lot of bonuses for trick shots and combos, and your best efforts are automatically reported online as a replacement for online multiplayer. I'd still like to see more challenging options for veteran puzzle players, but overall the game should have appeal for the casual gaming audience. In all, Spring Up Harmony provides a better entry in the puzzle genre than its predecessor.