Pipe Mania Review
For the most part, puzzle titles have had their day in the sun, although they remain a mainstay of the handhelds. Even so, this doesn’t stop publishers from releasing simple, budget-priced titles for consoles that appeal to the masses, especially those who are looking for a fun way to pass the time during the dreary winter days. This is why games like Pipe Mania exist, and although it can’t compete with the blockbusters currently available, the price tag and straightforward fun factor make it worthy of your attention. PSP owners commonly get the chance to play top-quality puzzlers (Lumines, Exit, Mercury Meltdown, etc.), and while PS2 fans get some ports, the genre isn’t a staple of the console’s library. However, we always need games that we can play with our friends or significant others who don’t typically indulge in the interactive hobby, right? It’s a matter of perspective. You can look at it this way: while games like Resistance 2 can be wrapped and put under the tree, something like Pipe Mania can be an excellent stocking stuffer.
As is typically the case with most puzzlers, there isn’t much to say in regards to the graphics. However, we will say we’ve seen better-looking titles in the genre, as this old concept doesn’t receive much of a visual upgrade for its PS2 effort. Perhaps Empire Interactive could’ve taken a cue from puzzlers like Puzzle Quest, which create their productions with a liberal use of color and sparkly pizzazz. Granted, laying pipe isn’t exactly a glamorous endeavor – even if it’s in a video game – but they could’ve done more with the grids, backdrops, and special blocks and Treasures. It also would’ve helped if the grid and pipe pieces were bigger; too often we found ourselves squinting at the screen in order to determine the correct layout. This got especially tiresome in some of the tougher levels. On the other hand, because the visuals really aren’t a focal point, we’re not about to nitpick and claim that the graphical lacking is cause for concern. Most fans of the genre won’t have much of an issue, but even the veterans will have to notice that other puzzlers on the PS2 look much, much better.
The sound is a little better thanks to some average voice acting from the narrator and a decent soundtrack that fits the style. There’s too much repetition in the music, but we have yet to locate a puzzle game that doesn’t have this problem, and the bouncy, jaunty tunes are a perfect fit. The effects are simple and borderline generic, but much like the graphics, they don’t make or break the experience. In the past, we’ve found that despite the repeating soundtrack, we played enough of a puzzler to get one of those happy little pieces embedded in our brains. This didn’t quite happen here, but we at least appreciated the fact that the music matched the gameplay quite nicely. Some of the better effects occurred with the “bombing away” of pieces and other special sounds created specifically for added depth and diversity. Of course, they weren’t included for the sake of the sound; they were featured for the sake of the gameplay, which remains paramount in any and all games. But with the puzzlers, which don’t put much emphasis on the technicals, it’s even more paramount.
This premise first appeared back in 1989 and has since gone through several iterations on many different platforms. The idea is simple: you must lay down different pieces of pipe to allow the flow of “Flooze” to run cleanly from start to finish. The pieces consist of horizontals, verticals, a variety of elbow pieces, and several special pieces that can alter how you play the game. And although speed is a factor – the Flooze will begin running after a certain amount of time – it’s far more beneficial to create a longer pipeline. The longer it is, the more points you will score, and besides, any pieces you’re forced to discard causes you to lose points. There are bonuses to nail, Treasures to find, obstacles to avoid, tricky pipe pieces to contend with, and even annoying opponents who can break your carefully laid pipe. All of this works against you and there’s no denying that frustration is part of the game, but an intricate and completed path is appropriately satisfying. When you’re done, you can speed up the Flooze by pressing the R1 button, but remember, there’s no way to stop it once it has started!
The controls couldn’t be any easier. You just press any one of the face buttons to place a piece of pipe, you can destroy pieces by just trying to lay down a piece where an existing piece is, and you move around with the left analog stick. The key is to make sure there’s a partial path leading from the start point within the first 20-30 seconds; this way, the Flooze at least has somewhere to go in the early goings. Then, you have to try not to waste pieces, so you should get an idea of the path in your head. The style that worked best for us was to focus on the start, then focus on the end, then try to make an intricate middle, complete with pieces of pipe that run over each other, and hopefully hitting the bonus sections of permanent pipe. The obstacles and permanent pipe pieces can’t be bombed, and you’ll come across other unique pieces on the grid, like special valves that either increase or decrease the flow of Flooze. All of this comes together to create a relatively fun and addicting puzzle experience, although we were a little disappointed in Pipe Mania’s one-sidedness.
While most all games in this genre are straightforward, this one goes a little too far in that direction, and regardless of the situation, we ended up doing exactly the same thing in every level. There are over 70 levels available, and no matter how many different things Empire threw at us – oh look, crazy random pieces that keep changing shape until you place them! – we always just ended up placing pipe, discarding pipe, bombing pipe, and sometimes repairing broken pipe. There’s a good sense of urgency and the music picks up when the Flooze is approaching an open end of the path, and the fact that you can spill some Flooze and still emerge successful adds to the strategy. But it just got more tiresome than it should’ve, and the bland backdrops and boring story progression didn’t do anything to enhance the entertainment level. There are several different modes, but you can’t access them all immediately, and you’re forced to go through a beginning 8-level tutorial that’s almost entirely unnecessary. You’d think that between World, Arcade, Classic and a two-player Battle mode, there’d be enough to keep us satisfied for many hours.
Instead, we just got a little tired of Pipe Mania. There’s really nothing wrong with the game, per se, and perhaps it’s more of a personal preference, but this particular puzzler didn’t really do it for us. We can see more of an appeal in multiplayer, and the game did get more intriguing as time went on, but there just wasn’t a whole lot of, “hey, this is really fun!” It was more like, “yeah, okay…I get it.” Maybe now that the premise is nearly 20 years old, it’s either time to retire it or add more in the way of upgrades and enhancements. But like we said earlier, for puzzle fans, this game could make for a nice little gift around the holidays, especially if you’re willing to play along with the recipient. We’ll freely admit that a lot of this review is more subjective than anything else; the game itself functions just fine. But hey, that’s sometimes the nature of the review process.
11/3/2008 Ben Dutka