Name: Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure
Genre: Platformer, Puzzle
Platform: Nintendo DS
When Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure was revealed, gamers expected a Professor Layton clone. It wasn’t. When the first images were unveiled, gamers expected a Puzzle Quest clone. It wasn’t. In fact, there’s very little that Hatsworth can be accurately compared to. It features the platforming of a Mega Man and the puzzling of Planet Puzzle League, mixed together so seamlessly that it might be one of the smartest game designs in the past few years. In other words, it's best to leave the direct comparisons aside, and treat Hatsworth as its own brand of gaming, suited perfectly to the Nintendo DS.
Henry Hatsworth is a…unique protagonist. He’s a treasure hunter by trade, leader of the Pompous Adventurers Club by title, a gentleman by nature. He also happens to be a strange old man. In order to gain control of a mysterious, treasure filled realm, Henry sets off to find the legendary Golden Suit, which is said to have been donned by famous gentlemen throughout history. After discovering the first piece of garments, a shiny, golden derby, Henry opens a portal to the Puzzle Realm, and sets off to collect the rest of the wardrobe.
The story is downright ridiculous, with wonderful characters and a fantastic script. Seeing Henry argue with his main opposition, Leopold Charles Anthony Weaselby the Third, about the differences between “class” and “wealth” in Banjo Kazooie styled voice-acting is a hilarious, and the game’s characters are as memorable as they are silly. They are made even better by vibrant art style, which creates a wonderful, colorful world.
But all of this is meaningless if the gameplay doesn’t succeed. However, in order to fully understand how Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure plays you first need to understand how it works, and as mentioned earlier, it gets a bit confusing. EA has created a game that would be nearly impossible to have made on any other system without resorting to some of the gimmicks that befall many DS titles. Each screen has its own uses, so let’s break it down.
Let's start with the top screen, which controls most of the action. Henry Hatsworth is a fairly traditional video game character, with a few different forms and a typical array of melee, ranged, and wall jumping capabilities. In terms of platforming, The Puzzling Adventure starts easy but grows incredibly difficult, with very little time in-between. A wide variety of enemies stream from off-screen continually, and can be disposed of with either Henry’s sword or gun. While his melee attack usually remains the same, there are several different weapons that can be picked up to replace his typical ammo, giving him either bombs or a boomerang-type shot. When defeated, their bodies fall from the top to the bottom screen, becoming enemies in the Puzzle Realm.
Enemies falling leads us to the bottom screen, which controls the mysterious Puzzle Realm. Though it’s moving upwards continually, the top screen actually pauses while the bottom is being used. When in the Puzzle Realm, the gameplay requires players to match colored blocks to clear them as they slowly rise towards the top. Touch screen controls are allowed, but it’s simpler to use the D-Pad and buttons, rather than taking out the stylus every few seconds. Aside from typical blocks, enemies can inhabit the colored squares, with different enemies having different effects. Usually, they just grow angry eyes and need to be cleared, but some enemies change the blocks to skulls that need to be matched with other skulls. Even harder foes will become either immovable, resilient, or special blocks, creating an even more difficult puzzle mechanic. Items collected are also transported to the bottom screen, and all of the upgrades, from health to extra lives (represented, appropriately, by hats), need to be matched with appropriately colored blocks to trigger. This puzzler is framed by two meters, one representing the amount of time left in the Puzzle Realm and one showing Hatsworth’s special meter. As blocks are matched, both bars fill up, either giving Henry more time or filling his power.
Finally, now that it all makes sense, it's time to see how they interact. As stated earlier, Henry has three modes: old, young, and a robotic power suit. After taking too much damage, Henry will transform back to his elderly form, which has less maximum health. This is where the special meter from the Puzzle Realm comes in to play. After filling it one time, Henry becomes his younger self, which has two more hearts and is a bit more powerful. When that bar is filled a second time (to completion), the professor can activate his robot suit, which decimates most enemies and makes him a force to be reckoned with. Shooting also takes from the special meter, and the Puzzle Realm can be entered when a shot is in mid-air to enhance the shot with more power. Players also need to keep a tab on the actual enemies on the bottom screen, because they are reincarnated as savage, annoying blocks if they reach the top.
It might sound complicated, and truth be told, it sort of is, but it works well in practice. Switching between the screens is simple, and the way they interact is nothing short of brilliant. Everything is interconnected, nothing feels heavy-handed, and before long, there’s a sense of exhilaration when being overwhelmed on both screens, especially considering the fact that they compliment each other so well. It’s orchestrated chaos at its best, and is a brilliant use of both genres.
While the Puzzle Realm can often feel like a fail safe, that doesn't mean there isn't a challenge. On the contrary, Henry Hatsworth has quite a difficult journey. From the colorful appearance it would be easy to write the game off as a casual title, but the difficulty curve - especially on the last few worlds - is jarring. Nonstop swarms of powerful enemies with complimentary attack patterns make the combat-heavy sections incredibly frustrating, and some of the boss battles border on downright infuriating. For some, this might be a godsend, as there's a definite shortage of truly difficult platformers on the market, but for others, it might be enough to justify snapping the DS in two.
I'd wholly recommend resisting that urge, and continuing through the game. While there are definitely many that will be turned off by the difficulty, there's more than enough fun to justify picking up Henry Hatsworth in the Puzzling Adventure. It's charming, innovative, and although flawed, simply brilliant. A multiplayer mode of some kind would be appreciated, but even without it EA should be proud of this game, and gamers should be proud of them for making it. It's definitely different, a creative risk of sort, and they should be rewarded for taking it.