Puzzle games may be a dime a dozen in this age of video games, but very few are able to perfectly encompass the simple but addictive formula necessary for creating a memorable game in the genre. Classics like Tetris and Dr. Mario are still well-known today because of this, while others fall painfully short. Droplitz, the first Atlus-published game on the Xbox Live Arcade, definitely gets the addictive part right. Taking inspiration from another old-school puzzle game, Pipe Dream, Droplitz adds some new ideas and challenges to the classic gameplay. The result, while a bit confusing at first, is actually infectious and challenging.
There are four gameplay modes in Droplitz, and a certain high score must be achieved in each before moving on to the next. At first, only Classic is available, which allows you to get a feel for the gameplay. As I stated earlier, Droplitz is comparable to Pipe Dream (or, for those too young to remember Pipe Dream, the hacking mini-game in BioShock). Instead of a steady stream of goo, however, tiny drops of liquid leak from droppers at the top of the screen, and a bar on the left lets you know how many Droplitz you have left. At the bottom, collectors are waiting to scoop up the drops, but it’s up to you to rotate the dials into place, creating paths for Droplitz to move from top to bottom. Special dials can act as either droppers or collectors, giving you more options and adding another layer of strategy. Every time a path is created, special Droplitz appear, and when all of these have been depleted, the dials used to create paths disappear and new ones fall into place. Meanwhile, every time a drop of liquid hits a dead end, your Droplitz level falls; when the Droplitz are depleted, the game is over.
If you don’t know what’s going on, this can seem a bit nonsensical at first. It takes a bit of time to get the hang of it, as well as rotating dials into place quickly enough to create paths and gain score combos. Zendurance, the second game mode, is similar to classic, but ups the difficulty with a larger game area and more dials. Power-up, which is unlocked after Zendurance, offers some variety by throwing, you guessed it, power-ups into the mix. These can freeze or slow down the ever-depleting Droplitz, or get rid of a few useless dials by blowing them up. Infection, which is extremely hard to even unlock due to the massive high score you need in Power-up, keeps the special abilities and throws in some wonky, “infected” dials. In any game mode, it’s pretty challenging to stay alive for an extended amount of time, let alone get the high scores needed to move on. There were times when I thought I would never open the last two game modes, but managed to get into the groove (and had a bit of luck) enough to scrape by.
Like the rest of the game, the presentation of Droplitz is simple but effective. The background and visual theme change every few rounds, and the music is a soft techno beat that pulses increasingly louder when more paths are created. Between the visuals, audio, and gameplay, it is really easy to get sucked into Droplitz. In fact, when I first played it, an hour went by feeling like mere minutes—and that was before I had even figured out whether or not I liked the game. After spending more time with it, the fun factor is undeniable.
Of course, there are a few things that make Droplitz fall short of greatness. Maybe it’s just me, but I felt that the scores needed to unlock the last two gameplay modes were a bit brutal. I pushed forward because I felt it was necessary to review the game, but as I said earlier, there were times when I thought I would never get beyond Zendurance. I also think that some sort of multiplayer mode would have put Droplitz right over the top, making it a must-download puzzler. I know plenty of puzzle games have achieved classic status without any multiplayer, but if done right, it could have helped tremendously.
Droplitz may not be perfect, but the promise of an addictive puzzle game experience has definitely been fulfilled. Even as I write this review, I’m thinking about it, and I found myself saying “Just one more game!” plenty of times while playing Droplitz. It’s immensely satisfying to open up path after path, listening to the music get more intense. The game is priced at $9.99, which I feel is a bit high, but at the same time, the challenge assures plenty of replay. In the end, I’m going to recommend that you at least download the demo; that should tell you everything you know about whether or not it’s worth the investment.