Game: Groovin' Blocks
Genre: Rhythm / Puzzle
When it comes to WiiWare games, your initial impressions can tell you a lot about what to expect from the full title. Because of the limitations of what the platform can handle (in terms of memory, graphical output, etc.), you don't have to get very deep into a game before you can tell if you're going to love it or hate it. Sadly for many of the games sold on this port, the initial impression is unfavorable. But there are other titles, games like Defend Your Castle and LostWinds, that hook you in those first crucial moments, and you happily spend hour after hour with them. Groovin' Blocks falls into that second category.
The game plays in a manner similar to Dr. Mario or Tetris. Blocks of color fall from the sky, and it is up to the player to place them on the board with the colors matching up. Match the right number and configuration of blocks, and they clear from the screen. Unlike either of those other two puzzle games, blocks can only be dropped vertically; that is, there is no way to turn a block so that it is three wide and one long. The other wrinkle that Groovin Blocks adds is the addition of a rhythm mechanic to the gameplay. Each level is in fact a techno song, with the beat being visualized by a horizontally scrolling series of lines. Dropping the blocks into place on the beat is rewarded with increased multipliers, power-ups, or bonus points. The higher the score on a song, the more stars you receive (from 1-3). More stars unlock additional songs. The graphics are minimalist, but certainly sufficient for this title.
My first couple of plays with Groovin' Blocks intrigued me, but frustrated me as well. There were many times when I felt like I had absolutely gotten my block into place on the beat, but was not rewarded as such. But rather than turn me off of the game, this frustration made me more and more convinced that I would get it right. And eventually, by around the fourth song, I had figured it out. In a weaker game, problems like that are normally enough to get me to switch off, but in Groovin' Blocks, I found myself just wanting to get it right. And it was very rewarding to watch my scores jump up when I finally did hit my groove.
There are two multi-player modes: co-op and head-to-head. The head-to-head mode is nothing you haven't seen before: side by side puzzles with the players competing for high score. However, the co-op mode was one of my favorite features of this title. Players must share a board, with pieces coming one after another. Player 1 places the odd number pieces, and player 2 handles the evens. Playing this mode led to some laugh out loud moments, and more than a few exclamations of "Get the hell out of my way!" It is so well done, it makes me wish that the head-to-head mode had been handled in a similar fashion.
The problems that I had with Groovin' Blocks are minor, but they were there. The biggest issue I had was with the file size. We all know that the Wii's storage issues have been well documented, so it seems almost inexcusable for a developer to make a game that eats up 318 blocks. And, as I said earlier, the rhythm meter doesn't always seem to be as accurate as you would hope, which can be frustrating when you are counting on points you aren't awarded. The lack of any on-line capabilities is sad as well. I mean, I know that the Wii isn't known as a hub of network activity, but to have neither friend play nor leaderboards is disappointing. And although I found the soundtrack to be far less annoying than most of the techno I hear, it isn't as diverse as one would hope.
Weighing the minimal problems of Groovin' Blocks against the things it does right, I find that the game's benefits far outweigh its issues. Fans of not only rhythm games, but of old-school puzzlers will find plenty to fall in love with here, and for a price of 800 Wii Points ($8), it is certainly worth the download.