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‘Puzzled ACA NEOGEO’ Review – A Puzzling Selection

100x100bb 2So far in the new mobile ACA NEOGEO line, we’ve seen a decent mix of games released. Some popular titles, some not so well-known. Some great games, some a little more average. Some that suit touch controls, and others not so much. A couple of them are the best of all worlds. But with the release of Puzzled ($3.99), I believe we have our first “worst of all worlds” situation. Even with the generally excellent work Hamster does on these releases, there’s only so much that can be done for some games.

Puzzled was a first-year NEOGEO game that didn’t do much to hide its source of inspiration. It’s a falling block puzzle game that uses the exact same shapes as Tetris, but forces you to use them for a different purpose. Each stage features a preset arrangement of blocks, and a little airship trapped at the bottom of the well. Your goal is to make lines to remove blocks until the airship has a clear path to escape through the top of the well. The longer you play, the faster the pieces will fall. Should you overflow the well, you’ll have to start the stage over again. There are sixty stages in total, so the game definitely isn’t hurting for content.

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The game didn’t exactly light the world on fire, perhaps because of its modest visual punch on an arcade platform that was selling on its sizzle. It was a nice bit of variety in the line-up, and I’m sure some players gravitated towards it. But it was never going to be the kind of game to become an all-timer in the system’s library, and I think we can safely say it didn’t. It’s not a bad game by any means, but it’s nothing special. Other games had done its concept better before, and more would do it better after.

Like a lot of arcade puzzle games, its difficulty ramps up sharply after only a few stages, its thirst for coins never truly quenched. The multiplayer could best be described as two single players playing alongside each other, as there aren’t any ways to interact. The piece distribution is different each time you continue, and it is very obvious in not following any sort of equality in which pieces it gives you. It’s very common to get several of one type of piece in a row, which can be a boon or a curse. So you just bang your head against the difficult stages, hoping you get a mix of pieces that will actually allow you to get the necessary lucky break to succeed.

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There is an ace in the hole that works better for being able to coin feed to your heart’s content. As you play and clear lines, you’ll fill up a meter that allows you to fire off a bomb. The more full the meter is, the bigger the blast. This meter persists across continues, and a full meter blast can sometimes solve a stage in one go. Not the most satisfying way to resolve a problem stage, but Puzzled may have you reaching for salvation more often than you would think.

It’s even worse in this mobile version should you find yourself relying on touch controls. Like the other ACA NEOGEO games, you can play with an external controller. If you really want to play this, I’d consider that almost a must. It doesn’t take long before Puzzled demands speedy precision, and the touch controls simply aren’t up to the task. The analog controls are too sensitive, and the digital controls aren’t fast enough. One mishap can easily ruin whatever progress you’ve made in a stage. You’ve only got one button for rotation, an issue in the original game that means you really need to haul your butt to get some pieces the way you want them. That too is worse with touch controls.

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None of this is on Hamster, though. The developer has applied the same care here that is has to its other ACA NEOGEO releases, so if you happen to love Puzzled and think I’m a clown, you have nothing to worry about. External controller support, a bevy of options, leaderboards, extra high score and Caravan modes, and more. Save states do their best to make a frustrating game more manageable, allowing anyone who is persistent enough to push their way through the game. If you have an external controller, this is as good a way to play Puzzled as any.

But do you want to play Puzzled? It’s a rather uninteresting variant of Tetris that has a lot of flaws, some of which are magnified if you’re trying to play it with touch controls. Said controls also introduce some new problems, making an already-vexing game an even more agitating experience. Those with external controllers will only have to deal with Puzzled as it ever was, with an assortment of options and features to try to bring out what little shine it has. The NEOGEO has a lot of great puzzle games in its library that might be better suited for mobile, but this isn’t one of them.