|By Eric Kennedy||Friday, 18 Sep 2009|
Amazing Penguin isn’t a game that will knock your socks off with balls-to-the-walls action, an engrossing storyline, or a massive world. It’s tough to deliver that kind of custome writing experience on a black and white handheld system. Such a platform lends itself well to puzzle games, and so we saw a plethora of these titles on the original Game Boy. Thankfully, this is more than just a ho-hum, “me too” effort. What you get here is a game that relies on solid game play, with carefully measured challenge and quick-fix enjoyment. It’s a game that embodies the slogan of respected developer Natsume: Serious fun.
The designers probably took inspiration from the classic maze muncher Pac-Man. The goal of each level is to avoid enemies while clearing the maze, and on top of that, some of the enemies bear a striking resemblance to Blinky and crew. Thankfully, the comparisons end there. Natsume added several twists to the concept to create more of an action-puzzle game. Instead of merely eating up all the dots, you have to flip switches and remove bombs, thus clearing every section of the maze. Enemies can be avoided or defeated through a variety of methods, such as kicking a bomb at them, clearing a section that they’re adjacent to, or flipping a switch to reverse their direction. It’s also possible to take out multiple enemies at once and earn big points (and extra lives, natch).
What makes this even more challenging is that, just like in Pac-Man, enemies re-spawn after you defeat them, and the more you clear a level, the less items you have to use against the bad guys. By the time you’re almost finished, a swarm of enemies might be closing in on you as you race to clear the last obstacle (and beat the timer that ticks down to certain death). Things will inevitably get very frantic. Fortunately, the game rewards an observant player. The enemies have set patterns (for the most part), and if you pay attention and keep a cool head, you can skillfully avoid them while neatly threading your way through the maze.
What impressed me most about the game design is the smooth difficulty curve. I’ve played few puzzlers that match just how well this one ramps up in challenge. Almost every level throws just a bit more at you, forcing you to work harder and harder to keep your penguin in one piece, and finish before the timer runs out. When you reach the 40th and final massive board, you’ll be rewarded for all of your efforts with one last monumental challenge. Games of today entice the player by letting him unlock more characters, more levels, and other assorted trinkets. Amazing Penguin, on the other hand, rewards you by giving you new challenges level after level. The game play itself is the reward, and that’s a design philosophy that I really miss.
I may have said that the graphics and overall presentation won’t blow your mind, but they won’t let you down, either. Cuteness abounds in every detail, from the way your penguin’s eyes bulge when he dies, to the goofy animations that play out during periodic interludes. The music is well written and appropriate, and Natsume does us a big favor here by introducing a new song every four levels. That in itself serves as a bit of a reward. You get to hear another happy-go-lucky tune every time you get a new password! To be honest, I found myself looking forward to the cheesy animations and new music as much as I do the unlockables of today’s games.
It all adds up to a neat package for the action-puzzle afficionado. Though the more bloodthirsty gamer will likely find himself bored with this unassuming title, there’s enough reflex-testing here to satisfy your problem-solving brain cells. Amazing Penguin is GREAT for fans of the genre, but might not be exciting and flashy enough for the average gamer.