Review Date: July 29, 2010
Developer: Arcen Games
Publisher: Arcen Games
Platform: PC & Mac
At this point you'd be forgiven for thinking that you've seen all that the match three genre has to offer. From Bejeweled to Turba to Puzzle Quest, it's arguably the most crowded genre in all puzzle gaming. Yet, in spite of this, Arcen Games' Tidalis manages to offer up a fresh twist on the concept, creating an addictive experience that's equal parts challenging and relaxing. And it even has a story.
A New Take On Match Three
Tidalis doesn't mess with the match-three formula too much, so you'll still clearing groups of blocks by matching up three or more of the same color. But in addition to having a color, each block also has an arrow. In order to clear blocks you don't actually move them, but instead change the direction of their arrow in order to guide a pulse, which clears them away. It's a somewhat difficult mechanic to explain, but in practice, it's very easy to grasp. It also allows you to pull of incredibly huge combos, as you can not only clear away blocks that are touching each other, but also ones that are within three spaces of one another. When everything lines up correctly, you can create links that eliminate numerous blocks at once.
The main portion of the game is the adventure mode, which has you moving through a number of different stages, each with their own set of rules and challenges. Some will require you to clear a certain amount of blocks within a specified period of time, while others will ask you only to clear a certain color. The goal is always clearly labelled on the right side of the screen, and the sheer variety keeps things from ever getting dull. There are even obstacles thrown in to keep things interesting, such as wooden blocks that need to be burned away and glass blocks that will smash when you clear a block out from underneath it.
A Puzzle Game With A Plot
For an extra dose of challenge Tidalis also features a puzzle mode, which tasks you with clearing all of the blocks on screen with a limited number of moves, sometimes just one. It's almost identical to the challenge mode found in the PS3 puzzler Critter Crunch and, once you get through the first few stages, it gets incredibly challenging.
Strangely, unlike most puzzle games, Tidalis actually has a story holding the adventure mode together. It's a weird tale about exploring a mysterious island, the titular Tidalis, which just so happens to be populated by trouble making imps and other strange creatures. You'll be greeted with text-based cut-scenes in between most of the levels, and they bring a nice sense of humor to the game and provide an excellent distraction from all of the block clearing you'll be doing. But if you'd rather just get straight to the puzzling, the game does offer the option to skip the cut scenes all together.
The game's visuals are solid but unremarkable, as all of the backgrounds consist of locations like waterfalls, beaches, and forests. It's not that they look bad, but there's little to give Tidalis its own unique sense of style. The same goes for the music, which while relaxing, is instantly forgettable.
The Bottom Line
But complaining about the visuals and story of a puzzle game is sort of missing the point. It would be nice if they were better, but the real reason you're playing the game is for its puzzles. And on that level Tidalis is a success. The match three gameplay is surprisingly fun and unique, and there's enough content and variety to keep you playing for quite some time.