Released into Japanese arcades back in 2009, Block People (as its called over there) was a pretty innovative take on the puzzle genre, even by Sega and Japanese standards. There players would stack plastic bricks (i.e. blocks) against a large display screen, which impacted the game’s onscreen characters as they scurried from left to right in their quest to nab yummy fruit. Not only did this setup make for some pretty fast moves, but it also encouraged others to get in on the fun and lend a hand – literally. For several years now Sega has been introducing strange, wacky new takes on the puzzle genre, and Brick People is certainly no exception.
But with no arcades to speak of (in the US), Sega has opted to bring the game to the most casual-friendly platform it could: Apple’s iOS. By substituting the original physical bricks for touchscreen controls, they may have found an economical way to bring Brick People to the mobile masses, but something definitely feels lost in translation.
The game’s look and feel is totally and completely Sega, with bold colors and stylized visuals that could easily be a close cousin to the mice in ChuChu Rocket. Likewise, the soundtrack is pure happiness, with what sounds like a Japanese children’s chorus singing out single words and phrases to keep you smiling as wade through each of the game’s 20+ levels and different difficulty settings. The controls are simple and responsive, even when squished to fit the smaller iPhone screen, and are probably even better on the iPad (which I wasn’t able to review). To be honest, the gameplay is about as shallow as a puddle, but many of the best puzzle games are built around singular mechanics done well, and it’s here that Brick People sits roughly somewhere between fun and frustrating.
Your job is to help guide the insatiable Brick people around the various 2D playing fields to snatch up juicy fruit, hot peppers, water droplets, and more by sliding bricks (i.e. blocks) from either side of the screen, to which your hapless minions will bump into, climb, hop off, or simply get stuck in-between. Building stacks and mini-staircases helps them snag airborne goodies, with subtle variances in the objectives sprinkled throughout, such as trying to snag numbers and objects in a particular order. Unfortunately, the hapless Brick People are no faster – and certainly no smarter – than your average Lemming, and they also sport different abilities, like jumping, that only makes micro-managing them even more difficult.
The real catch is that the timer doesn’t reset between levels, meaning you’ll have to complete as many of the levels as you can in a single go. Failing means having to continue, which gives you an extra 100 seconds to keep playing, yet your final time will be penalized. After every few completed levels the Brick Monster (i.e. Brick People Devil) will show up and let you earn precious extra seconds by completing his ‘puzzles’, which are essentially just empty spaces in the shape of different objects that you need to fill with bricks.
Puzzle games excel on iOS devices because of their pick up and play nature, and this is where the game falters miserably. There’s no way to save your progress between levels, meaning you’ll have to finish an entire difficulty setting in a single session. I suppose Sega might justify this by citing the game’s timed-level nature, which basically considers a single session an entire ‘attempt’, but with the difficult bordering on ludicrous in later levels, that excuse doesn’t cut butter. The game also doesn’t let you go back and replay completed levels, which severely limits its replay value to the most score-obsessed players.
Another negative is that Sega’s anathema to bringing their iOS games online continues here, with the only mutliplayer available is locally with another device using WiFi or Bluetooth connection. With Game Center rapidly gaining ground (and turn-based multiplayer enabled in iOS 5), this just seems like an area that could use an update to fix. At least the iPad version features same-screen multiplayer that I hear from others is actually pretty fun, but again, I wasn’t able to test this for myself.
Brick People continues Sega’s unmatched legacy of creating entirely new ways to play puzzle games, and will no doubt appeal to those seeking the next ChuChu Rocket, or their next dose of Japanese cuteness. Unfortunately, transferring the original arcade’s innovative physical brick system to touchscreens means losing the game’s central gimmick, and as such loses a huge part of what made the original so unique. It’s by no means a bad game, despite the curious lack of being able to save between and select completed levels, and certainly not a bad translation; the touchscreen controls are practically perfect, and you probably won’t find a game more laced with absolute joy and happiness this year if you tried. Definitely one for hardcore Sega puzzle fans first and foremost.
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