Review by SneakTheSnake
Freeze! Chill out, and you can try this "ice" puzzler.
It's a bit of a disappointment that Alexei Pajitnov has been out of the gaming limelight as of late. The father of Tetris - the harbinger of puzzle games and computer entertainment - has that point on his resume. And a big point at that. His contributions since then, over the past twenty-plus years, include contributions to Yoshi's Cookie, Pandora's Box and a few other titles; he also made his mark on the 360 with the release of Hexic. Puzzle games have changed a lot since the advent of Tetris, but many of them released today owe a lot to Tetris' original design. So many great puzzling classics, like Columns, Lumines, Puyo Puyo and Dr. Mario involve the manipulation of tiles falling from the top of a screen and matching them in a specific way, and Tetris did that first. How, then, could Dwice have slipped under the gaming community's radar? That's a puzzle in and of itself.
Dwice isn't a bad game, per se; perhaps this game would have had more exposure with better marketing, or a wider release. Instead, I found this game for three dollars at a computing megastore, sitting among several copies that had probably been there, untouched, for over a year. I never found the games from eGames Publishing to be of great repute, so why didn't Pajitnov take this directly to Nintendo, a company known for publishing excellent new Tetris iterations on the Wii and DS, instead of having eGames do it? What's done is done, and we have an overlooked - and rather blasé - puzzler.
Alexey's Dwice tasks the players with eliminating like pairs of ice blocks falling from the top of the screen. The blocks come in about six varieties per stage: three or four different shapes, and three or four different colors. Players must click on two like pieces for both of them to disappear. Matching pieces of the same shape is what counts, but matching pieces of the same shape and color net players bonuses. Players cannot match pieces of the same color if they're not the same shape. During play, a meter along the right-hand side of the screen fills up, showing players how many blocks have been broken up. Blocks that are left isolated at the bottom of the playfield will melt on their own and count as bonuses. Play continues until players reach a certain amount of broken blocks or when the line of blocks hits the bottom of the screen three times.
The premise behind Dwice - and I'm not entirely clear on the how or why - is that the entire world has been frozen over, and the poor villagers all over the world are faced with giant blocks of ice falling from the sky. Their huts are all located directly under the playfield, which means that, if the line of ice blocks gets to the bottom of the screen, one of their houses gets crushed. Every level has a different tropical background as well as different villagers.
Power-ups also come into the fray, and players earn them by isolating them from the rest of the ice blocks (since the power-ups appear as ice blocks in the playfield). The dynamite smashes all tiles into one-tile or three-tile blocks, making play a lot easier for a short while. The fireball causes, well, a line of fire to engulf four consecutive rows of blocks at once, adding them to the meter on the right. Lastly, the pick-axe removes one entire tile in its entirety.
The puzzling mechanic is, admittedly, rather unique, though the difficulty level is very low overall.. Instances of Tetris-like gameplay are apparent, such as having to manipulate the tetromino-shaped blocks coming from the top of the screen, but that would be just about where the similarities end. There were no power-ups in Tetris, and there certainly wasn't a three-strike rule. Either way, it's a very natural interpretation of the classic Tetris formula. If you're looking for a gift for a casual gamer, this would be it; I didn't feel the sense of urgency or the pinge of difficulty from Dwice as I did with Tetris, as the three-strike rule and power-ups (which are quite plentiful) put a damper on things. The only times I felt truly challenged with Dwice were where the game tasked me to handle two playfields at once, and this happens very rarely in the game.
There's really not much that stands out about Dwice. Sure, the presentation may appeal to some, and this is a puzzle game from you-know-who, but it feels hardly fitting of his reputation. Puzzle games are so much more common and varied these days: games which claim to improve your vision or brain function, action-oriented puzzlers like Exit or Ico, even games which employ realistic physics to solve puzzles, like Create or Cut the Rope. Some even dare to offer great diversity in individual packages, like the Professor Layton series. Simply put, Dwice is outnumbered by more robust and more readily-available packages. Perhaps I'm simply jaded; this is not to bring down the inherent quality of Dwice as a standalone product, but perhaps its odds, with its overall unambitious game design, were stacked against it.
The graphics and sound are so cuddly and hokey that one wouldn't associate it with the typical Tetris music, or old-school Tetris aesthetic. There's a very cartoony aesthetic here; menu options bounce and jiggle, the music is very cheery, and the villagers smile with dopey grins while the gigantic blocks of ice careen down the slope toward their humble homes. It doesn't appeal to me, but nothing gets in the way of the action; it seems to be the style eGames games are best known for.
There is a lengthy campaign in Dwice, and the gameplay model is solid. I'd say the game is worth checking out if you can find a copy; surprisingly, Dwice hasn't yet been released on the iPhone or any other pocket device, where the game would most likely succeed. If you're interested in finding out what Mr. Pajitnov did after Tetris, or if you're looking for a cheap puzzler to plunk down some dollars and hours into, this would be worth a look.
Rating: 3.0 - Fair
Product Release: Alexey's Dwice (US, 12/18/06)
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